Cultural Evolution

Photo Credit: fotos.rotas via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: fotos.rotas via Compfight cc

I’m a fan of heavy rock; from the NWOBHM through the big 4 thrash bands to the esoteric and creative sounds of Faith No More. I mention it because as soon as I say I’m a heavy metal fan, people have an image of me with long hair, a leather jacket and bad skin. That’s the culture of heavy metal isn’t it? A culture defined by labels and band names; the language, song titling and subject matter; the denim and leather uniform; the stage diving and mosh pit safety; hard drinking and long hair. All part of its culture and values.

This idea of culture is the 4th of the 5 post CIPD LD show write ups and is focused on the area that was most popular for the group on the day.

There’s something about the word culture that makes it seductive – people and relationship changes are hard and require us to hold a mirror up to ourselves. Process and system changes are easier and simply tasks. Skills and behaviours require more thinking about what we do, whereas culture is about the DNA of the organisation, something that can be shaped but must be respected. The exercise asked the group to consider what cultural challenges would appear with a move to more autonomous learning. The group was the busiest and their outputs extensive:

  • Potential generational issues
  • Focus on qualifications and skills
  • Trust (that people are learning relevant stuff)
  • Believing learning is part of the job
  • Training provides a tracking mechanism as proof that learning is happening
  • Recognition of individuals
  • Recognising the relationship between performance objectives and learning objectives
  • Recognition of benefit/value of learning
  • Empowerment and engagement with Subject Matter Experts
  • Responsibility of individuals rather than being learning management directed
  • How we’ve always done it
  • Pilots – try small

I’m not a fan of worrying about potential generational issues. Gem Reucroft sums it up brilliantly here with the generation blah label. If we restrict our thinking to support which is based around what we perceive the age group of the participants would respond to, we will come fully unstuck. Just because my Mum doesn’t use the internet doesn’t mean that cloud based virtual support wouldn’t be the best option for an internet enabled septuagenarian. Are these generational issues that the L&D function has?

I get frustrated when I see that we’re still concerned with recognising the relationship between performance objectives and learning objectives. If you’re creating learning objectives you are still working in parallel with your business. You’re always going to be detached from, and not part of the business. Does your finance function have to work in alignment with the business objectives? Are your customer service objectives in alignment with, or part of your business objectives? This desire to prove our worth through alignment takes more energy than it should and is pushing L&D down a road that will ultimately end in tears; the business will discover ways to learn that meets business objectives without you needing to be there.

The one that jumped out to me from the list was the ‘old school’ thinking that training provides a tracking mechanism as proof that learning is happening. Oscar Wilde had Lord Darlington note that a cynic was

‘a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.‘ 

The more sophisticated our tracking systems become, the more we will be able to identify the individual costs and prices of each component we offer. Does that mean we understand the value of what we offer? Ultimately, if we continue to focus on micro managing the inputs and outputs, we will further ignore outcomes, and become even less relevant.

What do you think? Is culture holding you back? What can you do to change it? Let me know in the comments.


6 thoughts on “Cultural Evolution

  1. “Tracking training is proof that learning is happening” is something that frustrates me too! But it’s so alluring to some to be able to list all the courses and tests taken as and way to measure the training effectiveness. I think the urge to find something that is easily measurable holds l&d back and businesses get used to what they are given. Which are usually completion statistics….


  2. Good blog Andrew; truly reflective of the discussions we were having on the day.

    You know my position on this. I have spent many years trying to convince others that the measurement focus is skewed to a vastly outdated perception of L&D and our purpose/value. However, following a recent conversation with an officer from a local council I was reminded that it is not only the internal culture that affects the need for this information.

    His team had received several FOI requests asking for them to provide details of monies allocated to L&D activities, time spent by staff on L&D activities, subjects covered by the activities, their individual relationships to the council strategy/business needs and what benefits they provided to the public.

    We didn’t get chance to finish our conversation (tube chats), so I never found out whether this information was (or even had to be) provided, but it reminded me that the Public Sector in particular are under constant scrutiny from outside peoples. These organisations not only have to consider the internal culture when gathering data to demonstrate our worth, they have to remember that those who may have no knowledge of the relationship between L&D and the business will want ‘figures’.

    It is possible that the lack of information could be used as a whip to beat this already beleaguered sector. Therefore, if ‘we’ finally find a way of advancing the culture to measure things in a more realistic/relevant manner, the understanding of the validity of this information has to be clear to all corners internally and easily explainable (justified) to the outside world.

    Obviously, if those who request the information were going to use it to ‘kick the injured dog’ then no matter what they receive it would be manipulated to support their standpoint. But it is something that should still be considered.

    Keep on rockin’ \m/


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