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People Development : The case for democratisation

Change and People

“We live in a world in which change is the only constant.” As with most statements of this ilk their importance and impact diminish the more they are repeated. Eventually, they fail to command our attention; we hear the words, but they no longer direct our thoughts to the ramifications of what sits behind the words.

The other maxim in the world of work is: “Our people are at the heart of everything we do”. However, for the majority of organisations, it’s only 5% of their people who appear on the development radar. What does that mean then for the remaining 95% of any business? It’s akin to any government recommending that only 5% of the school age population need bother attending school – the other 95% can fend for themselves and feed off the educated few.

The fall out from these oft cited quotes, is that few organisations are making the connection between the changing needs of their business and the impact of change on their people.

So how do we equip our people to deliver today and be prepped ready to deliver tomorrow? And, more importantly, how do we get to the 95% to help them face the future with growing confidence? If our people don’t feel properly equipped and supported they’ll be unable to perform to their capacity. It is rare for people lacking in confidence within their current role to feel sufficiently emboldened to deal with unexpected live events or to accept greater responsibility than is currently expected of them.

Strategy over People – businesses are pretty adept at devising strategies to improve trading fortunes and will detail the two or three priorities that will convert confident thought into positive action. These priorities are usually quantified to the nth degree and zealously defended when subjected to scrutiny. Of course, there’s always a bit about people, but it’s usually left to the end once the main business has been concluded. Yes, we need to ensure that those with greatest development potential are given every opportunity to develop, but what about everyone else. Are they less important or simply in less need of development? Are they not the very people responsible for making the business tick like clockwork, the ambassadors who ensure that the customer experience promotes continued loyalty?

The Purpose of Learning & Development – the clue is in the title! Its purpose is to create a skilled and confident workforce by giving people the tools to perform to the best of their ability within their role and to develop their potential to fulfill future roles. Of course, we don’t know the exact nature of these future roles but we can reasonably assume they will require a growing level of commercial acumen. In developing our people to be the best they can be we are in effect making our business stronger and more resilient to whatever the future may hold.

People Development – investment in people is seen as discretionary spend rather than critical investment. The budget, or what’s left of it after rounds of cutting, is usually managed centrally by HR. However, ownership for people development should sit within the leadership population. It’s the leader who creates the working environment in which his or her people operate and who observes them at work, facing the expected and unexpected challenges. It’s the leader who is closest and most able to identify the development needs of an individual to perform well within a role and to reconcile their appetite and ambition for future roles.

Assessing People Development – in our obsession to put a value on our every action, we’ve devalued the importance of people development. If you could measure return on investment, we’d be talking with certainty rather than gut feel. Let’s face it do we have the empirical evidence to support healthy eating and taking exercise as extending our life expectancy? How can we when we don’t know of our life expectancy at the outset! However, intuitively it passes the common sense test. Similarly, if we develop people are they not more likely to fulfil their potential and contribute to an even greater level than at present? Do you think they’ll feel more inclined to stay and contribute rather than leave or, worse still, become disengaged? 

Acknowledging our People – how do we really acknowledge the efforts of our people and recognise the individual capability that each person possesses? As leaders we devote more time to understanding performance through output measures than we do to understanding those at the source of performance. We’re looking at the wrong end of the pipeline because we’re more comfortable dealing with analysis and conjecture than with people and emotion.

The Birth of the Coach Leader

The democratisation of learning is about giving people the opportunity to develop themselves. In the fullness of time I expect the term leader to be augmented with the word Coach, to become Coach Leader, someone who recognises the importance of their role in developing the capability and potential of others. In this environment people will feel more valued and more encouraged to give of their best and be even more receptive and supportive to the evolving demands of your business. In a world where change is the only constant and where people are the heart of your business, this dynamic capability is not just desirable, it’s essential to your very survival.

This article appeared in Training Journal on 13th March 2017.

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