A Multi-Dimensional Approach

There are strong advocates with compelling arguments for each of the three learning and development philosophies. And that’s fine; they all have their place in organizational and individual learning. But each school of thought has its limitations too. So it stands to reason that the best learning and development strategy is multi-dimensional. An eclectic strategy is comprehensive and brings to light the value of each perspective. It’s not really important which philosophical approach is the best; rather, a more constructive question for leaders to consider is: What does each approach have to offer in improving performance? Understanding and appreciating each dimension helps the leader to be more informed about their learning and development choices.

Take, for example, Murray, a team leader who’s faced with the challenge of overturning lagging work performance in the team he leads. Murray can deal with this substandard performance in one of three ways, or apply a multi-dimensional approach. The performance issue could be tackled from a personal efficiency perspective. Using the person-centered approach, the key might be to improve the way Murray’s team manages its workload. More specifically, the solution could be to train team members on how to manage themselves and their priorities more adeptly. By contemplating a time management program, Murray would tackle the performance issue from a personal development perspective.

Looking at the problem from another angle, Murray considers that poor technical competence is possibly the main reason for substandard performance. So a job-centered approach might be the best way forward to remedy any technical deficiencies within the team. Murray may decide that his team should undertake a competency-based training program, such as a course in administrative and clerical skill development. Raising the skill level of the team may lift performance.

Yet a third option open to Murray is to use a problem-centered approach. Consistent with this perspective, Murray considers facilitating a workshop on the problem of poor communication his team has with other teams within the company, and the further problems that causes. The purpose of the workshop would be to stimulate discussion on some of the key factors affecting the team’s performance and particularly, how communication can be improved with other teams. Attacking poor performance from a problem-centered angle in this case means Murray wants to remove any internal communication barriers affecting team performance.

Any one of these three approaches, or a combination, could provide Murray with the answer to his poor performance dilemma.

A leader choosing from a range of different perspectives to solve performance issues has a broader set of options than simply defaulting to job-centered skills training. So a leader boosts their odds of resolving performance problems by adopting a multi-dimensional approach to learning and development.

To get the most out of learning and development to encourage agile behavior, I’d suggest one third of the organization’s learning and development budget be allocated to each of the three dimensions I’ve covered. In practice, this translates to a third of the budget committed to the self-development of employees (person-centered approach), a third for specific training to carry out job skills (job-centered approach), and a third devoted to developing problem-solving capacity (problem-centered approach). This eclectic mix reinforces the legitimacy of learning and development as an enabler of higher performance; it balances the needs of individual and organization; and offers leaders more options for increasing productivity.

In the final chapter of Part II, we look at the eighth management myth that employees cant be trusted with sensitive information.

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