In our most recent LDA You Oughta Know event, our guest touched on the language we use. It struck a chord for me, thinking about how we refer to things. It led me to wonder whether, in fact, we’re hampering ourselves. So here are some thoughts around the question of whether L&D language is limiting us?
So, Serena Gonsalves-Fersch heads talent for SoftwareONE, a global company. For her dissertation, she interviewed a number of folks about what L&D is doing. While her comments were extremely worthwhile, it was more a toss-off comment about using terms like “talent management” that got me to leave a note to riff on this topic.
So let’s start with those overarching terms. Human Capital, Human Resources, and Talent strike me as ways to dissociate from thinking of people, and instead think of using assets. You might invest in them, but are you investing in your people, or in the capability of your organization? The latter may sound sensible, but it leaves open the question “at what expense”. Do you care if they burn out from the way you use them? Shouldn’t we talk about our people, employees, or those we’re responsible to and for? Perhaps I’m overly sensitive to the issues, but too often I see the approach being impersonal and if not inhumane.
Similarly, what about the phrase Corporate University? I am fond of the case study Mark Britz presented in Revolutionize L&D, where he said that for his organization, he recognized that what was needed was a community to share, given that they were disconnected but experts. What folks really mean by a corp uni is a training academy, but a uni isn’t a good model. Instead of deep theory with little practical application, it’s almost the reverse. Learning should be continual and ubiquitous, not sent off to separate environs. Even when you do specific formal interventions, they should be seen as integral, not isolated in an ivory tower.
Similarly, I’ve sounded off on the problems of Training & Development, or Learning & Development. Training and learning are means to an end. What we want are people performing optimally, and continually developing. It might even be Performance & Innovation (if you take the revolution seriously ;).
It’s clear language does determine the ways we think about things (is it a mishap or a catastrophe?). When we use language that characterizes activity in certain ways, we implicitly put constraints on it. This is true for every formulation, of course, but perhaps it behooves us to think consciously about the language we use. Do we know if L&D language is limiting us? Let’s make sure that we’re not prematurely handicapping ourselves by our framing.