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An honour – and a spur

Middlesex Hon DrLast Friday, 15 July, I was awarded with an honorary doctorate by Middlesex University. It was a great honour. Here is my acceptance speech:

Thank you very much, Pro Chancellor.

Receiving an honorary degree is of course a great … honour. The clue is in the title. And it is, indeed, an honour. It means a lot. It means a lot to be recognised for the long years of quiet work trying to turn the humble trade of training into a profession.

But in gratefully accepting this award, I have to say two things – otherwise, I’d feel I was doing so under false pretences.

First: the long journey of professionalising training is not yet at an end.

This trade of workplace training – in which I have spent my entire adult working life – is evolving as the working world evolves. It used to be so easy. When I began training, you would stand omniscient in front of your class, something like a divinely-appointed custodian of knowledge. And they would listen to you! Those days have gone. Why? They got the internet. Damn them. They can now find stuff out as quickly as we can. And they can tell us when we’ve got it wrong, too.

And that, of course, is exactly as it should be.

High-quality workplace learning is absolutely not about information transfer. Today, anyone can look up anything. We’ve moved from a world where information is power to one where we can access almost the sum total of human knowledge with the swipe of a thumb using a super computer we carry in our pockets.

Today, training – or learning and development as we call it– is not about providing information. It’s about identifying performance issues and finding the best ways to solve them. Doing that well takes a wide set of skills and knowledge – an understanding of business, of the science of the brain, of the techniques of persuasive conversations, of marketing and of technology.

Much of this is described in the Learning and Performance Institute’s Capability Map, which lays out the 27 key capabilities needed in a modern L&D department. It has been a crucial step on the journey of professionalising our field, setting a standard that widens our role from a narrow focus on information transfer.

Of all the work I’ve done and which this degree recognises, this is among the parts I am most proud of. The Capability Map provides a guide for anyone wanting to understand how to navigate this new profession. It’s online. And it’s free.

But although I personally led and put a lot of effort into it, the Capability Map was a team effort. And this is my second point. It took a lot of people to create it and check it and to put it to work. Without them, it would just be another idea on the shelf. I don’t believe it’s possible to really bring about any significant change unless you are part of a team.

So, while I cannot accept this award as an accolade at the end of a career of brilliant, solitary endeavour, I certainly do accept it, with great honour, as recognition of what I have achieved – with my colleagues – so far. And as a spur to completing the journey towards professionalising training.

Pro Chancellor, thank you.

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