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The Evolution of Learning & Development: A journey insight

By Binesh Menon, India Head – Learning & Development, Emerson Electric

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Binesh Menon, India Head – Learning & Development, Emerson Electric

Learning and Development in the Indian Corporate World has had a very interesting evolution in the last few decades. The erstwhile “Personnel” department was often pre-occupied with more “important” and pressing matters like staffing, Labour and Union issues, Time keeping, Wages/Salaries etc. The only Training that if at all happened was to enable an operator to do his job. This was typically handled by the seasoned staff on the shop floor and was blessed with little, if any, inputs from the Personnel department. For the office staff, training was provided mostly on the job and the favoured modus operandi was for a senior staff member to take the newer apprentice under his wing, so much for formal Training!

The first sign of things improving for the better in this regard was the replacement of the “Personnel” department by the more sophisticated “Human Resource Development (HRD)” department. For the first time training and development was considered as one of the deliverables of this department. Yet, it was just something that an HR Generalist (in today’s parlance) would do rather than a specialist in the domain.

The game changer in this evolution was when the “D” broke away from “HR” and created its own identity as “T&D” or the first ever specialized “Training & Development” function. The journey from there on has been accelerated and the function gained much repute in the organizations wherever it was fostered. Soon the training function evolved and metamorphosed into organization development, talent transformation, learning and development and many such other avatars. The gamut of influence for the function also grew, and encompassed – Induction programs for new joiners, classroom training delivery & management, targeted development initiatives, performance enhancement plans, leadership development, talent reviews, succession planning, coaching, mentoring et al.

As the function diversified and grew in its influence so did the skills of the specialists managing these functions. Today, in most organizations the Learning & Development teams comprise of individuals, who are not only adept at facilitation skills and training management, but also, behavioural experts in their own right. However, often one characteristic trait of these functions is that they are usually managed by skeletal staffs, which means they rely heavily on the external consultants. Which ideally should not be much of a challenge since the market is flooded with consultants who can address all types of needs that may arise in any organization. Therein however, also lays the problem.

The reason I began this write-up highlighting the evolution of the specialist Learning & Development function and the metamorphosis of the L&D Manager, is to point out the fact, that today’s L&D manager knows exactly why she or he would like to work with an external consultant and has very clear expectations on the deliverables. The concern however, is often times the Training Consultants lose focus of the basics and spend their time and energy on the unnecessary frills and hoo-hah! Often times, underestimating - the knowledge, skills and experience of the seasoned L&D professional, at the other end of the table. I have to my dismay even noticed some of these consultants try to cover up for their own inadequate knowledge of the craft by hiding behind jargons and random certifications.

The fact of the matter is all L&D leaders need worthy partnering consultants –

And by “Worthy”, I mean any partner who can deliver the basics well –

  • Listen - Understand the need, don’t be overly concerned on selling, but be more focussed on understanding. Every Industry, organization, department, and even work group has a unique need, in fact the same set of people have different needs at different points in time. So unless you are listening to the brief with absolute attention you are definitely missing out on something.
  • Program design – Stop pedalling off the shelf modules as customized. Either you sell it as an off the shelf or you design something specifically for the need. Don’t insult the intelligence of the Learning & Development specialists by making minor tweaks to your existing module and pretending that it is specially designed as per the brief provided.
  • Trainer – The trainer need not be the best in the industry or needn’t have 20 years of experience. All we need is someone who understands the purpose of why he or she is conducting the workshop. What are the expected business outcomes? And can steer the program and the learning experience to achieve the expected business outcomes by means of the defined learning objectives.
  • Basic – Basic – Basic – The 3 Ps!
  • Punctuality - reverting to requirements in time, trainer’s punctuality, paper work – invoices, documentation etc. to be generated in time.
  • Professionalism –In every interaction, in every action.
  • Partner – people development is the objectives don’t lose sight of it.

I hope in the times to come we have more and more of such “Good” training consultants (the ones who sincerely care about development and growth of the participants) out there. Because I truly believe there are many others like me on either side of the table, who are genuinely in this line of work because we are passionate about changing lives!

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