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ASK, NOT TELL

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‘When a program has a life of its own..’

Updated: Mar 24


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Just completed a workshop in the Trident Hotel in Mumbai… I only realised that this was one of the hotels where the 2008 terrorist attack took place. Being in the hotel myself, I cannot help imagine how it was like when such tagic incident happened….. Life is so unpredictable…


I was chatting with my co-facilitator (a ‘walking encyclopaedia’ on people and organisation development) on running learning and development functions. I like his critics on generic internal corporate training programs – those not driven by a specific business problem and not owned by a specific business sponsor. The comment is basically that problem arises when a program takes up a life of its own. It is so true. I can relate to that.


What does it mean when a program takes up a life of its own? It happens when someone’s job depends on the program existence, when people consciously or unconsciously make sure it continues to exist (rather irrespective how the frontline business need changes), etc. Then, the ‘product’ becomes not sharply driven and shaped by the business need. Instead, what happens is that people try to ‘align’ the ‘product’ to the business need. It will especially be the case when a company has rather strong L&D function which can ‘protect’ the ‘product’.


Why is then the problem? The program will run a higher risk of losing touch with reality. More importantly, it becomes difficult to evaluate the program since it is not driven by a specific business need / problem. And it is particularly difficult for ‘soft topic’ like Leadership. Without measurement, it becomes difficult to improve it.


Despite the above, it is common to have generic leadership development program in especially big companies. Why? For simple economies of scale and standardization consideration, it makes more sense to have a generic program rather than different leadership development programs in different business units. And it helps out networking across the organisation.


How to reconcile the dilemma? I think it should be about Action Learning. It can be a company-wise program connecting people from different part of the organisation. Yet, as the projects in the program are real problems and sponsored by specific senior leaders, the ‘product’ (projects) within the ‘product’ (program) is driven by business need.


The challenge is then to have skillful facilitators / coaches who can intervene timely and tactfully during the projects with appropriate skills / knowledge / attitude. They need to be facilitative yet possess vast collection of ‘content’. They have to work with fluid program design and have reasonably good business sense. As far as I know, it is difficult to find them in Mainland China and Hong Kong, and even Asia.


What do you think?

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