When H.Smith Richardson turned his father's apothocary in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina into the Vicks Pharmaceuticals Company on the meteoric sales of Vick's VapoRub, he was among the first businessmen in the world who wrote in his annual reports that the job of upper management was the development of leaders for the continued strategic success of the company. H.Smith Richardson understood that learning through experience was essential and that business challenges were relentlessly demanding new answers — and that was from the perspective of 1930s to 1960s. It is unlikely that H.Smith could have anticipated the complexity of today's global business climate but he fully grasped the reality that learning was specific to the individual manager and that it was the responsibility of the organization to foster the competencies necessary for the future. He intuitively understood the African proverb, " if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together." He intended for his company to go far and for managers to learn as much as possible for a secure future. He was learning intentional about individuals and the culture he wanted to create.
Darned if We Don't
Another popular quote presents a serious truism when thinking about development: "a president and human resource director are talking when one says to the other, what happens if we invest all this money in training employees and they leave? The other says, what happens if we don't invest and they stay?" Both H.Smith’s story and this quote remind us that development is a necessity, whatever the context, and the task is how to provide the relevant development of competencies at the right time. Further, developmental efforts are an investment that builds capability for the future.
With decades of research lighting the way, every manager who has completed a MBA knows that the people side of the business equation, unlike accounting and financial processes, is complex and without a widely agreed upon approach except for these principles: development is most effective when it is personalized, built on an awareness of personal patterns, seeks to find appropriate applications of those patterns, and uses learning tactics to stretch the capabilities of the learner. So as a manager you need both business acumen and people development acumen if you are going to grow a successful business for the long term.
Events Don't Change Behavior
So we know these things about developmental necessities but we often treat this as secondary to business success as evidenced by providing short term workshops that are only tangentially job relevant or implausibly useful. It is a sham to think that a mission critical behavioral development can occur in an afternoon or that the skills a team needs can be learned in a day. Topics can be introduced in this short period but learning takes time and practice, feedback, and focused blending of insights into daily habits.
To make matters more complex, we now know even if we have given it a great deal of thought and planning, each adult is literally on a path of development that is governed by ways of knowing that have predictable and very formidable "rules" that impact what a person can learn and implement. For example, we can accept that being strategically agile is an essential capability for success in successive higher levels of responsibilities and the hard truth is that an individual must have achieved a complex way of understanding to develop strategic agility. Some will reach this kind of mental complexity and many will never achieve the developmental range to do so. At best, some can learn to both appreciate the capability and perhaps approximate aspects of the skill.
Personalize or Perish
For all of these reasons: being learning intentional, engaging all of the managers in a developmental process, using proven elements in creating a learning experience, and recognizing the range of capability at any given time leads to one conclusion --personalized learning maximizes an individual's resources for growth. And to achieve this Herculean goal, technology is essential unless we are able to assign each manager a leader learning coach which is financially impossible to do.
All of these concerns have been part of the passion behind the creation and nature of the developmental frameworks embedded in the Matrix Insights platform. A learner moves through the developmental process from self-awareness, application, and on-going development at a pace and level of complexity appropriate to his or her needs. When designing a learning experience — which could be entirely self directed and without anyone from human resources or guidance of a coach — the learner works through a process to anchor an understanding of personal patterns and their impact, explores insights and applications of this knowledge in working with others, and during each part of the process creates a development plan with action tips relevant to his or her learning journey. In short, the learner does exactly what H.Smith Richardson said was required: put ideas into action.