L&D QuestionTime – Bobby Chatterjee

With the recent announcement of the finalists of the 2018 Learning Awards, we start a new series of the L&D QuestionTime where we hear from this years finalists.

Today we hear from Bobby Chatterjee shortlisted in the Learning Professional of the Year category.

In your opinion, what is the biggest anxiety within the world of learning and development at the moment?

There are two main anxieties that I see which are linked: L&D people having to justify opportunity cost (loss of time in the business to attend learning initiatives) and L&D often being accused of not being close enough to their business to really add value with the interventions that they suggest. The topic of opportunity cost is an interesting and commercially reasonable question – but my response is more a question asking what if they don’t attend development initiatives, or it is so short that it doesn’t deliver sustainable change in behaviour? No-one can exactly pinpoint the opportunity cost as how do you know exactly what a person would have done if they weren’t being trained in some way? Equally, nor can they easily quantify the consequential / potential loss from what a person would have done such as increased productivity, new ideas, better management, talent retention etc. if they didn’t attend the training. The unquestionable value that L&D add is getting harder as many organisations streamline their teams so there are fewer people covering increasingly large numbers of people. We all need to play our part to create a culture where learning is valued and expected wherever we work.

Who or what is informing your thinking around L&D?

Like many others in L&D, I read widely on work-related TED talks, articles and books and always have a new stack ready to delve into! I really enjoy considering our L&D world from a variety of angles to give me a new perspective and am always reading articles and news to search for new examples or ways to explain or embed a concept. I use that reading and making of meaning to add value by either creating either my own management models or to adapt those already in the public domain. Compared to others, I often work outside-in to learn, as I spend a lot of my personal time in the businesses that I support, for example, sitting in meetings to understand the real challenges that people are facing. This informs my thinking when I design programmes and initiatives.

What is the most exciting innovation on the horizon for learning?

I love recent development in learning analytics. In a world of increasing pressures on budgets, people analytics can help businesses to know who would be most likely to benefit – depending on the data you slice, this could identify a particular population, level, location etc. to target, rather than spending a lot of budget ‘sheep dipping’ everyone through a particular programme when not everyone actually needs it. For example, the result of one of our analytics showed the likelihood of a disproportionately positively payback for developing coaching skills.

What “game changers” would you like to see and why?

I would like to see continuing professional development (CPD) as an expectation for all professions, whether that means technical or soft skills development, rather than it being ‘best practice’. Monthly one-to-one meetings are best practice but that doesn’t mean they happen or take place regularly or with any quality. For some professions CPD is already mandatory, which means it is taken far more seriously. In many organisations in the last few years, CPD has started to feel like more of a ‘nice to have’ and the pressure people are often under means that their stretched managers pull attendees from the training so they don’t fully derive the intended benefit even when they do try to attend.

Although I appreciate the move towards a 70/20/10 methodology in general, I am regularly quite surprised at some of the soft skills that an e-learning programme with video and individual activities tries to teach, such as negotiation skills. In my opinion, there are some skills that you just need to practice with another person! To me, this is the same as learning swimming by distance learning. You will only really know if you can swim when you actually get wet.

What do you think the world of L&D will look like by 2030?

If the current trajectory continues, internal learning teams may be smaller than they already are, and the pressure of cost will be even greater than it is now. This means considerable pressure for all employees to perform and an even higher level of scrutiny for every initiative proposed to justify the time away from work. In itself, justification is no bad thing, but the business doesn’t always appreciate that you cannot 100% guarantee exactly what an initiative will deliver to everyone. I would like to see businesses having a greater understanding that approving a business case for people development is not at all the same as a signing off a new piece of software development for example. It is not just about cost and time, and can be far more transformational than transactional.

What advice would you give your 21 year old self?

After being violently attacked, I learned coaching skills in my 20s which changed my life and gave me a gift to give to others to help them with their challenges. So, I would back my judgment to develop coaching if I had my time again. My advice would be three points:

1. Do what you love, love what you do: It’s written on my coffee cup and I feel it epitomises the need to find purpose in your work. Purpose means it never feels like work and you love every minute.  Your resilience and clarity of thinking improve, and if you are good in a crisis, you can remember the details of those difficult times to carry you through and use them as examples to inspire yourself and others later.

2. Take time to find your true calling and have no regrets: I tried many types of work before I “found my true self” in L&D and people around me challenged me, asking if I was wasting my own time. I don’t regret my time in Finance, Social Work and Nightclub management. They all taught me valuable lessons that I still use today.

3. Keep the languages you learned at school going strong: At 21, having been good at languages at school, no-one had foreseen the global economy that would be prevalent 20+ years later. I would love to still be able to speak French the way I did at A-level.

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