Friday, 3 October 2008

Keeping L&D/HR focused on the 'Big Picture' during the economic downturn.

While talk of recession dominates the current business agenda we should not forget that most are short lived.  Hence, I believe that the L&D topics being debated before the phrase ‘sub-prime mortgage’ entered the popular press remain important. 


The economic growth of China continues.  It is thus inevitable that, like Japan beforehand, management and leadership practices associated with their climb up the world order will be of global importance.  Currently the vast majority of textbooks read by our UK managers are written by US opinion leaders: but should we expect this to be the case in 10 years time? For HR to influence the uptake of ideas from these new thought-leaders, we will need to build global partnerships.


Global communications and mobility have changed how the efforts of individual employees are aggregated.  Management structures refined over the past century now look clumsy if not obsolete, as ‘amplifying effort’ (i.e. colleague engagement) becomes the greater challenge for leaders.  Gary Hamel’s thesis on “The Future of Management” provides great insights, and now HR must help take up the challenge.   


Mentoring, coaching and on-the-job experiences have always been an important part of workplace learning.  Training is becoming increasingly squeezed both from a time and financial point of view.  In a world where vast amounts of knowledge can be accessed with a couple of key strokes, ‘just-in-time’ performance support rather than ‘just-in-case’ training is being demanded.  Understanding and integrating the ROI of training and other forms of learning has never been more important than at present.


Equally, a harsh economic climate provides some additional opportunities for those involved in Learning & Leadership.  The psychological contract with employees has already moved away from expectations of ‘a job for life’ in return for loyalty and commitment.  Individuals who accept the need to invest in life-long learning are most likely to successfully navigate a world of rapid organizational change and multiple careers.  Building this mindset and ensuring organizations contribute to keeping their workforce ‘employable’ is likely to be most valued now.


Leadership judgment is critical at this time, as poor business decisions are unlikely to go unpunished.  Perhaps more important, however, is the ability to execute whatever business strategy is selected.  This depends on successfully changing employees’ behaviours, a complex challenge where HR expertise can contribute significant business value. 

Hence I hope that the value of L&D/HR will come to be better recognised by business leaders as they navigate the current economic downturn.