Uncharted Waters

So it’s been a few days since HRD 2013 finished hosted by the CIPD, and here’s my final set of thoughts on the conference and the L&D profession.

The L&D profession is essentially driving itself into complacency. The other day I asked the question if L&D has stalled, and this has been bugging me. Why have we stalled? As one of the speakers at the conference said, this is the time for L&D (and HR) to shine, to really let loose within our organisations, and drive change. Except, this is an ambition only a few will ever realise.

There’s some important things to consider in my statement.

The economy continues to be fucked. Spending is still down, people are unsure of what’s happening tomorrow, and the government has narrowly escaped a third recession. This means organisations are in uncharted waters. They don’t know how to navigate this uncertainty, and don’t know where to get their inspiration from. There aren’t any experts or ‘gurus’ who can provide the much sought after guidance. No-one knows what the answer is. This has the potential to ignite a fire in some and create an awesome set of opportunities. For the vast majority they’re just trying to tread this water until they find shore when they can regain their footing and do what they always did. Except what most don’t realise is that shore they land on will be in undiscovered countries where the same old things are obsolete.

There are no new advancement in the understanding of the human condition – not significant enough to challenge the way we think about human learning and development. When we are still using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as a basis for talking about motivation, this is evidence enough of how complacent we are in the profession. Quite possibly the only new piece of thinking we can rely on is in the area of neuroscience, as technology allows us to discover more about the intricacies of the brain.

At the same time, there are a lot of theories about human learning and development, and in particular about organisational learning and development. For the modern L&Der to be skilled enough, knowledgeable enough, and able enough to be jack of all trades, and master of all is mission impossible – yet it’s what’s being asked of us. Which are we supposed to invest our efforts in? Which are we supposed to disregard? Which are going to help our organisations move forward? Which are going to be obsolete tomorrow? And most importantly – who has the answer to any of that?

Engagement is a topic that isn’t going away any time soon. There’s a lot being said about discretionary effort, and it’s causing some people to be turned off to the concept and conversation. What happened to just treating people right and doing the right things? When did it become about policy and management and protocol?

Technology continues to progress at a greater speed than the late majority will get to grips with. Take the world of movies as an example. No-one these days sells VHS cassettes. DVDs, blurays and online streaming are the world of today. Give it a few years and DVDs will become obsolete. How do we keep up with these advancements? How do we harness what the technology enables us to do and use it to aid learners needs? Do we even know what learners needs are anymore? I’m of the growing opinion that we are becoming more clueless about what the learner needs in order to be effective in their roles we hire them for.

Social technologies in particular are causing a lot discomfort and anxiety for people who don’t know how to harness it. They can (and are) being used in all manners from learning to marketing to the glib to the insightful. And there are so many to use to connect with others, how are we supposed to navigate that? The question of need is redundant, it has to be done. The questions become centred around using them for useful and progressive purposes. Holy mama, I’m getting tired now.

The skills of the L&Der need to be more. Save a few people, most of what I heard from various speakers is that we are treading water to keep alive. We’re not allowing ourselves to thrive and act with intention and positivity. We have the opportunity to do this, but we lack the creativity to find what that means. How does this make you feel? Are you inspired to act differently? Do you want to fight about this and argue your case?

I, for one, refuse to be part of this complacency. It’s a rotten place to be.