Saturday, 1 May 2010

Leadership And Learning

Over the last month or so we have talked with scores of high performance organisations, training providers and trainers to understand their philosophy of training and how they are adapting their programmes to the rapidly changing business dynamics. Organisations that are successful have always known that to remain competitive they need to keep adapting and innovating with their training format to keep employees at the leading edge of performance. Training managers are using a plethora of delivery mechanisms and pedagogy to provide training, coaching, and assessment services, which include internet-based product training modules, interactive classroom-based training, outdoor activities, group and peer knowledge sharing sessions, blended learning, and collaborative talent management programmes.

Over the last 30 years, the corporate training world has gone through many phases. In the 80s and 90s, traditional instructor-led training (which still makes up more than 60% of all training delivery today), was the primary form of training, and was complimented by various forms of technology (CD ROMs, VHS, video broadcasts) with a goal of increasing reach and reducing cost. In 1998 the term “e-learning” caught on, and the training world fundamentally changed. There was a mad rush to put everything online. Things went a little overboard with people talking about shutting down physical corporate universities and taking everything virtual. In the early 2000s the realisation struck that “e-learning” was not providing the results that pundits had promised and organisations went back and reinvested in classroom and instructor-led programmes. Today it seems training as a form has attained a certain equilibrium, with organisations taking a hybrid approach, taking the best of both the physical and virtual in the right proportions.

We have also observed large investments being made in leadership development across organisations. Like so much in the field of leadership studies, the issue of leadership development programmes (LDP) and their effectiveness remains highly contentious. While experts believe that enhancing leadership capability is central to improved performance across industries, others question the value of leadership training. A significant part of leadership training still remains individual centric, and many argue that more important than the leadership qualities of a number of individuals are the underlying processes that improve organisational effectiveness. In the more inclusive leadership models that are gaining traction, charismatic leadership is taking a back seat with Lao Tzu in 600 BC (“To lead people, walk beside them.. As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence ....When the best leader’s work is done, the people say, ‘We did it ourselves!’”) and Henry Mintzberg in 1999 (Indeed, the best managing of all may well be silent. That way people can say, ‘We did it ourselves.’ Because we did.) converging on the same concept of silent leadership benefitting the organisation most. When we look at ROI on training, it becomes incumbent on organisations and LDP providers to take a hard look at the mix of individual-focussed and organisation-centred content, and design programmes that make an impact on organisational performance.

L&D has a come a long way in-terms of impact on performance, but we still need to travel far to make leadership development a process with a fair degree of predictability.

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