Monday, February 18, 2008

Personalised means more than slick

I have noticed that my children have a very different attitude towards work with which they feel some sense of connection. Well duh!

The thing is, though, that adult learners are expected to have acquired a measure of discipline that enables them to "just get on with it", regardless of whether the learning material engages them directly.

For years, I worked on sheepdip learning projects in which people were churned through training courses regardless of whether they had any direct bearing on them as individuals.

Recruitment processes focus on the individual: personalised CVs, individual interviews (possibly more than one), individualised package negotiations. Sometimes we might even headhunt an individual, having identified that this is someone our team needs, and targeting them specifically. Why is it, then, once we get the individual on board, we treat their professional development as faceless?

When I was a kid, my Dad always sent me money for birthdays and Christmas. To be honest, it was a guilt-laden, rather inappropirate amount of money. If you think I can remember one single thing I bought with that money...! On the other hand, one year, when I was about 9 years old, he sent me an 8mm projector. We never got it to work (the movies were always upside down, and my Mom wasn't techie enough to figure out what to do about that), but I remember it.

Then, when I was 17, this arrived. I was over the moon. The only time I have ever been without it is when it has been broken - which has been several times, to be honest. I have had it repaired and reinforced, and it is now several years since it last broke. On Saturday, on the way back from the squash courts, I noticed that it was missing. I was in some distress until I found it again. The funny thing is, my Dad never understood why it was so precious to me. When I phoned him to thank him for it, I was positively bubbling. He was non-plussed and slightly irked. He pointed out that he sent me a lot of money over the years, and that this had cost him nothing at all.

As it turned out, he was a bit strapped for cash that year, since an attempt (one of several he was to make over the years) to set up his own business had failed. Since he was something of a Lothario, he had received many gifts of silver jewellery from women over the years, and couldn't possibly ever wear it all (this was in the days before bling). So he had taken a couple of fistfuls to a friend who was a hobby silversmith and had the personalised torque bangles made up: one each for my sister and me.

He couldn't understand why the thought, the effort, the personalisation meant more to me than all the money put together. However, he obviously decided that this was a winning formula, because he later had one made for his new partner and my half-sister who made an unexpected arrival 14 years ago.

But there's a lesson in this for management. People like to be treated as individuals. They value time, thought and effort over money. And that doesn't change an awful lot as they grow older. The slickest learning resources in the world are unlikely to mean as much as an individualised, customised learning provision.

And it needn't cost an arm and a leg. It could something as simple as allowing them to create a space for their own learning. Little touches like prebriefings and debriefings around planned learning events. Affording them time and space to network with likeminded individuals (and not making a fuss when a networking lunch extends an hour into the afternoon). Encouraging them to feed back what they've learned to each other.

Let them know that their personal development matters to you, too.

After all - everything's personal when you're a person!


rlubensky said...

Beautiful, Karyn! I absolutely love your term "sheepdip learning"--so apt here in Australia. And so miserable for the sheep.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Ron. Wish I could take credit for the term "sheepdip learning" but it is in common usage, here. But it does just say it all, doesn't it?