This is cheeky – a response to a post on another (excellent) blog. Actually one I’ve linked to before, so its ability to stay in my thoughts obviously recommends it: it’s provoked several thoughts, which definitely counts as ‘doing it’s job’. Which, ironically, is what it made me think about. So, which post? – 10 Tenets for the New HR at KnowHR.com. It’s provoked numerous comments already, but I’m going to humbly offer another contender for Tenet 11. (And in the spirit of the original, we’ll finish with a song.)

The original post is full of good ideas, and worthwhile ‘revolutions’ that should be had, implemented and duly witnessed: “HR has one job: business success”, “We’re going to make pay-for-performance work”, “Business is gonna want a seat at our table”. Applause all round, but I’m going to talk about shopping.

For most organisations, development programmes, interventions and initiatives aren’t necessarily designed and delivered from in-house resources: we’ve all mastered outsourcing now, and many solutions are bought in from specialist providers. You stick to your core competences, they stick to theirs: everyone knows the drill.

Except we seem to have overlooked a consequence or two. If the content of the training comes from outside, what we’re doing is, well … shopping. Spending money on stuff that’s supposed to be worth it because it does stuff (he said, eloquently.) Given the improvements that learning and development are supposed to deliver – and let’s not forget that first tenet for the new HR: “HR has one job: business success” – there are a whole string of jokes about retail therapy just waiting to be suppressed, aren’t there? Given the success rate of training interventions generally, there’s also a smart quotation from a very successful shopkeeper that’s worth raising:

Consumers have not been told effectively enough that they have huge power and that purchasing and shopping involve a moral choice.”
Anita Roddick

Anita Roddick’s moral choice was about fair trade and environmentalism, and I’m not suggesting you buy development interventions only from independent plantation owners in third world countries. (Although vetting your suppliers environmental record and other ethic practices isn’t a bad thing to do.) But you are disposing some of the business’s resources in return for services: there is a moral imperative to spend wisely.

When training doesn’t deliver the transformation everyone may have wished, there are a whole host of potential reasons: line managers or organisational culture didn’t support application of new learning, the providers designed something that might have been ‘learning’ but was never going to be ‘change’, the participants didn’t get the support they (like anyone else) needed in making the changes happen. But this (potentially long) list of regrets should include an important point: bad purchasing decisions. So I offer you a suggestion for Tenet 11: Buy Responsibly.

It’s almost too tempting to quote another famous woman, so I’ll just give in to the urge – it’s quicker:

Whoever said money can’t buy happiness simply didn’t know where to go shopping.”
Bo Derek

Ms Derek is only partly right: if your L&D budget isn’t bringing you happiness, do you know what you should be buying? Are you buying inputs – ‘gosh, we need some training on x’ – or outputs? How are the outputs going to be measured, and over what timescale? Will the benefits be visible in four weeks, four months or four years? (Leadership development isn’t a new coat of emulsion paint: it can be a number of years before real benefits can be realised.) Does the programme include support for transfer and application, and is your organisation set up to support that or to stand in its way? Are you buying to timescale (‘the programme must be done within six months’) or to a maximum price that’s been chosen without any real reference to what is required from the solution, rather than to a set of well thought through criteria?

There’s no point ticking all the boxes if they’re the wrong ones, is there? If you’re buying programmes and all you can unequivocally prove is that they happened, some people went and some of them enjoyed themselves, then might we point out that coffee mornings would be easier and cheaper to organise? (And that Fairtrade box would be easier to tick too.)

All of this sounds a little damning, and an apology is due: we know HR and L&D Departments can only spend the budgets they are given to pursue the objectives they are set on the solutions that providers offer them. But … if learning and development really is one of the keys to the organisation’s future, those buying decisions are pretty important.

That money – which could be spent in other ways that might also benefit the people HR departments are (saying they are) there to serve – needs to spent responsibly. Not many departments would be given so much on the basis of similar levels available evidence of past results and performance improvement has to start somewhere. And aren’t bosses setting unhelpful and less than optimally informed objectives or line managers failing to support learning follow-through the kind of ‘human resource dysfunctions’ that HR and L&D are there to solve in the first place?

HR could be a catalyst for the kind of radical change 10 Tenets proposes by asking questions that would help it to happen. Ask bosses what the business objectives are and why the timescales are unrealistic; ask providers how they will work with you after the end of the last workshop; ask line managers what they will do to make sure the learning sticks. It’s your budget: ask what spending it is actually going to achieve. Well, your job is business success, isn’t it?

Oh, and that song. Let’s try this one …

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