What do you do?
It’s a simple enough question, but for many L&D people, this is a question we dread. The reason? As soon as the person says it, you know how they will react to your answer:
“Oh, so you’re in training.”
To which the only possible response is a rather inadequate “Yes, sort of.” But by then it’s too late. They have already formed a picture, based on their 15 plus years of schooling, of what you do. You teach people. By standing in front of a classroom. Because that’s what training and skills are all about, isn’t it?
There is nothing wrong with training; it just isn’t what most of us do. We design e-learning courses or learning strategies or facilitate social learning. Even when we are doing something close to training – such as delivering workshops – there will be fundamental differences between our roles in reality and in the minds of our interlocutor.
Yet we ourselves are least partly to blame for this situation.
Because we give the wrong answer.
When asked “what do you do?” we reply in concrete terms. We take the question ‘What do you do?’ literally. We describe what we do do in our daily lives. And from there it is a short step to “Oh, so you’re in training.”
There is a different, better answer. It is a definition of our roles that focuses not on what we do, but on what we make possible. Let me restate that: Learning and Development should be defined not by what it does but by what it makes possible. And what do we make possible? We help organisations deliver on their promises.
In a world where tangible assets, the supply of capital and even specialist information no longer guarantee differentiation, people’s skills and knowledge are how our organisations deliver. And we make it possible for them to have those skills and that knowledge.
Each of us is like the mason in the Rule of St Benedict. Busily carving a block of stone, he is approached by a wise man. “What are you doing?” asks the wise man. Without looking up, the man replies. He does not say “I’m carving a block of stone.” He does not say “I’m earning money for my family.” He replies: “I am building a cathedral.”
And that must be how we express the level of our ambition.
So, the next time someone asks you what you do, you know what answer to give. “I make it possible for my organisation to deliver on its promises.” Whatever response you get, I can guarantee it will not be: “Oh, so you’re in training.”
Originally published in December, 2011, this is my introduction to Inside Learning Technologies Magazine, edition 36 – now available to read online.