To be a professional means a lot more than simply doing whatever the client wants. You wouldn’t hire an interior designer only to inform them that you’ve already chosen all the colour schemes and furnishings; you wouldn’t engage an accountant and then explain to them the way you wanted them to process your figures (unless of course you worked at Enron); you wouldn’t employ a fitness trainer and then tell them what to include in your workout; and you wouldn’t buy a dog and then insist on doing all the barking.
So why, then, do we continue to encounter situations in which line managers tell the guys from l&d exactly what they want in terms of learning interventions, with the expectation that they’ll simply take these instructions and run. “You’d like a six-hour e-learning package to train customer service staff to sell over the telephone? A two-day workshop to teach every detail of a new company system to all employees, regardless of whether or not they will be using it? A one-hour podcast to teach manual handling skills? No problem. That’s what we’re here for, to meet your requirements.”
Hang on a minute, you’re probably thinking. This isn’t an encounter between a professional and a client, it’s simply order taking.
When asked to jump, a professional does not ask “how high?” They say, “Let’s talk about this a little, because jumping may not be the best solution for you in this situation.” And if this tactic doesn’t work and the professional is told in no uncertain terms that jumping is the only acceptable option, then he or she has two choices: either they resign and get another job where their role as a professional is properly valued; or they agree to go ahead, but only after having expressed quite clearly in writing that jumping is against their best advice.
Learning and development isn’t common sense; it isn’t intuitive. If it was then experts wouldn’t lecture at novices for hours on end; they wouldn’t insist on passing on everything they know, however irrelevant, however incomprehensible. That’s why we have l&d professionals, so they can explain, in terms that the lay person can clearly understand, how people acquire knowledge and develop skills, and how best to support this process. If the customer doesn’t hear this advice, they will assume that the people in l&d are just the builders, not the architects; and, if no-one seems to be offering architectural services, they’ll take on the task for themselves.
Coming next: Chapter 2: Time for a rethink
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