Imagine a scenario in which no bottom-up learning took place, in which all learning was regulated and controlled by management, and in which the l&d department invariably took the lead. Here’s what might happen:
- The l&d department knows exactly what knowledge and skills are required for each job position and are kept completely up-to-date about any changes to jobs and requirements.
- Regular performance appraisals and other forms of assessment mean that line management are fully aware of any knowledge and skill gaps, and keep the l&d department fully informed about these.
- The l&d department is resourced to provide solutions to meet all known knowledge and skills gaps, using carefully-planned, top-down interventions.
- Employees do not need to worry about the knowledge and skills they need to meet current or future requirements because their employer is in complete command of the situation.
Sounds like it’s all under control. On the other hand, this might also be the outcome:
- The information held by the l&d department regarding jobs and skills is too out-of-date to be of any use.
- The l&d department does not have the resources to respond to anything except the most generic of needs.
- When important changes are made to systems, processes and policies, the l&d department takes too long to develop top-down interventions to support the changes.
- Knowledge requirements change so quickly that it is impossible for training programmes and job aids to be kept up-to-date.
- There is such a diversity of jobs in the organisation that there is insufficient critical mass to justify the design and delivery of any formal interventions.
- Expensive top-down interventions are delivered when employees are perfectly capable of meeting any needs for themselves informally.
While top-down learning is needed to control risk, bottom-up learning is needed to provide responsiveness. Few organisations have the luxury of being in complete control of all aspects of the training cycle – even if it was possible to attain this position, it would probably not be cost-effective. Bottom-up learning fills the gaps by providing a response to urgent situations and by meeting the needs of minorities. It’s quick, it’s flexible, it’s empowering. That’s why bottom-up learning plays a valuable role in any learning and development strategy.
Coming next in chapter 6: How much learning should be bottom-up?
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