The real problems with Trump, Corbyn, Johnson, Jobs, Branson and the rest

I tweeted today to ask David Schneider, perhaps best known as a comedian but now often a political commentator, to stop using ‘Trump’ as a direct replacement for the USA in a tweet about today’s big story – selling off the NHS:

Whilst I appreciate, in the above, I am referring to Trump being used in place of ‘America companies’ the wider point is one where we are seeing ‘great men of history’ theory playing out in real time. If we look at Trump, he is the figure head of (perhaps late stage?) American capitalism – Michael Moore having for-seen this as a joke back in 1999 as part of RATM video. Stigmatising Trump may well be valid but he is also quite possibly ill and will almost certainly be followed by similar figures.

This focus on male figureheads can be seen in the increasingly presidential UK elections – ‘Boris’ vs Corbyn, blue vs red, ‘Boris’ vs Trotsky, etc, etc. The Green New Deal in the US and the Labour UK equivalent are huge stories – the people involved less so. However, it feels like the focus is on the people not the change being advocated.

This is of course endemic in the business world too with huge focus on powerful founders and CEOs – often these people are the first to aknowledge they owe their success to much wider teams, in other cases they manifest the worse kind of leadership quality – bullying, long hours culture, etc. Even worse, many are exemplars of tax avoidance and other shaddy practices.

From a learning perspective we need need to master the internal storytelling of organisations – focusing on people and products but also much more, for example, what environmental elements made successes possible? How can we share and repeat success?

Let’s get below the surface and really consider what these ‘great men’ are doing whilst focusing less on them and more on the substance. Please.

The old L&D measures are not just wrong: they should now be seen as negatives

Following on from my post about ‘greening L&D’ I’ve just listened to the recent L&D podcast from David James (with guest Kevin Yates).

I’ve heard Kevin speak before and it is difficult to disagree with his focus on metrics.  Indeed I fear I’ve even scared some recruiters off in the past when talking about what the organisational goals/metrics are when being interviewed by the learning department, when they would rather talk about preconceived ideas about what the best ‘learning solution’ may be.

Kevin mentions the business/organisational problem with the traditionally captured L&D metrics – like smiley sheet feedback and attendance numbers – i.e. that they are not business/organisation measures but L&D management measures.  However, I would take this further and say many of these measures are now active negatives in a world where we need to ‘green’ our ways of working.  I would argue we have to take the Learning Reducer mindset to be brutal with our activity – not just for the money spent on the activity but anything involving travel (face-to-face training, instructional design meetings, etc), printing, digital tool use (electricity), etc in terms of their contribution to our organisations’ carbon footprint.

I’m happy to support training if it actively builds networks in the company, increases confidence (especially considering the mounting mental health crisis) and other measures which may not be directly company related metrics (i.e. not hard ROI or ‘bottom line’) BUT the expectations need to be clear and measurable up front.  Indeed Kevin does mentions that for difficult things like putting metrics to tricky areas like behaviour change – ‘metrication’ (if I use that phrase) – we should still aim to do it (when appropriate).

How green is your L&D? Where is the climate concern from people development professionals?

Between extinction rebellion, Greta Thunberg and the growing political consensus it is clear 2019 may finally be the year where climate change is taken seriously.  I posted briefly about this in April but its been telling of late how little (if at all) this topic has permeated into L&D professional conversations.

In some ways L&D have led the way in corporate environmentalism – the shift towards eLearning and virtual classrooms have performed considerable savings in travel time and CO2.  Often due to budget pressure L&D has found new ways to support learning and performance.  However, we continue to see job posts advertised where location is the primary factor – rather than recognising the true power of global collaboration technologies.  VUCA and other challenges to L&D/organisational strategies are talked about but sustainability is talked about in a business sense, not in the sense of making your work more sustainable.  In a quick Google search, the top results relating to ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’ L&D are nothing to do with the environment or climate crisis at all.  For example, the topic article returned for ‘sustainable L&D’ is a typical L&D article, namely that it considers the chance of survival for L&D in terms of proving worth to the boardroom, rather than anything to do with contributing to how sustainable the organisation is environmentally.

Learning (in and outside of the workplace) is an essential aspect of the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs) as both an enabler and as specific parts of goals, such as “Quality Education”.  However, the learning and development field seems silent on the topic and continues to pass this issue on to others within the organisation.  The time has come for far more of a focus?

National Retraining Scheme: The government calling out L&D departments as failures?

I think I’d somehow missed the news regarding the National Retraining Scheme (NRS) until today.

Some further info links and my own initial thoughts quickly thrown together below:

There’s a lot to like in this, not least that a Conservative government is working with Trade Unions on such a thing.  However, previous cuts to funding are obviously part of the issue but this scheme, as an investigation of alternative models, feels like it deserves to be given a chance.  Indeed Labour’s plans for a “National Education Service” would presumably supersede this if the government changes but shares some common ideology.

A worry would be that government agendas risk further muddying the waters by making personal improvement akin to getting your bins emptied and other services, i.e. “the government should do it” rather than encouraging people to consider this themselves.  Of course, this has always been a problem and the decline of traditional manufacturing left many areas of the country with skilled labour that needed to move, re-skill or face unemployment.  Similarly this article in the FE press states an issue that has effectively existed ever since schools were created, my view here would be to advocate for apprenticeships and on-the-job learning (ironically apprentice adoption currently being damaged by the 20% off-the-job rules):

what really is a first world problem is the number of people who have been completely put off any type of learning by the time they leave school.

However, the whole scheme also poses more ‘noise’ along with T-levels, apprenticeships and the rest.  Therefore, careers and personal development advice becomes increasingly important, and messy, in this environment – the simplification of polytechnics in 1992 being rolled back somewhat into more complex ‘streams’ of people.

Considering the domination of the universities, especially since ’92, it is nice to see something being done specifically for those without a degree.  However, this counters the logic in the apprenticeship reforms, namely that those with a degree can now reskill via apprenticeships but not via the NRS.

The TES article points out “that [perceptions the] learning isn’t relevant” will be a barrier.  As most L&D departments will attest learning will only stick if the learner has opportunity to put the material into practice – therefore there is a real risk of NRS supporting people for roles that should be available but are quite possibly not.  As the article says, “employer engagement is key” – or, in other words, the employers really ought to be on top of this but the government are aware of potential rising unemployment, decreasing disposable incomes and a general failure of organisations to train and retain.

The often ignored realities of talent management (#5): Succession planning is *actually* important (aka – lessons from the Conservatives)

Like a lot of people I suspect, I’m finding myself tweeting and blogging more about political topics than I ever suspected I would. My tweet this morning:

was less about Boris or the Conservative Party or even the ridiculous idea of ‘family values’ and more about how, in less than a decade, we have seen the media totally shift from a values based approach when it comes to the suitability of a politician to be UK Prime Minister.

Concepts such as those tied up in the attacks on Miliband (values, personality, etc) will be all too familiar to those who work in organisations – especially for those who work directly in organisational design, talent and learning roles.

The argument I’d like to make here is that since 2016 we have seen, through the office of Prime Minister but particularity from the Conservative and Unionist Party (as the pipeline for PMs), a total failure of organisational design. Now, in many ways, Labour has of course been suffering the same problems, with failed bids to change the leader. Therefore, this can be seen as an example of how dysfunctional organisations (in this case political parties) can be without clear talent management.

Those who are anti-Cameron, anti-Johnson, anti-May, anti-Corbyn, etc. would of course like to shine the light on leadership and say (from a classical business studies perspective) that none of these people have sufficiently engaged their organisations, they did (or have) not bring people along through change management, etc. There have been some very good articles written on what this means for leadership in Britain, for example see this 2016 article from the New Yorker that almost entirely still applies. However, rather than leadership, I’d say the ultimate issue here is succession planning. These organisations have been allowed to lurch between extremes (such as between the left v right of parties or between different personality types). At the same time both Labour and the Conservatives have grown in terms of membership, albeit after massive drops in the 90s and 00s (as a % of voting population anyway). In effect we’ve seen the classic industry issue, a dilution of values and behaviours as organisations have changed, grown and splintered.

Look back at the 2016 leadership ‘campaign’ and it is bizarre that Boris Johnson seems to have got support from basically quitting and refusing to work with PM May. In other words, he’s now the best candidate because they’ve gone down the route of isolating any ‘remain’ elements in the party and positioning himself as internal opposition. His behaviour in an organisational context would be seen as toxic. Yet he is now supported by the same MPs who in 2016 “wouldn’t back Johnson without Gove alongside him” and who “suddenly…weren’t answering their phones or had turned them off” when Gove ‘switched’. Now Boris is seen as the ‘best of a bad bunch’ by many, if only because he is entertaining. Indeed Michael Gove really needs reminding that in 2016 he kept saying that he didn’t want to be PM, so why does he keep going for it?.

In the quarrels between Blair and Brown, the abandonment of high office by Cameron and Osborne and now the ‘internal opposition’ of Boris taking over from May we’ve seen these organisations fail with transitions. Whatever happens in the next few weeks there is a desperate need for parties to groom potential leaders better but also to cast the net beyond the ‘Westminster bubble’ so increasingly distrusted by voters. While Cameron had a long ‘apprenticeship’, serving under leaders such as Michael Howard, you suspect the two main political parties need to be much smarter if they are to survive.

So, the next time you think ‘succession planning’ is boring, too hard or just impossible (because, for example, the market changes too often or people move in and out too much to manage) just think how much of a mess your organisation could be in with no talent pipeline and no retention of organisational knowledge. Then invest in talent and knowledge management and rejoice!