Where do you play your L&D game?

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Written by Paul Matthews on 20 May 2016

This is by no means universal, but I have come across it far too often.

A week ago I was speaking with the training manager of a medium-sized company. We were talking about her training programmes including a new initiative she had put together for management development, the budget she had been given, and the report she was required to feedback to the board on the training she had delivered.

I asked her what success would look like from her perspective.
I asked how she would know she had done a good job.
I asked her what would constitute failure.

She talked about the smooth running of the training courses, and making sure that as many people as possible attended the courses they were assigned. She talked about the inefficiencies of running ‘mop-up’ courses for those who didn’t attend.

She talked about the delegates getting good scores on some questionnaires she was developing. She talked about making sure the courses used accelerated learning techniques and the delegates enjoyed the day, and gave good feedback on their ‘happy sheets’. She talked about value for money when engaging external training suppliers.

She talked about many things that would be of legitimate concern to a training manager.

But not once did she talk about what should happen in the workplace either before, or after the training course. Not once did she talk about the impact the training course should have on the behaviour of the delegates when they get back to their workspace. Not once did she give any indication at all that she was concerned about the performance of the delegates when they were doing their jobs.

So I asked her a simple question.

“Training in service of what?”

She looked puzzled, like she hadn’t understood. I have a Kiwi accent, but it isn’t that strong!

I asked another simple question.

“What is the purpose of this training programme?”

We started talking about management development and why that might be necessary within her company, and the specific aspects of management that seemed to be lacking when looking at how things played out in the workplace.

She started to realise that she had been so focused on training/learning that she had lost sight of the bigger game. She was indeed playing a game, but it was the wrong game on the wrong pitch.

The big game being played out on the big pitch was about serving their customers well and thereby creating shareholder value. Somehow she had ended up playing a subsidiary game on a side pitch. The players and the audience on the big pitch didn’t much care about what she was doing, and many of them hardly noticed it.

We used the metaphor to bounce around some ideas on how she could get her game shifted to the big main pitch. For her, it was quite a revelation. She had not realised how insulated she had become from the greater purpose of her organisation and its need for people who could perform well.

At first she thought she had been relegated, but then she started to realise that the fact that she was playing in a side game was largely down to the way that she played the game. Yes, she was responding to requests to develop people, but very quickly translated those requests into things that mattered to her in her world, on her separate and subsidiary pitch.

In order to get into the primary game on the main pitch, she realised you would have to start focusing on things that mattered to the players and the spectators over there.

Take a step back from your L&D activities, and notice where you are playing your game.

About the author

Paul Matthews is the founder of People Alchemy and expert in workplace learning, especially informal learning, as well as management development and employee performance improvement.