On 4th November we will be 25 years old. How did that happen?? In some ways, it seems like a few months ago that we started our consultancy but when we think about it, a lot has happened in our little world of Learning and Development (admittedly not as much as has happened in the wider world even in the last year!)
To mark our 25 years as a leadership and team development consultancy, here are our thoughts on some of the L&D trends we’ve seen since 1997 and what impact they’ve had. In part 2 of this article next month, we’ll do a bit of crystal ball gazing, looking forward to what the next quarter century may bring in training and learning.
We’ve seen quite a few comings and goings in the last 25 years. Here are 4 trends that came but didn’t go.
Coaching first began as a profession in the 1970s (and no, we weren’t old enough to do it then) although it was referenced way back in the 1800s in university settings. It really started to gain traction in the late 80s/early 90s and many said it was a fad that wouldn’t last. Fast-forward 30+ years and it’s clear that coaching is here to stay. Organisations steeped in the “sheep-dip” mass group training approach baulked at spending money on one individual’s development – until it became clear this sort of targeted learning led to better, faster and more impactful results. Coaching can provide a unique forum for a person to learn, think things through and solve problems. John Whitmore, a leading figure in the field describes it as “unlocking people’s potential to maximise performance”. Whether you are a coach helping to unlock that potential or you’ve been coached and had a few lightbulb moments, you’ll be aware of its impact. Possibly the greatest value that coaching brings is quite simply time to think and reflect, with someone who asks powerful questions and then gets out of your way. In “Time to Think”, Nancy Kline says “A statement requires you to obey, a question requires you to think.” Long live coaching!
Soft Skills Development
First of all, let’s knock the name on the head. Soft skills? They are anything but. But 25 years ago, that was what we called any non-technical training or learning relating to people skills. Back then it was seen as a luxury, an add-on. Now it is the difference that makes the difference. Whether you consider yourself a people person or someone who prefers minimal contact with other humans, certain skills are always on trend. In 1999 we invested in a relationship with a company called Insights Learning and Development and started to use their behavioural tools. 23 years on our relationship is as strong as ever and their tools have helped us help others to gain self-awareness, awareness of others and a route to better relationships with colleagues. The ability to listen actively, get your point across, engage with others, converse, share and adapt to deal with a range of different people – these things aren’t soft, they’re essential to our survival. So invest as much in them as your technical skills and you won’t go far wrong.
We set up as a training company. We ran courses and workshops. Then clients started to seek us out to steer their teams through a complex meeting, suggest ways to discuss and explore a contentious issue or hold the reins at a series of away days. Actually, there weren’t that many away days back in 1997 and we certainly hadn’t heard of “off-sites” – but we have now! The idea that the leader doesn’t have to lead everything and in fact shouldn’t chair everything is one of the reasons why using facilitators has become popular. At first some leaders were a little reluctant. Would it look like they were abdicating their role? Giving up control? But good facilitation isn’t leading and it definitely isn’t controlling. It requires an unbiased approach, sensitivity and diplomacy, a sharp sense of timing and more than a little creativity. If done right, it frees those in charge to be contributors and to fully involve themselves without having to run the room. It also gives teams exposure to innovative ways to explore, discuss and take action. The role of facilitator kept us on our toes then and still does now. It is said that a good facilitator doesn’t just guide the discussion, they also encourage the group to have the conversations that need to be had to get to a better place. PS – we still run courses. Facilitation is an “and” not an “or”.
Back in the early 90s, we had a colleague who worked in IT for a company who conducted all their training in Los Angeles. Based in the UK he would regularly jet over for weeks of courses. It was the norm then. Nowadays less so, to protect our budgets and our planet. But even 25 years ago, everything we offered as a consultancy, was delivered in a room. It’s hard to imagine now, but back then, if you didn’t get there you missed out. The word “hybrid” was only used to describe different species or varieties of plant or animal. Then saw the arrival of online learning. It was a bit clunky and dry at first but as new tools came on the market, it became a real alternative to in-room learning events. Now it is part and parcel of the way we all work and in the periods of lockdown during the Pandemic, it came in to its own. Now that we’ve been let out again, we can be more discerning. There’s nothing quite like the warm body experience for some learning. We know what works better with us physically together – including relationship-based learning and team coaching and what can work well with us apart – like general skills and knowledge updates. It’s a great addition to the world of learning and you save a fortune on work shoes – win/win.
Next month we’ll suggest some future trends for learning and development. In the meantime, feel free to enjoy (and giggle at) a picture of us in the 1990s which proves that it’s not just L&D that evolves…