Learning is not development

Written by
Changeboard Team

12 Dec 2014

12 Dec 2014 • by Changeboard Team

Growing intelligence

Imagine if your leaders did exactly that and came back more perceptive, more aware, more insightful, more innovative, able to make much better decisions quicker and with less effort. If you delivered such a transformation you would be hailed as a genius. But unfortunately it is just not possible to think your way into better quality thinking. There is no magic wand which can step change intelligence. Or is there?

Let’s look at intelligence for a moment. Why are some people smarter than others? Is it genetics, is it education or upbringing? Are great people born or bred? Do we simply have to scour the planet to find the best people and hire them? Are we looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack or is it possible to turn the haystack into a thousand brilliant needles?

Even if we found the best talent and persuaded them to join there is still the problem that some days our best people are full of ideas and other days they can’t think of anything useful. Sometimes really bright people do incredibly stupid things and create problems. What we really need is to find leaders that are brilliant every single day. Smarter than the rest, able to not only keep up with the competition but get us ahead. But where do we find such awesome individuals? 

People development

The good news is we don’t have to. They are already in our company. We just need to develop them. All our people are currently operating well below their intellectual potential. Not because they are lazy or coasting but because they don’t know how to unlock their own brilliance.

Most organisations look to the HR community to do this and ‘manage’ the talent pool. More specifically this task often falls to a sub-group within the HR function – the ‘Learning & Development (L&D)’ department. The L&D department normally builds various management and leadership development programmes designed to improve the talent pool and deliver great people to the C-suite. 

Alternatively, some organisations send their leaders to advanced leadership programmes at business schools such as Harvard or INSEAD. These programmes, whether internal or external, teach executives various leadership skills; they call in industry luminaries to share their wisdom and knowledge; and the attendees have a rich peer interaction experience. All of this is incredibly useful – but it is learning not development. 

What is L&D?

Learning is the acquisition of skills, knowledge and experience – it is a ‘horizontal’ manoeuvre that increases the breadth of the individual. Development is a completely different thing entirely. Development is a ‘vertical’ phenomenon that increases the depth and sophistication of the leader. So most programmes run by L&D departments claim they are developing talent but what they are actually providing are flat, horizontal learning programmes that are not transformational – it’s all ‘L’ and very little ‘D’.

Don’t get me wrong. There is still a lot of value-add in the learning but delivering horizontal learning is often like adding more apps to an already over-loaded individual. Vertical development is a complete upgrade of the human operating system.

The distinction between learning & development may sound obvious but many organisations use the two terms interchangeably. Understanding the difference is profoundly important if you want to get ahead of your competition. The exclusive focus on learning to the detriment of development dates back at least to the time of management guru Peter Senge, who suggested that businesses become ‘Learning Organisations,’ in his book The Fifth Discipline. 

How development can improve your business

If you want to stay ahead of your competitors you need to change yourself, your team and your organisation faster than those around you; faster than the market average and certainly faster than you are doing right now.

With a developmental upgrade executives become able to do things that were simply not possible at their previous level of functioning. New capabilities, new levels of insight, greater perceptiveness, improved speed of decision making and increased effectiveness of delivery all come online when they achieve a new level.

Organisational change is much more likely to sustain when it is built on vertical development rather than just horizontal learning. It is ironic that embedded in many notions of sustainability is the idea of ‘no change’. In our view true sustainability involves profound vertical change, a developmental shift a quantum leap forward into a new way of operating that transcends and includes all previous levels.

At the human being level sustainable change has to occur from the inside out. If the ‘change’ is just on the surface, a ‘fake it until you make it’ window dressing then it will simply not endure. There are five specific ‘internal lines of development’ that we need to address to make change sustainable: physical; emotional and social intelligence; cognitive; values and ego maturity.

Each of these lines of development can be seen as a separate ‘stack’ that add altitude to an individual. In addition there are three separate lines or stacks of external development that also can also add altitude; leadership behaviour; networks and impact. Each new level of development in each of the various eight stacks can add a different degree of height to the overall stack since not all developmental jumps add the same amount of value. 

The stacks of development

Complete Coherence slide

Learning is really about how much breadth is added to the ‘lid’ of the stack- the red, green and blue segments of the lid. The good news about all of this is that we can now clearly separate out the measurement and tracking of learning from development. Different assessment processes are needed to quantify and track each dimension of learning and development.

How much a leader improves in terms of acquiring role appropriate skill sets at the various levels of seniority can easily be visualised.  It can be seen as separate from the knowledge they may acquire of different market conditions and the experience they gain in different areas such as investor relations or international postings. The segments of the lid can flex according to job role and seniority. 


Sustainable development

It is now possible to clearly see the capability of leaders at all levels of the organisation in terms of their skills, knowledge, experience and developmental level within every one of the eight developmental stacks. Such precision helps organisations to identify exactly what is required in terms of increasing the breadth and depth of their leaders through much more effectively structured learning and development programmes.

This more robust approach will reduce our reliance on, or at times obsession with, outdated ‘descriptive’ leadership assessments and can drive a genuine transformation in leadership capability. We can help leaders to unlock their true potential, bringing all of themselves to work, not just bits of themselves.

With all our potential available we can achieve intellectual alchemy, become smarter, happier healthier operating with boundless energy and reach the ‘holy grail’ – genuine sustainable development.