Yesterday, with a spring in my step and an expectation that had been somewhat managed by a blog from the fantastic Simon Heath on day 1, I set off with my best trainers outfit (a sort of everybody’s favorite uncle ensemble) for the CIPD’s Learning and Development event at the Olympia.
Ultimately my day was sandwiched between an outward journey from my sweet commuter town that worries about entryism of Aldi shoppers, churning through the excellent Professor Lynda Gratton’s The Shift about the future of work on the train southbound to the big smoke. This topic arouses my senses like a first teenage hormonal fumble. And with technology, globalization, demographics and climate impact hitting the world of taylorism like a well-placed punchbag I wanted to step into the congenial world of L&D and see how my often fluffy peers were handling this oncoming disruptive tsunami.
Now what follows is probably a mixture of poor choices on my behalf, my natural impatience and my ultimate worldview reinforced that we spend too much time on irrelevance and in-fighting for the price of the CEO’s glance at the top table (YAWN !). Others will have had a ball and probably made better choices than I did on the day.
Back to me, having powdered my enormous nose and got my overpriced coffee I went straight to a session that I thought would teach me the power and influence L&D had in leading change. Start strategically before I get snippets of innovation I said to myself, actually turned out to be a 3 year old kids party where we were invited to strip naked for a stranger to demonstrate how uncomfortable change could be. After I put all my clothes back on I rolled my eyes to hear a theme that resonated too often during the day and that was the siloed cheers of the L&D community at the expense of others in the people space. HR were booed like a pantomime dame and in the era of returned growth (copyright George Osborne) L&D were ‘go ahead and tell everybody, I’m the the man, I’m the man’ (copyright Aloe Blacc). Yet all the content on the screen screamed reactive agenda and unnecessary isolationism.
Having decided that was probably a bad start, the Hay Group put on a product placement advert for their an online system that sounded awfully like the clunky old self-assessment / personal development diskette I proudly put together in 1995 for BT. I was being sold to and not informed was my growing realization.
Given the fantastic viral marketing campaign by David D’Souza (who it was a pleasure to meet in the flesh) I went eagerly to the CIPD stand to hear from their very own Andy Lancaster, who was engaging and informative and banged the L&D drum religiously. From what I understood as a now uncomfortable HR generalist blow-in was that there had been a divorce a while ago with the L&D mob but now there were extensive plans to get back together again and show the love. CIPD relevance was returning but as I listened to some good stuff I couldn’t help mirror the business world CEO’s ‘so what’ when stuff like an editorial decision to have an L&D section in People Management was part of the change agenda. The trainers’ convention was now in full swing.
I was flailing now. I tried sustenance only to find I had to remortgage the house for the price of a white slice sandwich that 1970s British Rail would be proud of. My ongoing exhaustion had me stagger into a session where we were made to stand and do breathing exercises or I was forced to watch foreign movies on financial processes. More product placements yet little learning and definitely no innovation. I was desperate for inspiration !
Before leaving that sacred place I decided to play it safe and went to the Daniel Pink Drive session run by the magnificent Perry Timms of CIPD fame. Only Weller, Jagger and Mercury came close to the sort of performance this man is capable of in such circumstances and I lapped it up. There was hope and as I’d climaxed there was only going to be disappointment by staying so I retreated into a world that looked like a scene from Seven as the rain pelted down. Well Dan Pink told me it was the sort of autonomous mastery I needed to embrace and my purpose was to recognize that the day had been a bit of a busted flush.
As I reflected on the cloistered, warm and safe environment I left behind, reality bit in the form of a City commentary in the Evening Standard from Anthony Hilton entitled “Human Resources must up their act if UK is to succeed”. Whilst not exactly blaming the profession for everything he rightfully claimed its impotence was a factor. ‘Anal, inward-looking and living in a world detached from the cut and thrust of business……ensuring the business is compliant and putting in place training programmes”. Resisting the obvious urge to get defensive on points of detail it’s a prevailing bugbear of mine and the L&D conference did nothing to allay my fears that we are not reflecting business critical matters, debating the gorillas in the room about effectiveness, collaboration and relevance but rather remaining safely inside conventions of like-minded groupthink or promises of paradise from product placements. The CIPD seem overly focused on winning back the hearts and minds (and missing memberships) of the L&D community than having some critical examinations of an overall story they should be showing leadership in.
I’m not singling out the L&D community per se but the reinforcement of the functional silo is outdated and we need to change this mindset within the people profession. I know for a fact that the recruitment folk will rock up separately reinforcing more separation from the wider HR community when it comes to their time to party down at Olympia. I’ll probably go, undercover again, changing my attire to cufflinks and sharp suits and I’ll definitely bring my own sandwiches. I’ll check I still have my wallet when I leave too 🙂
As I reflect on Lynda Gratton’s brilliant analysis of what lies ahead and the associated opportunity it presents to those in the people space and Anthony Hilton rightfully telling us HR must up its game, the middle part of my sandwich yesterday felt stale & safe although the punters bought it and never seemed to complain about their lot. Ah well, the debate goes on.
Until next time.