No Training? No excuse.
Chris Pharo, News Editor at The Sun, is in the dock at Kingston Crown Court. He is accused – along with others – of paying serving police officers, those working in high security prisons and members of the armed forces for stories. Paying public officials – all of whom are bound by laws covering confidentiality – counts as conspiracy and so the charges Pharo faces are serious indeed. If convicted he faces a lengthy period behind bars – where, at least, he’ll know plenty of people.
In a bizarre twist last week, Pharo claimed that he had never been trained about paying public officials. His defence would appear to be “It’s a fair cop, Guv, but L&D is to blame!”
In much the same way as bankers fiddled the foreign exchange rates to line their own pockets, or Police Officers under-reported crimes to improve their own figures or staff looked away when vulnerable people in residential homes were being abused, this was a cultural problem which training will always struggle to tackle on its own. Put simply, when training and organisational culture diverges, culture wins every time. The influence of organisational culture is felt all day, every day.
Perhaps a more informal approach would help to counter a toxic culture. After all, there are sufficient commentators currently explaining that collaborative learning is the way to go and that training is no longer the answer – if indeed it ever was.
This is where I have a sight problem. It seems to me that learning from each other, swapping ideas and observing those who are highly successful is precisely what led to the problem faced by the defendants in this case, fiddled crime statistics and toxic bankers. This was the result of an ungoverned, unmediated approach to informal learning. In these environments, bending the rules and not getting caught was the route to success. Working ethically and legally was for losers and wimps.
However, the commentators on informal learning who advocate an end to training as we know it never point out two clear issues:
1. Informal learning reinforces the dominant organisational culture. If the culture is ethical, sustainable and high performing – hallelujah. The collaborative route to working and learning sustains the current culture. If it is toxic, bullying, target focused at all costs - then that is what is reinforced by informal learning.
2. The only time some people get the chance to share ideas with others and reflect on what could be different is in the sanctuary provided by the training room. Yes, if the training room is dominated by an egocentric trainer with 200 PowerPoint slides and a 6 hour lecture to deliver, then that sanctuary and space is closed down. But really – does anyone think that is what training is? Did the vision of the workplace classroom as endless presentations ever exist or is the current disdain for the training room based on some tired old clichés?
(Actually, there are situations in which I have seen the presentation heavy endless bullet points approach used in organisations. It is always when we give a functional subject matter expert, who thinks anyone can be a trainer, the opportunity to design and run a course. I have never come across this approach from anyone who considers themselves a training professional.)
Where rules are being bent and protocols ignored, then a laissez faire attitude to informal learning lays the foundation for the kind of scandals which we have seen too frequently of late. To change culture, what is needed is an authoritative voice which clearly says ‘this is how we do business’ or ‘these are the standards you must meet’. Delivering those messages might not need a traditional training course. Lots of methods exist for getting these messages out to people. But where no authoritative voice is provided by an organisation, someone usually becomes the self-appointed spokesperson for ‘how we do things round here’. If it’s the person from whom Chris Pharo learned the ropes, be afraid!
Developing a positive organisational culture in which people constantly question why and how and what cannot be left to an informal, unsupervised network where we all share our opinions but no one tells us the facts. Jane Hart of the Centre for Performance and Learning Technologies has outlined what came out of her Learning in the Workplace survey as, ‘knowledge sharing in teams, networking and searching the web are the most valued ways to learn’.
I don’t disagree. Knowledge sharing is good. Networking is OK if you know the right people. Searching the web I’m somewhat more sceptical of as I believe it requires a degree of media literacy which is often lacking. I have had enough late night arguments with people who back up their particular beliefs in conspiracy theories by citing the web’s underworld of the unhinged to know you can’t believe everything you’re told by google.
I’m also a little sceptical of the term ‘valued’ in these survey results. Jane seems to believe that ‘valued’ is analogous with ‘popular’. I have argued elsewhere about the ineffectiveness of happy sheets so I’m afraid I’m less than enthusiastic about embracing survey results which are based on a kind of global feedback form. This is especially the case when the result s would appear to be ‘down with skool’. The current emphasis on the popularity of collaborative working and learning is in danger of blinding us to those times when only a formal, authoritative input will do.
In the absence of formal training, I’m sure Chris Pharo learned his trade from successful individuals around him. I’m sure he valued the insights he gained from more experienced team members. I can’t imagine that he wasn’t heavily influenced by members of his management team. I’m sure he honed his network of contacts and used his personal learning network with enthusiasm. His climb up The Sun’s greasy pole would suggest he became very skilled in double quick time. I’m sure his progression to the role of News Editor meant that he, in his turn, became a role model for others – a person whom new entrants to the newsroom turned to for advice and guidance.
In the spirit of learning from others, let’s pause and reflect on Mr Pharo’s current predicament. He never went on no training courses.
Bet he wished he had.
Robin Hoyle is a consultant and author. His book Complete Training: from recruitment to retirement is published by Kogan Page. He will be discussing the guiding principles behind Complete Training on Learning Now TV on Thursday 27th November at 8pm.
Robin Hoyle is a writer and consultant working with organisations large and small to implement change through people development. He has a long track record of strategic L&D leadership and materials development and design - working for a wide range of organisations in private, public and voluntary sectors in the UK and throughout the world...