This is not a book review, although we will start by mentioning one. Michael Tobin’s recent business/management book is boldly called Forget Strategy. Get Results.: Radical Management Attitudes That Will Deliver Outstanding Success. Being a business book written by an energetic and entrepreneurial individual, we will overlook a little trumpet-blowing on the author’s behalf. We’ll not carp that following a full stop with a colon isn’t that ‘radical’. We’ll even overlook the inconvenience of his profile page on the TelecityGroup’s website starting with a sentence that ends “leads the management of the Group and the formulation and implementation of its strategy.” Why?
Because we really like two words in the book title. Get Results. (We’re assuming that Mr Tobin doesn’t waste his valuable time formulating and implementing something he advises others to forget, unless this is a game of double bluff in the interests of acquiring competitive advantage.) Results are, frankly, the point. In a business sense, anything that an organisation does that doesn’t achieve results is at best an indulgence (not necessarily a bad thing, as this broad category includes, for example, charitable activity or donations), but at worst an error. The answer to the question “Why are we doing this?” needs to start with the word “Because”, but it also generally needs not to finish with it.
Perhaps it’s because we work in a field – learning and development – that has its roots in education, a discipline that has sometimes been considered to be a good thing in and of itself. While knowing something undoubtedly trumps ignorance, the broader scope of life – rather than the more focused arena of the workplace – is more forgiving when it comes to awkward issues of relevance. But in the modern workplace, the question normally carries a second clause: “and what are we hoping to achieve by doing so?”
Learning might, in these circumstances, be better re-defined as acquiring the ability to achieve the desired outcome. The things that we need to acquire might be skills, knowledge or ways of thinking, behaving and interacting, and may require many different types of learning. Some will require formal training events, some may be better delivered through coaching or mentoring, or through opportunities for practice in day-to-day activities. Not matter how these lessons are learned, however, it is equally important that they are not subsequently forgotten. Skills and behaviours atrophy when they are not practised regularly: new and more appropriate practices fall from use where they do not replace our previous habits.
To return briefly to Michael Tobin, however, we do disagree on one important point: the first two words of his book title. If results matter, so does strategy. We believe that organisations improve their productivity and performance through their people, and that strategy – or, at least, L&D strategy – is the means by which they do so.
If learners are not to forget why they have acquired new learning, if organisations are not going to forego the benefits this learning could deliver, there is something that we need not to do: forget strategy. There are many different ‘best practices’ than can be adopted to increase the chances that the benefits of learning and training are not lost, but they cannot simply be bolted on to the end of an L&D intervention. Even if they were, the ‘post-event’ practices are among the least frequently used in the UK’s organisations.
Organisations that want to ensure that they achieve the aims of their learning programmes and investments need to ensure these differing best practices are an integral part of their activities, before after and during training, coaching, mentoring and every kind of workplace learning. The cost of learning may be high, but the cost of not learning will always be greater.