Chennai (India), April 17, 2014: I have always believed that Zen stories have an unparalleled sense of simplicity and clarity. One such story made me re-imagine my learning function. This is the story of a Zen monk who, even after years of trying, could not attain enlightenment. So he goes to his master and says, “I have tried everything, I have followed all your instructions and yet I am still not enlightened! Master I am desperate, please help me”. So the Master asks him to go to the market and buy a pound of the best meat. Obliging, the monk went to the first butcher shop he could find and asked the butcher to give him the best meat he has. The butcher, smiling replied, “Everything in my shop is the best. You cannot find here any piece of meat that is not the best." It is said that these words made the monk enlightened. We can look at this story from various angles and derive a number of lessons from each one. But what stands out is the Butcher’s outlook on work; his unique set of values that drive his everyday work and its quality.
Values, we all agree, are very important. We all have them; some of us even have values defined for our functions. But often, values are considered as just another component in our learning framework, when values are at the heart of our learning function; they influence our strategy, drive results and keep us on track with our diversified learning efforts. This article discusses the significance of values in the big picture for Learning and development initiatives drawing parallels from value based learning initiatives at Polaris.
WHEN LEARNING HAS VALUES
Let us, for a moment, consider what values mean. The oxford dictionary defines values as “Principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life”. In other words, values are what we would not compromise on no matter what the situation demands, because they define who we are. For a learning and development function, values are that which define our purpose. It could be our commitment to always raise the bar for our initiatives, our drive to learn from different fields to provide an unparalleled learning experience, our focus on measuring and improving our efficiency, on alignment with the business’ direction, etc. If we focus on this definition of values, we realize that there are a few facts around values for a learning function that we often misinterpret.
a. Every Learning Function has values: Organizations or Learning and development functions that do not have its values stated, run the risk of being seen as one that does not have any values. But no organization, function or person can go on without values. It may be commonly understood but never stated. The danger with not stating our function’s values, is that each person in a function might imagine a value of their own and as a result we will see little consistency in our initiative, and the chaos will be felt by our learners as well.
b. Even values have a purpose: We all have met pretentious people in our lives; like the ones who are responsible for office politics, the ones who would do anything to save themselves and the like. Now, if you have ever heard them talk of values, you would notice them say words like “Honesty”, “Punctuality”, “Compassion”. And we know that they do not mean it not only because we haven’t seen them walk the talk, but also because they wouldn’t be able to explain why it is their value. Each value serves a purpose, it has an end in itself. For example, if one of my learning function’s core value is to always allow learners to contribute to learning initiatives design, I would practice the value because it opens the learners to the learning experience, giving them a sense of ownership and thereby, it would tremendously impact the effectiveness of the initiative.
c. In learning there is a value-exchange: The growing focus on learning designs is to me a tremendous step forward in our field. Because, when we start looking at our initiatives from the learners’ point of view and our own, and find a common ground to have both our objectives met, we are actually allowing for value exchange. When a learning function is great at what it does, it answers the organization’s need to maximize performance and allows the employee to develop expertise in his line of work, which would propel his career. In other words, when there is a value-exchange, it is always a win-win.
VALUES AND L&D STRATEGY
About forty years ago, when our field was just emerging, we were probably the only group of professionals who worked on adult education. We discussed what would drive operational efficiency, on how to schedule and conduct training programs. We have come light years from that time. Today, a Leader in the Learning and Development field, has to understand educational psychology, keep up with the latest trends in technology that could better the learning experience, adapt to the needs of the Gen Y while keeping the Gen X engaged as well, learn from best practices in the field, constantly trying to align efforts to the dynamic organization of today. Leaders and Learning and development strategists need to work on a soundproof strategy to be effective and focused, and values can light the way in our journey towards this strategy.
(The full version of this article has appeared in the UK based magazine, Training Journal, in the April 2014 issue. The online version will be published on this page soon.)
About the Author
Preethi Anand is the Head, Learning Designs, at Nalanda in Polaris. One of only 2,000 CPLP certified trainers in the world, Preethi manages online learning at Nalanda and K-Tube, its video channel. This is her fourth international article and the second for the Training Journal.
Nalanda Corporate University, Polaris’ Learning and Development Function, aims at growing, developing and replenishing the Skills and Competencies of Associates to facilitate High Performance and contribute to the Business Success. Nalanda offers Training Programs, Guided and Self study Certifications, Online Learning modules, Educational opportunities and Coaching, carefully designed to suit the Learning needs of their unique roles.