This is the new sister title to ‘Professional HR’. Together they provide the complete, evidence-based approach to people management for the mature organization.
Review by Angela Risner, Orange Learning Solutions
“Full disclosure: I received an ARC (advanced review copy) of this book in exchange for an honest review.
I happened across Paul Kearns’ name while doing some research on consulting in the learning field. Kearns wrote a series of articles, “From Trainer to Learning Consultant,” back in 2004. Those articles formed the basis for his new book, Organizational Learning & Development – From an Evidence Base.
If you’ve been in the learning and development field for more than a few years, you know that the hardest part of the job is trying to demonstrate your value to the organization for whom you’re working. Whether you’re an instructional designer, trainer or both, you typically show up on the books as an expense. When the business hits a rough spot and has to make cuts, you are usually considered to be the most expendable.
To be honest, most of us found ourselves in this profession by accident; we were Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) or super-users. Because we performed our jobs so effectively, we were tasked with training new people (even our own bosses.) I was doing instructional design before I knew that’s what it was called. When I was thinking about graduate school, instructional design programs were few and far between.
It took years before I learned that I didn’t have to say yes to every request for training, that training was not always the answer (because the question was one of performance management and training can’t answer that question.) It’s only been in the last decade that the learning and development field has started to think about their role in the business as a partner, rather than a “necessary evil” (as one of my managers said to her team in order to get them to come to training.)
In 2006, the authors of The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning (known as the 6Ds) challenged the learning and development world to only provide learning that aligned with your company’s objectives. Training for training’s sake was no longer the rule; the only acceptable form of learning would improve an employee’s job performance, which would ultimately improve the performance of the business.
The 6Ds is a great step in the right direction. However, speaking from experience, it can’t work unless the organization itself is at a certain point of maturity. Unfortunately, the 6Ds does not address this. Kearns’ book does.
Kearns applies his previously developed HR Maturity Scale to learning. There are six stages of maturity on a scale from reactive (where training requests are “reacted” to and there is no curriculum mapping or conscious design of learning) to strategic (where learning is a natural part of the business process and the organization becomes a whole system.)
For a business to truly evolve into a learning organization, it must be honest with itself about where it is on the Maturity Scale. To move up the maturity scale, everyone must be rowing the boat in the same direction.
Kearns also takes on Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Evaluation. He correctly states that they do not hold the training department accountable to any business objective; instead, they simply evaluate the trainer as a facilitator. Using the Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) model instead to establish a baseline measurement or evidence base makes much more sense.
This book is the best blueprint we have to move learning and development into full-fledged business partners with permanent seats at the table. If we can follow the principles in this book, L&D will no longer have to fight to stay relevant and prove its value.
I have pages and pages of notes marked, but here are some favorite moments:
- …it marks the shift away from focusing on training, which is always an input, to learning, which is an output.
- Professionals are always focused on business impact; amateur trainers are satisfied with their training activity.
- Evaluation is not just about measuring success; it will equally expose training failure.
- Traditional processes for performance review and development planning tend to suffer from a common condition – the culture does not allow for difficult conversations to be held in an open, honest, transparent and grown-up way.
- Performance management works best in mature organizations, with Stage 4 being the minimum goal, where performance management is perceived as less of a big stick and more of a positive reinforcement of valuable behavior.
- Learning should be encouraged to happen naturally and organically; it should not be designed as intervention, nor viewed as such.
- Education means looking at how somebody else made a fire. Training means you have to know how to make a fire, not just describe the process. Applied learning means you make a fire.
Highly recommend. (And should be required reading for all L&D folks.)”