The scene was Home Counties Typical. Take a genuinely old country roadside pub, remove all but the walls and refit in mock-1970s Scandinavian. Serve steak and chips, pie and mash and various pizzas with bistro-style toppings, and emphasise the ‘home made’ and the wine selection. Attract affluent but mostly unadventurous people (generally middle-aged couples in the ‘dinky’ demographic), especially for Sunday lunches during the summer. Rather like a golf club with the added comfort of a complete absence of golf. (Okay, I’m aiming low, but then the pub wasn’t trying that hard either.) Given the inspiration coming from the décor, I decided to eavesdrop.

The people within easiest earshot were equally typical – two ‘comfortably-off’ looking middle-aged men griping about work, whose repartee and body language suggested that they’d known each other a long, long time. One was off on an ‘HR jolly to Italy’ (his words) to ‘explore his personal vision’. From what I could gather, this would involve ‘doing my MTBI thing for the umpteenth time (although why bother when all of us are the same type)’, ‘taking an object that captures something personal about my vision’ and ‘exploring my leadership paradigm or something like that’. The phrase ‘happy-clappy PR piffle’ drifted past me too, once Diner 2 had chimed in: “And I suppose they won’t be evaluating any of this, or following any of it up?”. No, of course not. Well, that would be daft, wouldn’t it?

I’d hoped that most people worried that their colleagues might think they were ‘skiving at some training thing’, not sat around sarcastically sneering at being sent on one themselves. We’ve commented here before on the ‘HR as jolly’ perception, although having it brought quite so vividly to life was both unexpected and disturbing. My pie and chips hadn’t turned up at this point, so I gently bit my tongue to satisfy one appetite and stave off another.

The urge to comment was so strong: MBTI profiles are preferences, not portraits; leading involves understanding others and your impact on and interaction with them – try suggesting they use FIRO-B too, and try caring as well; if your HR department/organisation keep organising ‘development’ this poor, why is no-one questioning it; and I realise this sorry state of affairs isn’t your fault, but if this is an indication of how seriously you take the whole leadership issue, I’m really glad I’m only sharing a pub with you …) I was suddenly really grateful that smoking nowadays has to be done at the far end of the car park. A walk in the fresh air always clears the mind …

To be fair to them, the forthcoming ‘leadership development intervention’ did sound like a fair-sized waste of time and money. Provided Diner 1 spent his spare time in whichever Italian city he’d be in observing the locals and how their culture and interaction differed from familiar ones (rather than just finding somewhere else to eat steak and chips), he’d probably learn more from that experience than the actual event. He sounded inadequately briefed, had little or no preparatory work (or understanding of why it is important and what it meant), and no clear sense of what the point of the event was.

And no-one was going to even ask him to change his behaviour, let alone check whether he had, and offer support when and where he found that harder than he realised. (If nothing else, someone somewhere should by now have picked him up on ‘what do I need this for? We wasted time on all this stuff at [company name removed] before they laid some of us off’.)

Clearly, something more than just Diner 1’s motivation needed tackling. His H&R department should stop spending money on development programmes that had inadequate preparation, no follow-through, and seemingly no attempt to tie the reason for their existence to the objectives of the attendees, let alone their employer (who was stumping up for all this.)

The senior management of his organisation should stop allowing their HR department to behave like that too; preferably, they should re-focus HR on exploring the current motivation/morale and degree of self-awareness among those in senior positions and identifying training opportunities linked to the business’s overall objectives and requirements that people – and their paymasters – would really benefit from attending. And participants, line managers and HR could work together on following up on the training to make sure that the lessons weren’t just learned, but applied. If nothing else, at least three people would have a happier Sunday lunch.

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