My subject for a presentation at
the People Development Summit in Amsterdam last month was the link between
organisational change and learning. The debate threw up some stark contrasts
among delegates on the real issues facing them.
A small minority felt their
organisations looked to them to set the agenda for strategy. They wanted the
learning experience to help the organisation determine strategy and business
development in the future. Many others felt themselves to be at the other end
of the spectrum, trying to pick up the pieces after major structural change,
cost cutting, "downsizing", "rightsizing" and capsizing.
They felt out of control and unable to influence the process.
Most were between these extremes.
They were juggling with the dilemmas like short versus long term, the need to
be in at the beginning of any change yet be producing programmes of lasting
value and of integrating the old with the new, holding on to past experience
and learning from it. Other difficult choices include articulating a vision
that honours where people have come from and at the same time give inspiration
for the future and managing the learning within tighter budgets and the need to
measure the real benefits.
The need to measure value was a
constant theme. However, it was mainly an issue to justify training
interventions in retrospect, to keep the accountants happy and did not seem to
feed back into overall training policies for the future.
The successful major change
programmes linked to learning seemed to have birth in an intuitive belief by a
chief executive officer or senior team in the value of an imaginative approach
to training to create culture change. This was unrelated to a prior calculation
of the role of training and development – a step of faith. The measurement came
later – related to the methodology (perhaps to be used for a future situation
when choices exist) and perhaps not to the whole programme.
The topic of the moment,
e-learning, was not seen as a total replacement for traditional training
methods such as classroom learning and coaching. A plea went up for a blended
solution of using the beauty of new technology but keep the "old"
In many ways the dilemmas the
training and development professionals at the conference were expressing
reflected those that senior management experience. This gives a chance to get
in at the beginning, recognise and share the mutual dilemmas, challenge and
influence towards that compelling vision and values that can truly link
learning to change – avoiding the "victim" syndrome of being left as
By Professor Clive Morton,
independent HR consultant,
chairman of Whitwell Learning and former CIPD vice-president www.themortonpartnership.com