Learning & Development – An evolution or revolution?

In a recent Learning and Performance Institute poll we posed this question and the result was unequivocally undecided with the following result:

Evolution – 50%

Revolution – 50%

In this article Paul Matthews shares his thoughts in relation to the question.

Neither and both. It reminds me of the old quote that the future is already here, it is just somewhat unevenly distributed. So it depends on where you look as to whether you see evolution or revolution, or indeed, even devolution.

20 or so years ago, Learning & Development operated in a narrow band of activities compared with what it gets up to today. They didn’t understand the massive changes that would be wrought within the industry due to technology, and also due to models such as 70:20:10 which are changing the strategies that L&D is using, and encouraging thinking well beyond the traditional chalk and talk approach to learning.

These days progressive L&D is operating across a much wider band of activities, and yet in many organisations L&D is still operating in much the same way it did 20 years ago, even if it has a few fancy new names for what it is doing. And then, in pockets, L&D is even less than it was 20 years ago, especially since the 2008 crash and the budget cuts. In some cases, L&D has devolved to fulfilling compliance requirements and in that place that Don Taylor refers to as the training ghetto.

Do you think we need a revolution? Is our L&D in a state where a revolution would be useful or necessary?

The idea of a revolution is sweeping away all of the old, and replacing it with something new. It is an admission that what we have currently is not working at all, and we need to start again from scratch. It is not a word that should be bandied about lightly. For those seeking revolution, we have to be very careful that we don’t throw out the metaphorical baby with the bathwater. L&D provides a huge amount of benefit to organisations and has many mature and proven tools to call on to achieve those benefits. The trick is understanding which L&D activities are providing those benefits, and which activities are ineffective or inefficient at doing so.

As we think about the benefits that L&D can and should provide to the organisation, it becomes apparent that learning is only part of the story. The ultimate outcome of any L&D activity should mostly be focused on helping the employees perform well at the point of work. After all, that is why the organisation funds in L&D department in the first place, isn’t it?

So, if we are to have a revolution, perhaps a focus on performance is where the revolution should start. Rather than focusing on training design, or new ways of delivery, or building some new e-learning, or any of the multitude of ways we get wrapped up with the detail of ‘delivering learning’, let’s take a step back. In the words of Stephen Covey, let’s start with the end in mind.

Interestingly, what you will find is that if there is a substantial shift in the mind-set of L&D towards a performance centric approach, a lot of other things fall into place automatically. The range of L&D activities automatically widens, and that might look revolutionary from the outside but it is a natural response to using improved employee performance as the driver for L&D rather than learning.

The other direction my thoughts took when I was asked to write this article was to challenge the question in the title of this article. Evolution or revolution? That is a very black-and-white approach that in many ways is not particularly helpful. L&D in every organisation I have ever spoken with, by their own admission, needs to change and improve the role they play within the organisation. How much they can change, and how fast they can change will depend upon where they are starting from and the resistance embedded within the organisational culture to those changes. Wondering whether it is an evolution or a revolution might well make for a nice sound bite, and perhaps even encourage some intriguing debate, but it does not help us on a day-to-day basis get real about what we are trying to achieve with L&D.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that labelling an impending change as a revolution would cause a great deal of nervousness in any organisation. Whatever initiatives are proposed, call it an evolution in order to assist with getting the buy-in that will be needed to make it work.

The idea of evolution is very attractive because it can achieve huge changes over time, but is not immediately scary. However, for evolution to work as Darwin proposed it, there must be the pressure of natural selection. In L&D there are too many activities which are inefficient or ineffective, and are not subject to the pressure of natural selection. They are not consigned to the evolutionary dustbin which is where they belong. We therefore cannot rely on evolution unless we put in place some strong, transparent and impartial evolutionary pressures on our L&D activities.

Evolution or revolution? Meeehhh!

Let’s just get on with the changes we need to make and let others decide what label to use for our success.

About the author – Paul Matthews:

Paul Matthews founded People Alchemy Ltd in 1999 after a distinguished career in industries as diverse as travel and engineering, during which time he held many positions, including senior posts in sales, customer service and operations, finishing at director level in a multinational IT company.



1 Comment
  1. Glen 4 years ago

    One of the biggest revolutions I’ve seen in L&D is that at times we’ve moved away from ‘The ultimate outcome of any L&D activity should mostly be focused on helping the employees perform well at the point of work.’ to providing opportunities for people to do what’s best for them as well as the organisation. I’ve seen and heard examples of delegates attending training and it being so thought provoking by helping them explore their beliefs and values that they’ve actually then quit their job and the organisation entirely.
    I’m sure this is not what the organisation would expect (or even like when they initially hear about it) but allowing people to be true to themselves would be an amazing reputation for an organisation to have and bringing someone new and fresh into a team can have great benefits.
    The challenge is, how to ‘sell’ this to an organisation? Without aiming for an immediate measurable benefit how do we convince senior management that what we have is worth the investment? Maybe this ‘revolution’ is one step too far and we need to evolve towards it more slowly?

Leave a reply


Please leave your message here and we will get back to you as soon as possible.


©2020 Learning Professional Network

Privacy Policy