There is a town with just one male barber; and every man in the town keeps himself clean-shaven: some by shaving themselves, some by visiting the barber. The barber obeys the following rule: He shaves all and only those men in town who do not shave themselves. Does the barber shave himself?
The famous paradox known popularly as Russell's Paradox in many ways could apply to the Learning & Development (L&D) professionals. They develop those who do not develop themselves. Does the L&D professional develop himself or herself? The Learning & Development function exists to help the organization gauge the future, create the model of leadership that will be needed to be successful today as well as to create a benchmark of what the future will demand of leaders. Once the benchmark is set, it is all about identifying potential talent that can be groomed to take on the mantle of leadership in future and then deciding what will develop those leaders to build the competencies that will make them successful in navigating the organization in a world we do not know yet. It is about preparing for a world we do not know, for skills we do not know about yet and using methods we do not always understand.
If that is the case, what can the Learning & Development (L&D) professionals do to develop themselves?
1. Recognizing trends: This to me is the area most of us are least trained and skilled in. How is the world changing around us? There are 400 television channels my provider offers today and promises many more. YouTube has become the second largest search engine. Each of us has more information available than we can possibly make sense of. Knowledge is progressively becoming available on tap. The skill lies in being able to filter this information overload to step back and recognize emerging patterns that leaders must take into account as they plan for the future. There were a few economists who had predicted the recession but not too many leaders picked up these voices from the clutter. The challenge no longer is about lack of information, but about too much information to sift through. It is equally important to know what to look for - else the information could drown you. L&D professionals need to constantly scan the latest ideas from science, humanities, technology and media to recognize data points that will help them build an outline of the things to follow. What is the disruptive technology that is emerging? How is the customer of my product or services changing? What early warnings can we draw from? The better the view of the ever changing future, the more successfully can he/she prepare the organization to navigate in that direction ahead of others.
2. Performance Consulting: The L&D person must be able to understand what can lift the performance of the group. This requires deep diagnostic skills. This comes from sharpening one's ability to ask questions. What can uplift the performance of the group? Is the performance barrier related to people or is the organizational structure and process related? Is it because the people need skilling or is it a tweak in leadership style that will make the difference? What would be the most effective way to disseminate the information or skill the people? I believe the L&D professionals become effective when they learn to conduct quantitative and qualitative research. So becoming better at research is on my developmental agenda.
3. Digital Literacy: In the book "Judgment: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls" by Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis, they refer to leaders having a "teachable point of view." The TPOV is what "enable(s) leaders to take the valuable knowledge and experiences that they have stored up inside their heads and teach them to others." Technology is the best way to take the TPOV of leaders to large audience and being able to make it available repeatedly on demand. This is not a nice to have skill. L&D professionals need to be able to play with different kinds of technology and media so that they can be more effective in their ability to convey the same idea using different metaphors and technology. This helps build the skill of being able to convey complex ideas in a very simple way to the audience. How can you leverage social networks to solve the problem? Can you capture the essence of a teachable point of view through a slideshow or a one minute movie? How does one tell better stories? To convey a TPOV effectively is as important as having one. Technology has been the biggest disruptor in our world. The L&D professionals need to acknowledge this shift by incorporating it in their development agenda. Becoming better at presenting ideas, listening better etc. all stay relevant. It is a new language that will demand its own learning curve.
These three to me are the differentiators between those L&D professionals who will be relevant tomorrow and those who would become plausible but impossible just like the Russell's Paradox.