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?

Saturday, July 7, 2012

CEOs state a problem too many

Often coachees meet their coach with reference to a ‘problem’ they have. When coachees are CEOs, the ‘problems’ tend to have a trend alright, only to be differentiated by their experiences, personalities and visions of who they think they are. The coach on the other hand looks for the invitation from the coachee, not in terms of the beliefs and values; but in terms of their clients’ inner discovery of themselves. Now, this invitation commences with a trigger akin to friendship. 

The seasoned coach however will qualify such an invitation, for her process is not about ‘friendship’ but about respect for her capability to engage in deep developmental experiences.

In coaching, the bottomline is not personal, but about the levels of thinking that the relationship between coach and coachee can unfold in positive ways. Coaching is about systems, the personal, the group and the organisation, where the transforming person links it all in integrative ways.

In my recent months, CEOs I’ve engaged with have come in various hues.  The coachee immaturely seals opportunities by misconceiving choices. The common challenge they represent for themselves is the distillation of self in the present from the self of past successes. They find it difficult to clarify the emergence they will need to embrace from the set learning patterns they are comfortable with. It is a slow unlearning for leaders who do not go within themselves.

What can stop them from doing so? Here are some reasons I can think of even as I am aware that some of these could grip the most unsuspecting amongst us, including yours' truly. 

1.       Purpose Clarity : A lack of enthusiasm in inspiring themselves and others to the future with endearing focus
2.       Hesitant Initiative : A fear of staying the distance to implement aspects of stated focus
3.       Social Savvy : Not dealing with different people with forthright diplomacy 
4.       Touchiness : Paradoxically, the CEO-self embattles images of personal glory with fragility.

Each of the above could command levels of specific detail. Expecting me to be more candid here will  border on casualness. Here, suffice it to say that CEOs demand compliance more often than they unleash contribution. Habitual acts lock the emotional brain so tight as to produce unproductive routines. The coach uses powerful questions that inspire novel thinking patterns. New productive habits then get anchored in the personal system of the coachee.

Leadership is a choice, as is personal development. So is survival. If growth is not an option, the choices are in terms of how to proceed.

Imagine framing lack of operational efficiency in terms of non-compliant team-members for instance.   That could be a different problem than the one the CEO is stuck with.