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Learning and Talent: the view from Brussels

This blog first appeared on the LINE website on February 25th 2010

Sean Nugent reviews iVentiv’s Learning & Talent Executive Knowledge Exchange, which took place 8-9 February 2010 in Brussels, Belgium.

iVentiv continues to run well organised events that attract industry leaders, a record of success that LINE has supported by sponsoring the event for the last two years. Delegates this time were from a wide range of sectors and countries including representation from Lufthansa, Volvo, NATO, BP, Hitachi, Toyota and the EU Commission.

The main theme of the conference was Talent Management; a term which seems to mean different things to different people, but at the heart of it is the issue of how an organisation defines leadership. 21st century leaders need to be flexible, adaptive, consultative and above all visionary. In terms of training leaders, organisations need to adopt more creative and dynamic approaches to developing talent suitable to become tomorrow’s leaders.

Broad or narrow?

As a business leader, your definition of Talent Management will tend to vary according to the breadth or narrowness of your organisation’s definition of leadership.

The narrower definition looks at identifying, fast-tracking and developing tomorrow’s top team: the stars of tomorrow who are going to provide an organisation’s ongoing direction. Elsewhere, leadership is felt to be an issue that potentially affects everyone, from the CEO right down to the call centre manager. Under the broadest definition, Talent Management is about how you recruit, retain and manage your entire workforce.

Our perception is that ‘narrow’ still largely holds sway; however, ‘broad’ has gained ground over recent years and was certainly represented in conference presentations, with a call to deliver training across the wider leadership community – for example, less of a focus on MBAs for individuals and more focus on developing blended learning programmes for a wider group of aspiring leaders.

There was interest and even excitement at the conference about how ‘classic’ e-learning and other multi platform delivery systems can be used effectively as part of a blended learning programme. Our own Steve Ash played his part here, presenting the real business benefits that training can provide. There was a lot of interest in particular in use of video in a LINE project for IKEA.
The scalability that next generation blended learning can bring to something like leadership training, which was previously too expensive to spread beyond the fast-track elite, is occasionally seen among the ‘broad’ camp as an argument in itself for taking a more inclusive approach. Our hunch is that this one will run and run!

Issues in Talent Management

A more general Talent Management theme emerging from the presentations was the shortfall in numbers of people with required skills and experience to fill vacant positions. Perhaps you thought that a rise in unemployment meant goodbye to the skills gap. Sadly, no.

The persistence of this problem is due in part to the much-heralded ‘Demographic Time Bomb’ – as baby-boomersapproach retirement age en masse – but also has to do with a difficulty for organisations in attracting the right talent that seems to be perennial.

The finance sector also has its own particular pains around recruitment, as bankers vie for bottom slot in the popularity stakes with traffic wardens and UK MPs. It seems fewer people with leadership potential now consider the financial sector a good place to establish a worthwhile career.

Not all was misery, however; while acknowledging that trading conditions are still tough, delegates radiated a general sense of post-recession optimism.

Cultural acceptance of e-learning

An event such as this, which brings together delegates from different countries, many of whom work in multinationals, provides a good opportunity to reflect on issues around the embedding of e-learning in different cultures.

A particular point of debate was the resistance to e-learning in Europe compared to its wide usage and acceptability in the US. Josh Bersin, for one, has been forthright recently on this subject. However various delegates at this event countered this view from their own experience of having successfully deployed good quality e-learning solutions on a pan-European basis.

Knowledge Management

Another theme from the presentations, the need to link training systems with knowledge management systems, was particularly close to our hearts at LINE, as we have written about this before at length. The unification of communications, e-learning and knowledge management by Piers Lea, Patrick Dunn and Ian Leader.

This was thought to be particularly relevant to context and reference learning; where knowledge needs to be referenced not remembered.

Roll credits!

We’ve talked about general themes rather than individual presentations in this piece but the following stand-out presentations really deserve name-checking:

A powerful presentation from Nick van Dam, Global Chief Learning Officer at Deloitte. He discussed some of the approaches that Deloitte and some of their clients have been using to develop talent, and of particular interest was their commitment to developing blended learning programmes, and using learning technology as part of the blend.

A presentation of high quality was given by Jeffrey L. Sampler, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. This focussed on the changing nature of business and how the particular characteristics of a business were far more important than sector, this detailed some good examples including companies such as Apple and Nokia and their penetration into diverse areas of the market. Technological innovation is a key tool to help businesses adapt.

Other interesting presentations included Karin Klatt, Executive Education Manager at Lufthansa on their leadership development programme in association with the London Business School and Christopher McLaverty, VP Leadership Development and Talent Manager at BP on their approach to leadership development.

Also notable were various other panel discussions and presentations including members from Hitachi Data systems, Toyota, HP and Zurich Financial Services.