The proverbs of learning and development (10-12)

12 Sep
September 12, 2013

In previous posts I’ve taken you to a slightly lighter but equally stimulating place and explored the application of proverbs for today’s Learning and Development professionals.  I’ve already covered six examples and here are another three for you to enjoy.

In this post I’ll explore the following proverbs (starting at number ten, because you’ve already had numbers one through nine):

10. One man’s meat is another man’s poison
11. He who pays the piper calls the tune
12. Actions speak louder than words

10. One man’s meat is another man’s poison

Here’s another classic proverb that certainly applies to learning and development.  Much has been written in the past about learning styles – and most of it has been challenged in some way, shape or form.  Whether you believe in learning styles or not, it’s clear that people do want to consume learning in a whole host of ways, via different methods and media and timescales and speeds etc.  And over the years, despite all the promises I’ve seen (and boy I’ve seen a few), I don’t honestly think I’ve seen learning that actually caters for everyone’s “learning style.”  Some claim to, but in reality they don’t.

What’s at the heart of this proverb is that the same thing just isn’t liked by everyone.  Take going for a meal, for example.  Some people love meat, others fish and others prefer vegetarian.  We all need to eat, but we certainly don’t want it all delivered in the same way.  And if that approach applies to eating, then why not apply it to everything else (which we readily accept), and also to learning, with which, because we ‘claim’ to be so clever, we somehow feel it’s OK that “one size fits all.”  Step back and think for a moment; do we really think “one size fits all?”  Of course we don’t!

But you know what, despite what we know in our heart of hearts, we (for the most part), as learning and development professionals often still believe that one approach, one style and one solution will suit everyone.  And yet we know this to be a falsehood.

According to the Office of National Statistics, growth in mobile phone ownership increased to 81 per cent in 2009.  Ownership does vary by income group with only 67 per cent of households in the lowest income decile group reporting ownership in 2009, compared with 92 per cent in the highest income decile group.  I’m assuming that as learning and development professionals we fall into the latter group and therefore virtually all of you reading this (because you also have access to a computer and internet access) will have a mobile phone.

And yet as mobile phone owners we will all have different ‘flavours’ of the phone we use.  Some of you will love your Blackberry, others your iPhone.  Others still will cherish their Android phones or other incarnations of phones (smart or not).  But what is known is that we use our phones in subtly different ways.  Some of us just want to make calls (oh, that’s so 1990s), others will want to send texts and others will want the always-on connected-email-social-networking-apps life.  We all want the phone, yet we want to use it in different ways.  And so it is with learning.

I think it’s worth reflecting on the type of audience you have, their background and so on because what might be ideal for one person can certainly be a total nightmare for others.  Whereas junior members of a team may well be ‘happy’ with taking an e-learning course, the chances of getting the CEO to do the same course with the same enthusiasm would (I predict) be rather a novelty!

I also think that within L&D there is an opportunity to check the disconnect that can sometimes exist between the well-meaning intentions of the learning designer and the person who actually has to ‘consume’ the learning.

Just as we use our phones in different ways, why not approach learning in the same way?  Personally I don’t want to sit in a training room listening to someone telling me the objectives of the course or reading thousands of bullet points out aloud to me.  But often I have to because “That’s the course.”

Challenge this established, but clearly idiotic approach.  Make sure that your learners can acquire and demonstrate skills in a wide variety of ways.  Oh, and for people like me (and I know I’m a pain), don’t just put me in a room and talk to me.  Engage me, excite me and drive my curiosity.

To challenge another proverb, what’s good for the goose isn’t necessarily always good for the gander.  We all like something different – something that fits with our needs, not something that’s mass produced because someone has decided “it’s ‘good’ for us.”

So when you’re thinking about learning and development remember that we are all different. Do your utmost to meet our needs, not just the desires of the accountants at Head Office.  It’s not easy, I know, but please stop serving poison and start serving something that we all want to consume.

11. He who pays the piper calls the tune

Adding this proverb into the article could get me into trouble – but then that’s never stopped me before!  As learning and development professionals, whenever you engage external help or resource you should never forget that you are the one who’s in charge  – and not the external company.

All too often I’ve seen occasions where external organisations dictate to their clients on the most horrendous of terms.  Remember it’s you who’s paying the bills and you who’ll have to take any flack if the learning goes wrong, so make sure you get the service and quality and attention you deserve.

Challenge your suppliers on every level.  The great ones will appreciate it and deal with it.  The weak ones will crumble.  Push hard for better prices; tell them to “sharpen their pencils” if they want to win your hard earned money and business.  Never take what they say at face value.  Keep asking ‘why’ at every opportunity and make sure you really get great value.

I once was working with a supplier on behalf of a client.  Even though I wasn’t spending my money, I treated the budget I had as though it were my own.  I was horrified to be charged for ‘Account Management’ time when all the supplier did was take an order and send me a one page quote.  I told the supplier this was ridiculous and we talked.  And guess what? Yes, the supplier slashed their prices, and I got a discount on the day rate!

Remember: you’re in charge if you’re paying.  If you are unhappy stand your ground and if you’re very unhappy send the work back to the MD or CEO of the supplier and refuse to pay the bill.  I’ve done this a few times and boy, does it get results!

12. Actions speak louder than words

This proverb sits very well with two others, namely “Easier said than done” and “Talk is cheap” and will be dealt with rather swiftly!

In the 24/7/365 ever-on TwitterBookFaceGoogle world, it’s very easy to be seduced by words.  We come across blogs and wikis and Tweets from the ‘great and good’ on a non-stop basis, all telling us “how it should be” and in the ever-accessible world it’s possible for just about everybody and anybody to shout from the roof about “how it should be done.”  It’s easy to begin mimicking these traits; to just go about your business ‘talking’ about how good the training could be, or should be, or will be.

A famous quote from Steve Jobs when he was leading the original Macintosh development team was “Real artists ship.”  What he meant was that just talking about how great the Mac could be wasn’t enough; it had to be delivered to the customers.

As L&D professionals, I urge you all to seek out the people who don’t just talk about it but instead work hard to find those who have actually done it for real – the real artists; these are the ones who’ll have the scars to prove it!

Summing up

And so we’ve come to the end of our journey through some selected Learning and Development proverbs.  There were so many choices of appropriate proverbs that I could have made and I’m sure you will have thought of many others that you feel should have been included.  But the purpose of these posts was to get you thinking; to get you to look inside yourself and question many of the established practices that you operate on a day-to-day basis.

And you know what?  If as a result of these posts you do think a little deeper about what you do and how you go about it then this has been time well spent.

I feel I should finish with another proverb that I’ve not used so far, and that is “Time and tide wait for no man.”  So with this in mind, don’t pause or hesitate in your decisions or actions, otherwise a great opportunity may well pass you by.


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