A few years ago, I got a frantic call from headquarters. It was late on a Friday, and the question was “How many classes can you cut from next year’s budget?” My answer: “If you want, I can cut all of them. They’re your classes. If you send me a full quota of students, I will teach them. If you send me no students at all, I will do something else with my time.” They didn’t sound happy. This was not the response they expected. What they really wanted was an excuse to cut my budget.
The conversation continued. We were in the middle of a workforce reduction. Headquarters really wanted to know the impact of teaching less. They had no link showing how money spent on learning and development (L&D) translated into outcomes. What I had just given them was a limit case, where the resources spent on L&D were cut to zero. What could happen? In truth, in the short-term, nothing much. People would still do what they did yesterday just as well tomorrow. Headquarters seemed happy to hear this. But with any process that involves humans, there is always a catch.
When you flip a bicycle over to check the wheels, they will spin forever with a light, regular push. Your on-staff L&D team provides the push to keep the workforce in motion. They lightly nudge the human performance wheel, to bring new people up to speed, make new procedures happen, and drive efficiency through smooth adoption of new technology.
Just like with a spinning wheel, if L&D stops pushing, the organization will keep spinning – for a while. But entropy always catches up: procedures change, new technologies replace the old, new people step in. All the equipment in the world will just sit there if nobody runs it. Your organization literally rides on the workforce: your people are the wheels that carry you forward.
As you balance the fate of the L&D team in the overall budget, remember each spinning wheel, and think how things might look without a careful and regular push.
Copyright © 2016 Expeditionaire and Edward K. Beale
Image from: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/da/Changing_an_inner_tube_-_Removing_the_tire.jpg