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Busted Learning Myths
The preponderance of evidence around leadership development suggests that if you’re doing it to improve leaders’ performance, you’re probably deluding yourself in terms of efficacy.
We at the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania are delighted to work with Chief Learning Officer magazine to bring you the best scholarship from our doctoral students and faculty. The focus of this column is to present the most innovative research emerging from a unique group of leaders who are concurrently scholars.
To kick it off, I’m going to talk about one of my favorite topics: “research” that people consume without question and myths that seem to defy evidence. As far as I can tell, the best-selling authors and biggest gurus are all salespeople trying to peddle their goods. It doesn’t mean they aren’t honest, decent people with value, but they have a vested interest in seeing you purchase what they are selling.
The news isn’t all bad. The theory of human capital development suggests that if we develop people, they will become more productive. The problem is, empirical research suggests between 66 and 80 percent of the variance in performance is not captured by human capital development models. At best, we are able to impact 34 percent of the performance variance. And yet, the space seems to operate like learning is an elixir, curing any ill.
The preponderance of evidence around leadership development suggests that if you’re doing it to improve leaders’ performance, you’re probably deluding yourself in terms of efficacy. This doesn’t mean some of you aren’t impacting some leaders. There is also evidence that leadership development programs do other things, but our literature review found that only 7 percent of the studies looked at leader performance and none looked at team or organizational performance.
Now that you’re mad at me, let me share some other trendy concepts from corporate learning that empirical research suggests are problematic. For each of these, a team of doctoral students and I spent several months chasing down the research, which indicated the proverbial emperor has no clothes.
Informal learning: 70-20-10. Does informal learning exist? Folks generally would say yes. But where did the ratio come from and what does it mean? It basically comes from our old Greek friend Archimedes. Then there was an academic, Allen Tough, who in the 1960s used the iceberg as metaphor, and somehow it got popularized as being a formula. Archimedes demonstrated why most of the iceberg is below the surface, and that is where the numbers come from. Think about it: what is the ratio? Is it hours? Compensation? How was it empirically studied? It’s like that old game — telephone. Someone took a conceptual metaphor and then made a misguided inference.
The Next Generation of HR: What’s Wrong? What’s Right?
May 23rd 1:00pm - 2:00pm CT
2013 CLO Breakfast Club, Boston
September 12th - 12th, 2013The Westin Copley Place
Fall 2013 CLO Symposium
September 30th - October 2nd, 2013Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa
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