Nigel Paine, Strategic Advisor to GoodPractice on Leadership and Talent Development.

Research (available from…), carried out by GoodPractice, has revealed leaders’ and managers’ preference for informal or social learning. The study found that the biggest challenge faced by leaders and managers relates to having difficult conversations with team members. This ranked far ahead of all other issues discussed in the research, with over half the participants citing it as a challenging area. Managing underperforming teams and dealing with resistance to change were also highlighted as key challenges.

When presented with these and other difficult situations, leaders have access to a variety of resources to support them. Increasingly these resources are technology-delivered learning materials but many respondents criticised these as poorly structured, with ‘dry, uninspiring content’.

More than half the leaders surveyed revealed a strong preference for informal learning and support. Activities such as face-to-face or telephone discussions with peers, senior management and subject matter experts were popular choices in times of need. Participants rated social learning methods highly. These included peer-to-peer coaching, on-the-job learning and tapping into informal hubs of expertise to share experiences and highlight best practice.

“This strong tendency to opt for informal learning is at odds with the perceptions of learning and development (L&D) professionals,” commented GoodPractice CEO, Peter Casebow.

Nigel Paine, a well-known voice in the learning technologies world and who is Strategic Advisor to GoodPractice on Leadership and Talent Development, said: “GoodPractice has done a great service by confronting us with what managers actually do to develop themselves and what they like best and get the most out of. This is the age of informal learning and that can happen face-to-face, inside or outside an organisation or in myriad ways online.”

Comment: As with many pieces of research, this study confirms commonsense intuition: executives prefer to discuss their problems with their peers rather than undergo formal ‘L&D activities’ – be they via a classroom or a computer.

Of course they do! Given the choice between having to follow a prescribed programme of study and chatting over your problems with your friends – perhaps in quite congenial surroundings – which option would you choose?

But which would be the correct choice – from several points of view, including moral and ethical ones?

Friends and colleagues can give you popular but inappropriate advice. It seems that much of the world’s current banking crisis has been caused by those in the financial services industry doing just what they and their friends in that sector wanted. The contents of the – admittedly often ‘dry and uninspiring’ – regulatory, compliance-orientated formal learning materials, even those delivered by state-of-the-art mobile learning technology, seem, at best, to have been politely ignored.

Of course, it’s easy to allocate the blame.  It’s all the fault of the L&D professionals.

GoodPractice’s Peter Casebow explained: “L&D provision still often relies on traditional methods of workplace learning such as formal courses and classroom instruction. This implies an imbalance between what learners want and what L&D is currently providing which needs to be addressed. We need to nurture internal networks and communities of practice and develop high quality resources to support more informal ways of learning.”

No wonder that L&D professionals don’t have much status in their organisations. They’re always getting it wrong. They commission ‘dry and uninspiring’ online learning materials and they schedule classroom-delivered training courses when all the learners really want to chat with their colleagues, either face-to-face or online.
So, if you’re an executive – perhaps in the banking industry – does that mean that ‘dry and uninspiring’ L&D is fine, so long as it’s for someone else? Are you above the discipline of having to continue to learn to do things properly? And, just because you think that, are you necessarily correct?