Thursday, April 14, 2016

It's a 'something' ...

Rachel Burnham writes:  Whenever I write a blog, I always feel slightly apprehensive about its reception and more so, when it contains strong opinions or personal stories. 

Today, I feel this particularly, as I want to share a story from my involvement in my local church and I know that that most people who will read this won’t be Christian and may be of another faith or of no faith.  But I have decided to go ahead anyway because the focus of this story isn’t religious but is, always in this blog, L&D.  

Anyway, enough preliminaries…on with the story.

Some years ago, I was part of a small working group from our church with charged with the task of helping to build relationships between the congregation and the community.  To my great delight, this was not a committee, nor a talking shop, but a small group of five that generated ideas and put them into practice, not on our own, but working with lots of other people, both within and outwith the church.  I hadn’t thought of this before writing this blog, but interestingly out of the five, three of us ran our own businesses – an L&D consultant, a painter & decorator and (appropriately) a carpenter – I wonder if we had an entrepreneurial bias?

We did all sorts of things, some traditional, many not.  We had some great successes; some middling successes, which we built on; and some out and out flops – in relation to the latter a summer outing to hear brass bands particularly comes to mind!

What was interesting was the way the group worked.  It was a great group to be a part of – we often disagreed, but no one was negative for the sake of it, no-one was grandstanding, people listened and built on other people’s ideas.  I remember lots of conversations which included ‘why don’t we…’ ‘would it be possible….’ ‘how could we make that work?’ ‘and we could also…’ ‘alternatively we could…’  and lots and lots of laughter.  

One of the many things that made us laugh, was the phrase ‘It’s a ‘something’…’ which we used very frequently.  It was a phrase we used when we were developing an idea, but wanted to keep it fluid.   It allowed us to explore possibilities, without the limitations of placing a label on what we were planning.  We would identify the characteristics of the ‘something’ – its purpose, who needed to be involved, who we would like to be involved, its look & feel and so on, but leave open what it was until we were well down the road with imagining it. 

In my work as an L&D consultant, I often work with people new to L&D (and some who are not so new to L&D), who are quick to jump to talking about designing & delivering a face to face ‘training’ session.  I know that many stakeholders in organisations can also be quick to make that leap.  I spend a lot of time encouraging a more open approach, which might include blended learning options or even alternatives to face to face learning sessions or formal learning.   There is such a range of possibilities that can meet learning needs and help improve performance - it is important to consider what will be most effective in that particular situation and not to shut off worthwhile avenues from the outset.

It helps to use language thoughtfully to ensure we haven’t already made assumptions – so sometimes I talk of learning ‘solutions’ – though that always sounds to me, too finished and polished, for a process that might be rather more emergent and evolving.   Sometimes, I use learning ‘intervention’ – though that always sounds such a jargon term (even to myself) and also as though it is done to you, rather than with you.

Which brings me back to using ‘it’s a ‘something’…’ .  Messy, open, full of potential and possibilities, specific to context – just what L&D should be.

Rachel Burnham


Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals become even more effective.  I am particularly interested in blended learning, the uses of social media for learning, evaluation and anything that improves the impact of learning on performance.

Follow me on Twitter @BurnhamLandD

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