Sunday, July 29, 2012

Conception of viable boundaries for Learning and Development (L&D)


SHRM India had published an article in March 2011 that I wrote on WHAT’S NEXT IN LEARNING AND DEVELOPMENT: REFLECTIONS OF A PRACTITIONERI reflect on one of the points made last year. It is to do with ‘boundaries’. Here’s an extract from a point I made.

The boundaries of the organization are getting redrawn due to varying physical stations of the learner – home, project and base location for example. This blurring may imply that ‘developmental’ processes – whether for career, for training or organizational development, will mean newer kinds of recognition of learning needs and corresponding interventions. It requires greater investment in understanding what works in the context of the evolving learner – from the nouveau-urbanite, and the telecommuter to the aspiring shop-floor apprentice and the assertive front-office sales agent. These dynamics of L&D scenarios need observation, especially because information is impoverished if the learner has no means of applying it in his or her particular context. 

I surprised myself on the extent to which this dimension holds good. The recent context has induced a risk-aversion, and yes, a definition of boundaries in organisational life. I write this to arouse the perceptual threshold that leaders miss due to dysfunctional adaptation.
1.      Budgets are a symptom, not the cause of capability building: CEOs and Finance leaders will find it easier to cut spending in downturns. Some CEOs discover their L&D orientations in such crises. Others concentrate on structural aspects of capital before feeling comfortable about ‘discretionary’ spends. Visionary CEOs I engaged with did not see L&D budgets as a risk. Yet, their boundaries of thinking are interestingly poised. The mediator is their need for control. They like to control the nature of L&D as if their prowess in budgetary allocation will naturally spring expertise over learning content and process in ‘organisation’. This is a boundary that L&D specialists may find tricky to negotiate.
2.     Inter-cultural boundary management is precipitated by global commerce, and not reduced by it : There is a lag effect in the field I observed. MNCs in India have been around for a while. They staffed India with headquarter personnel on ‘international’ assignments of fixed periods. While that extended tenure of their organisations in India, the local workforce of Indian origin has had more than virtual teams to contend with. Early adaptation meant a reconciliation to task based management, with a ‘transactional’ relationship exterior in business operations. Employees segmented their roles so much that their readiness for the future will hinge on redrawing their boundaries of the ‘self’ itself. Leadership responsibility of global impact is a huge expectation of late. While the challenge is an opportunity, maturation is often contrasted with global counterparts who have longer work experience.  This lag is an inter-cultural one, not just of ‘best practice’ imitation.
3.     ‘Focus’ as language of boundary and confusion with intent : While economic crises help clarify choices of business imperatives, ‘focus’ on a product-market, is different from ‘focus’ in L&D decisions. Focus on expense control can cut out more than is necessary for development to be experienced. Without immersing in a meaningful learning experience, the learner may be more distanced from the organisation, than dip-stick polls and ill-framed problem statements can suggest. It is building redundancy of learning processes that matters. More learning must happen than is applied. That is when a learner is willing to commit action, and even conceive of development. A free for all learning climate is no option either.
What’s your focus on learning and development? Where do you draw the boundary line when under stress? Is India readying in relevant ways for the global economy because of learning?