Ask lots of questions, don’t eat the bullsh…

As Toby Harris pointed out in his recent article, the L&D profession is obsessed with buzzwords, models and mantras. No sooner do we debunk one (learning styles, anyone?), than another one rears its ugly head.

This got me thinking about why it is that as an industry we seem to be so fixated by these new shiny things that keep coming along and promise to make it all so much easier. And maybe that’s the point. It actually isn’t easy to do what we do (or at least to do it well) so when someone comes along and seems to wrap it all up in a nice bundle, it’s irresistable to buy into the snake oil.

So why is that? Well, if there’s one thing I know about people in this industry it’s that we all love a good solution. We leap to finding one as quickly as possible so we don’t have to dig too deeply and risk upsetting someone, or heaven forbid saying no. And if the subject matter expert/business owner/stakeholder/client (delete as appropriate) already has a solution, then that’s even better. Over time, L&D has become the fulfillment house for the business, churning out whatever makes the important people happy. We like to help, we think we’ve helped, they think we’ve helped, but actually we haven’t.

Because of this, we don’t get enough practice at asking questions. Really pointy quesions that cut through and get to what’s actually going on. Like “what’s really the problem here?” Or “why do you think training them again will work this time?”

It’s these questions that help. The ones that might lead to a job-aid, or a new process. That might result in some training (yes, you heard the T word), or might not. To get to the nub of it, I think we generally only have to ask 3 simple questions:

  1. What is the business problem that needs solving?
  2. Where is the data to show this problem?
  3. What will that data look like when the problem has been solved?

Getting answers to these questions and providing things that really make a difference also removes the need for one of my particular mantras –  “evaluation models”. We don’t need to go through any amount of levels (4,7…take your pick) to find out if there was impact. Just use the data you agreed when you asked the questions at the beginning.

If we did get good at asking questions, maybe we’d ask some really tough ones of those peddling a new mantra and we’d either find out that we had misunderstood the original intention of the concept, or we’d realise that it actually doesn’t make sense and dismiss it.

I’ve also seen a lot of rumblings about whether people should be called out on this kind of thing. Absolutely they should. We’re all adults and we’re supposed to be learning professionals – let’s learn by challenging ideas and fact checking each other. If anyone gets offended that someone is challenging their ideas, then maybe the idea isn’t that valid. (sorry if it ruins your book deal)

If you are thinking of developing some radical new tool, model etc, I’d recommend checking out the Centre for Evidenced-Based Management (thanks for the link Toby)

Finally, I love it when my worlds collide. One of my other passions is for underground, independent British rock music. The title of this mini-post comes from the song “How I survived the Punk Wars” by Ginger Wildheart. My musical hero. Whilst the lyrics relate to how to be succssful in the music industry, I think there are lessons for L&D too

Treat yourself (very NSFW!)



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