I’ve been doing more thinking about our focus in the workplace learning industry. Shouldn’t our primary focus be on learning? A couple of interesting articles came across my desk in the last few weeks that show a different focus…
One was an interview of a Chief Learning Officer (CLO) from a major international organization. (I won’t say which one, because while I have a great deal of respect for the CLO and the organization, I am going to offer a critique here.) A sidebar to the article highlighted the company’s “learning philosophy.” The learning philosophy had four points, and they were about aligning with the company’s strategy, ensuring cost effectiveness, being fiscally prudent, and focusing on application of learning (embedding it into the work). I’m not sure how that set of points constitutes a learning philosophy – it’s clearly a terrific philosophy for managing the learning function – but is that a “learning philosophy”?
The second article featured a panel of highly respected CLOs. A summary graphic summarized the panel’s commentary by highlighting “the new learning organization.” The key points here were around positioning training as a business tool, ensuring cost effectiveness, having user-friendly processes, using scalable tools, tracking actionable metrics, and being accountable at the highest levels of the organization. All very laudable points, but not – at least in my book – what makes an organization a “learning organization.”
It isn’t my intention to get into semantics wars, and I’m not going to write any self-righteous letters to the editor. But I do worry that we’re paying so much attention to the business of training that we’ve lost sight of the true purpose of our work, which is to promote learning in organizations. Ensuring alignment, investing training dollars wisely, serving our clients effectively, containing costs, documenting results… these are all important to our success; please don’t get me wrong; they’re also standard business practices. When we get a seat at the table, it shouldn’t be to become just another business leader. Our charge, our expertise, our contribution to the organization should be to ensure that the workforce has the capability and skill needed to propel the organization forward.
So why isn’t LEARNING the subject of our learning philosophies and the framework for the new learning organization?
Maybe we’ve been so bad at managing the operational aspects of training that we need to prove we know how to run a business. Our value, however, is not found in running training as a business – that should be a GIVEN. We should change the dialog in our professional publications to talk about how to create a fertile learning environment in an organization, how to craft courses that have maximum impact, how to blend formal and informal processes to build employee expertise and skill, how to use technology to effectively support learning… There are hundreds of topics related to learning that are crowded off the pages of our professional publications because we seem to need to talk incessantly about how to be effective business leaders.
Let’s instead focus on how to lead learning in organizations.