We’re not asking the right question

The ongoing debate about graduate quality, and education is an interesting one and for anyone who cares about the future of the economy, is quite frankly an issue that cannot be ignored. I wrote a post some time ago about the future of L&D, where the discussion was focused on how L&D needs to be involved in helping businesses develop the skills it requires for success. Mervyn Dinnen, last week wrote a post about how the skills his son is learning seem to reflect the skills required by businesses, but for some reason they’re not being recognised as such.

I think there’s a further consideration we have to have here, before solutions can be provided for our apparent broken education system. I think we’re not asking the right question. Business leaders that claim our graduates are not fit for purpose, are taking a stance based on their view of the education system and what it provides for the workforce. And that’s a valid point of view to have, although it’s a one track line of thought. This line of thought goes something like this – I have a successful business, I need an intelligent workforce to enable my business to continue to be successful. The first place I will look for this intelligent workforce is in the national education system. The second place I’ll look is the apprenticeship schemes available. The last place I’ll look is the migrant worker population.

Most medium-large size businesses have an L&D function of some sort that is tasked with continuing the learning and development of its population. They have to consider graduates, to the unskilled, to interns, to the experienced, to leadership and management development. They have to consider organisational development, cross-cultural issues, health and well-being, diversity and more.

In a post recently I wrote about how business leaders are not thinking about learning seriously enough. And this is where I think it comes to. There’s an expectation that someone else will do the development. There’s an expectation that someone else will fix the problem. There’s an expectation that it’s someone else’s responsibility, and be free from the task of actually doing anything.

The question I think that needs to be asked is – How can I develop the business acumen needed to sustain the future of my business? I think that places the onus of responsibility squarely at the feet of business leaders, and no one else. If you think the education system – which by the way is one of the most sought after education systems in the world – is broken, then what are you doing to help? Are you creating a curriculum to develop the skills you’re looking for? Are you realising that expecting your staff to be 100% utilised is not effective and does not allow for growth of the business? Are you providing a structured development plan for any new member of staff to go through that develops their business acumen to the required level? Is business acumen one of your core competencies? If it isn’t, why isn’t it?

Business acumen is a huge, vast topic. It doesn’t just sit with a leadership and senior team. It sits with everyone. If your business objective is to create renewable sources of energy, does the person in IT Support understand how their role is vital to the company achieving its objective? Does the agency worker you’ve brought in understand how their particular project is going to enable the business to achieve this aim? Does the consultant you’ve brought in to do a leadership development session understand that whatever they do, needs to help the team think about how to achieve this objective?

And, importantly, business acumen is everyone’s responsibility. Have I been reading about what’s happening in the industry? Did I know about the release of the iPad, and think about how it might impact my business? Was I allowed to present a case for doing something about it? Was there enough trust in staff to be able to deliver what they have promised? Did you attend the conference on new technologies and think about what your business is doing to do the same or different? Did you sit down, consider, and then write about something so important that it made a difference to the workforce? Did you take personal responsibility for getting a project delivered on time? Did you make sure you have regular catch up meetings with your team? Did you set clear objectives for your staff?

BUT WAIT, that’s not all. Business acumen is simply one piece of the pie. What about Creativity? What about Innovation? What about Operations? What about HR? What about IT? What about Marketing? What about Sales? What about Personal Impact? What about Product Development? What about social media? These and more are pivotal to business success. So, the issue about the education system being broken, is like I said, one view. The other view we have to consider is, what are we bloody well doing about it?

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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

One thought on “We’re not asking the right question”

  1. Such a sensible post as always! Hear Hear that man!

    As an external provider I get frustrated when I’m asked – ‘how will YOU ensure we get ROI for this training, facilitation, coaching, management development programme?’ Our input is only part of the story, how does the culture encourage people to try their new skills, how are people rewarded and recognised, what further encouragement and confidence-building do line managers offer?

    I was facilitating a module on a management development programme yesterday (ironically on leading change) and a participant said ‘It’s like being in another world when I’m in this room, then I have to go back out there to work under pressure with no-one else thinking in the same way’.

    In over 27 years in L&D I’ve not seen a significant shift in thinking around responsibility for learning to either the individual or the whole organisation and its leadership – pockets of it – yes, and that gives me hope but Sukh is so right – it’s someone else’s responsibility!

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