L&D QuestionTime – Robin Hoyle

This week Robin Hoyle talks People Development Directors and so much more:

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

The biggest anxiety amongst fellow L&D people is that of marginalisation.  In a way, the industry is its own worst enemy.  We have embraced highly nuanced matters like the use of social networks, collaboration and 70:20:10 without being clear about the work involved or the importance of an over-arching L&D strategy to make these things work properly.

If we stand by and allow people to say: “90% of learning happens on the job” or “Our LMS is the 70:20:10 platform” (just because it contains a ‘like’ button and a forum which no one uses) then we only have ourselves to blame.  I have seen too many great initiatives squashed by those more concerned with costs than investment and who have a half-understood, half-baked approach to people development. What’s worse, it is one we have fuelled by not properly valuing our professionalism.

L&D people are right to be worried.  Everyone with a laptop and a PowerPoint deck thinks they can be a trainer. I’ve seen whole departments closed down because we failed to explain, in business terms, the kind of infrastructure, culture and input required to embrace new ways of working. We need to shift to a joined up approach involving focused, informal learning which works in the interests of individuals and their organisations ad that takes the expertise of skilled L&D people.

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

In terms of who, I’m much influenced by thinkers outside a traditional L&D focus.  Informed technology sceptics like Andrew Keen, Jaron Lanier and Evgeny Morozov have really made me think about technology and our relationship with it.  Reading works by Baroness Susan Greenfield and by Stephen Pinker has also led me to question my own ways of working and thinking.

I’m also influenced by people and experiences from within the industry.  I always find Donald Clark interesting and I enjoy the robustness of his views – although I often disagree on the details.  But I do find his strong, evidence based commentary on learning and education refreshing and stimulating.  Similarly, Clive Shepherd is always worth listening to. He harnesses both significant intellect with a down to earth, experience – based approach. Clive provides really clear guidance about the practicalities of how to do things.

I’m currently participating in the How to Create an Outstanding MOOC mooc with Curatr and looking forward to a good mix of theory and practice. I’m interested in reapplying some of the pedagogy to programmes which may never be classified as massive or open, but will be at least partially online.

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

I’m really interested in Neuro-science and how this will impact how we do L&D in the future.  I’m not sure that all the claims made about neuro-science are valid as yet, but there are some interesting developments here. Once again we need to ensure neuro-science doesn’t become another bandwagon.  There will be those who seek to justify discredited approaches by hooking their pseudo-science and psychobabble to the cautious approaches of real scientists talking about the slow process of genuine discovery. However, I’m hopeful that it may add real insights to fuel our continued desire to support change and growth.

I’m also excited by an increased focus on training and learning for the whole workforce.  The idea that anyone over 50 has nothing left to learn is – albeit slowly – being discounted. I think this presents another great opportunity for the way in which we structure learning and development. I think we will need to take proper account of the life experience and existing capabilities of all our learners. As people retire later and later and change is faster and faster, it will be vital to design joined-up programmes which meet a wider range of individual needs than ever before.

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

I’d love to see People Development Directors.  These individuals should not be from an HR background, necessarily, but from the largest department of the enterprise – whether that’s operations, sales and marketing, customer service or some other function with lots of folk.

They will, of course, be main board directors and if not number 2 to the CEO, pretty close to that position. They could, of course, be the CEO too, but given that most CEOs are accountants, I wouldn’t necessarily suggest that they are best qualified!

Their role is simple:  To ensure that we have the people with the capability to fulfil our organisational purpose for the short, medium and long term.

Every organisation talks about people being our most important asset.  Time for them to put their money – and their management muscle – where their mouth is!

What do you think the world of L&D will look like by 2020?

If we get People Development Directors, then it will be in a much more integrated and strategically relevant place. I’ve made predictions in the past about workplace development needing less focus on classroom courses and more focus on creating continuous learning cultures. Every time I’ve done so I’ve been premature.  Spending on courses still outweighs everything else and many people from politicians to captains of industry to people who are unemployed still equate training with going somewhere to be taught things.

Of course, I’ve stood next to a flip chart and a PowerPoint presentation for a lot of my professional life.  Courses can be valuable and these experiences can change lives.  But I also know that culture trumps courses. If you don’t have the chance to use what you have been introduced to, to discuss your experiences with others, to practice and gain feedback, to innovate, try things out (and fail from time to time) then you don’t ever embed the changes you and your organisation would like to see.

One hope which I seriously believe could be realised in the next 5 years is that there will be an increased focus on employing  people properly.  Minimum wage and zero hours contracts may seem a long way from the day to day of L&D. But if we pay too many of our colleagues poverty wages and give them little or no employment security, then we can’t claim to be interested in investing in their future. What’s more training will be reduced to endless on-boarding programmes as people leave just as soon as they can. If we create more careers rather than poorly paid jobs, then perhaps we’ll start investing properly in people’s skills and capabilities.

What advice would you give your 21 year old self?

Relax.  I was constantly on the move in my 20s – embracing each new experience with gusto, but not really taking time to think about what had happened and what it meant.

I’d say “Robin, take time to think, listen hard and, most importantly, reflect.”

I think I’ve learnt more from writing over the last few years than I ever learned before – simply from allowing myself the space and time to read, listen to others, think and reflect. I can strongly recommend it.

About Robin Hoyle

Robin Hoyle, FLPI, is a writer, trainer and consultant. His company Learnworks Ltd works with organisations large and small on L&D strategy and implementing innovative training and learning programmes.  He has been working in L&D for almost 30 years and is the author of two books.

Informal Learning in Organizations is just out and LPI members can purchase the book by clicking on the link and entering INFORMLPI20 when prompted at checkout. Robin’s first book in Complete Training: from recruitment to retirement was published in 2013. As ine reviewer said:

“(Robin) excels in questioning the attitudes of the status quo and accepted thinking that has allowed much of L&D to lack the innovation it needs.”

Robin is the chair of the World of Learning Conference.

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