Bottoms up! Let’s change the rules…

It’s that time of year again, you know, when at the top of your inbox is an all staff communication reminding you to put time aside to prepare for a career development conversation with your manager. The question is, do you:

1. Get annoyed at the thought of yet another item for your ‘to do’ list

2. Get cynical about how ‘valuable’ your last one was

3. Dread the thought of having to think about where you’re going in your career

If any of these seem familiar; you’re not alone. So why is it, that something that should be the chance to focus on yourself is tossed aside or feared? Well there may be several reasons but the overriding one is that development should by its nature be a continuous progression. A journey of self-discovery into one’s own needs and ambitions, enabled through honest personal reflection.

When deadlines are inevitably missed it’s often HR that are blamed for the ills around the performance management cycle. To help put the onus back into the hands in which they belong, it’s worth considering two points.

First and foremost, isn’t it time that we break away from the traditional top-down approach and instead encourage a bottom-up approach that motivates individuals to address their development needs? Rather than dictating already-mapped-out career paths how about learning paths and career development that allow individuals to truly explore their skills and how they can best be applied. Applied not only to their current role but others outside their immediate area of expertise. Essentially the freedom to make choices that best suit their needs and aspirations. Giving employees free reign to explore, could not only steer their interest in another direction but also help employers to retain them. After all, doesn’t this support what most organisations are striving for: a talented and multi-skilled workforce?

One way to illicit more ownership from individuals is to have a learning platform that enables people to personalise their development and see multiple paths. A platform which inspires users to learn, to discover new content and contribute to the learning of others through immediate feedback. Something that enables them not just to be guided by bland course descriptions but instead by experiences, and by collaborating with others.

For most organisations the pace of change cannot be underestimated. Using this approach gives L&D, as custodians of this platform, an immediate source of invaluable data analytics to help determine where the pain points are and where more development support is required. Armed with real-time insight rather than looking back retrospectively after the annual performance cycle is complete…that’s where the true value lies. It’s an approach that feeds upwards back into the business strategy, helping leaders to understand whether they have the skills needed to support the direction of the organisation.

Clearly as well as advocating individual choice, the development of individuals must be aligned to support the needs of the business. That’s where my second point comes in…the need for L&D to have a seat firmly at the Exec table. More often than not, it is the HR Director that is invited into the realms of the Executive Leadership Team (ELT) meeting. It’s here that the business strategy is discussed and decisions are made, including the development needs of employees. The HR leader is then tasked with translating the subsequent action points back to L&D to deliver on the requirements. On the rare occasion that a Learning Specialist does attend the ELT, it’s often an invite as a ‘special guest’ in which a 5-10 minute slot is afforded to campaign or showcase a specific topic.

Rather than being an afterthought, it’s important that as a centre of excellence, L&D has a place at the heart of Board conversations. The reliance on HR to relay key messages means that a golden opportunity is lost to fully utilise their expertise in aligning the bottom-up employee perspective on development with the top-down business strategy.

In an ideal world, business leaders would be demanding L&D presence at every Board meeting however the reality is that securing that seat at the table is easier said than done. But in a climate where uncertainty is rife following the outcome of Brexit, now more than ever is the opportunity for L&D to take centre stage as an enabler of business resilience in tough times, supporting the development of a talented multi-skilled workforce that is adaptable to potential changes afoot.

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About the author

Caroline Nankinga - Instructional designer and project lead

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