Do organisations really believe in Learning & Development?

I’ve been working in Learning & Development for quite a few years now and it has occurred to me during that time, that perhaps organisations could be a little better at really working to embed the learning they provide.

We all know that as an employee, I am responsible for my own learning journey. I am responsible for whatever I want to be curious about and whatever I want to learn. It is my responsibility to ensure that I sign up for whatever courses we have on offer in the curriculum (if indeed we are fortunate enough to work in organisations that have a curriculum!). I attend those courses – some of which I can nominate for myself, some I have to be nominated for and some that are compulsory (I’m looking at you FCA). I don’t usually have to learn anything from them, nor prove these new skills, but I can go along!

With the requirement of mandatory learning in industries such as Financial Services, learning can get a bad rap. All that required “learning” doesn’t allow for time to do some cool, fun, proper developmental stuff – that will actually progress our brains, give us better skills and not just learn how to keep the money laundering under control.

But it’s more than that for me. As employers, why isn’t it a responsibility to ensure your people are developed during their tenure? In any profession (accounting, law, medicine etc) we are expected to undergo CPD (Continued Professional Development) to stay relevant. Yet, we can join a company, work there for many years and not be expected to continue to develop our existing skills, let alone create new ones. There might be “courses” available to us we can choose to do. Diligent people leaders will have discussions with their teams about their own development, but organisationally – where is the expectation that they will invest in you, not just by paying you, but by developing you? Where is the duty of care to ensure that you leave a better version of yourself than when you joined? Obviously you will have the experience of working for a great brand or an industry specialist – but what other learning have you done? Around leadership or self-awareness or developing others or creating an agile environment or future trends for the business and your people…..the list goes on.

If organisations were really serious about ensuring they kept their top talent – not just attracted them, there would be some kind of agreement going in. Expectations would be set around personal and professional development over their time there. If I join an organisation as a permanent employee, wouldn’t it be great to have a conversation focused initially around my development? (I’m a career interim and coach – we don’t count when talking about development…..is that another blog post??)

I have been in plenty of interviews that ask how I keep myself current in certain industries, or around my skillset, but once we join – are companies really having these continued conversations with their talent? I imagine this would look like a bit of a coaching discovery call. You know, identify things like what their goals are; what they want to achieve whilst they are there, where do they want to be in a few years from now, what would success look like? What’s the journey they go on together with their employer to help them reach their goal? How does that benefit the organisation and the individual?

That’s a sizeable conversation and a sizeable investment in time and obviously money. But aren’t our people worth it? And how much more are they worth to you and your teams, when they are not only smarter and more highly skilled, but when they are engaged, content and focused on a shared outcome?

I think it’s time to reframe what we mean by Learning & Development and CERTAINLY time to reframe not just how we identify TALENT (a whole other post!), but how do we keep them in that learning mindset?

Let’s be honest, this is no longer a lifetime kind of commitment by organisations. According to Helen Tupper and Sarah Ellis of Amazing If, we are far more likely to have a Squiggly Career than ever before. That is – one that doesn’t necessarily follow a linear path. Future generations are more likely to take roles that interest them and go where they are invested in. We are talking here about having a budget – sure, but in the main, we are talking about sitting down with our people, identifying the skills they have – (the same ones we interviewed them for and hired them for), building on their strengths and helping them out around their challenges.

That sounds like a pretty good investment to me.

leader isn’t just a job title

Leaders surround us. It’s not just about being the boss, or being on the “leadership” team or the Exec or a member of the “C-Suite”. I have had the extreme good fortune to know leaders across all levels in every role in every  organisation I’ve been in. People who provide a high level of human interaction others relate to. People who are leaders in their religion, race, peer group, sport, school and even their relationship.

Leaders show others great examples of excellent behaviour. They show people a different way. They provide an alternative solution to a difficult problem, or they simply role model how to be engaged, peaceful, resilient or unruffled. They have empathy. They show concern and they help our problems not feel as big as we make them in our head.

A post-Covid world might look very different around leadership. I feel there is an even bigger shift towards empathetic leaders. It’s no surprise that we are drawn to people who are interested in who we are, what we can contribute, how we live our lives and what impact we can have on others. We need a place to belong, a people to connect with and someone – or a group of someones who can relate to our purpose. 

The old fashioned ways of leadership is no longer best fit. Much like Zoom during lockdown allowed us to see the whole person – or at least their bookcase, art, dogs and children – leaders need to start looking as if they were in the Zoom Room of your life. 

Some of the best examples of leadership I have encountered have been demonstrated by a 20 year old apprentice and a 40 year old admin assistant. Neither of them had any ambitions to be part of the C-Suite – so not a traditional leader. They lived exemplary lives, filled with compassion, generosity and a dedication and commitment to their role and the people around them. People chose to follow them because they were inherently good. I recently posted a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson about having succeeded on my Instagram page.  I feel it’s a different success to what we sometimes see in corporate life:

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and to endure the betrayal of false friends. To appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”

It might as well say: “This is to have lead”. I love this definition. It’s one of the few things I have on my wall in the way of quotes. By this definition we have all succeeded. If we spend our time trying to be or do these things, we might just make a greater impact than “telling” people what they need to do without caring for who they are.

Leadership is a trait. It is also an ability we can develop. Development takes practice and reflection. Practice and reflection. Like most other learning we need to embed the lessons – by practice and reflection. Some have this innate trait – and I also know other’s who have learned it, well.

This nurturing leadership creates an environment of Psychological Safety. In a psychologically safe team, people fly. They feel safe to be authentic, creative, flexible and innovative. They are trusted and comfortable making mistakes. They share something before it is finished and they ask for input and feedback. They are people who don’t care a lot about ego or traditional leadership ideals. They’re usually kind, compassionate and generous people and they are authentic. We are drawn to authenticity because it shines like a beacon.

How do we become authentic? We start by listening to our people in our teams, our friends, family. We truly care what impacts them and show up when we’re needed. Most importantly though, we listen to ourselves. We pay attention to all of our voices – and whilst doing so, be kind and curious in finding out what those voices mean. We all have our own voices. I talked recently about our Inner Critic. Those voices. They are the ones we pay attention to. Not just what they say, but how they makes us feel. Sit with that a bit……that’s when true leadership starts to really kick in.

This is what I mean by being kind and compassionate to ourselves.