The remarkable elitism of corporate learning curriculum

Some remarkable examples of how we don't even try to equip most people to fully contribute to their organization.

I just came across a recent (FY19) catalog of a leading corporate learning provider, which shall remain unnamed. The document includes over a hundred courses, and the target audience for each--individual contributors, managers, and executives.  It's so retrograde and elitist that I couldn't resist typing a short post with some choice bits.  I promise you'll have a bitter laugh or two.👇👇👇

Let's start with a course aiming to build the competency of thinking strategically and managing risk:

Basically, if you're an individual contributor-that is, part of the 80%+ of the workforce in most organizations-the basic message is: we don't really need you to think about new opportunities and threats, or how we might leverage our capabilities in novel ways.  And leave the risk management to the "experts." Mmkay...

Let's move to problem solving.  Here the assumption is that folks at the so-called "bottom" of the organization get some tactical training, while managers frame issues and evaluate solutions.  Managers and above also get equipped to play "devil's advocate"--aka, mastering the dark arts of shooting down other people's ideas (which is, admittedly, a lot of fun).

"Project management" is truly for "all."  You just need to be a bit flexible on what you mean by "all:"

Clearly, the vision thing has to be the province of a few people at the top who have a "privileged perspective." Everybody else is better off keeping their heads buried in operations:

I'll present the next without comment (ok, one comment—self-management as a key skill managers only is pretty ironic):

Individual contributors should understand the importance and dynamics of workplace diversity, but let's not waste time training them on how they might play an active role in bridging the gap..  All right, then...

Let's move on to team leadership.  Dear individual contributor, the core skill you bring to the table on this front is… supporting your leader!  (I swear, I’m not making this up.  Just look below).  Let others deal with tricky issues like conflict and team development because, well, that's what they get paid to do.

On employee performance management: we all know the annual performance appraisal is a frictionless as a rug burn, so let us help you get ready for what might happen at the end of the year.  Let others worry about the actual "management" of performance.

And finally, if your company is expanding overseas, the higher-ups will take care of the strategic and operational details of globalization.  In the meantime, we'll train you so that you don't do silly things giving your clients or partners a culturally inappropriate gift.  (like giving Italians an unwrapped present; we do take this offense seriously).

I could go on, but you get the picture.  When we call out these examples of old-school management thinking, we realize how ridiculously elitist and limiting they are.  They are the symbols of a massive and unfair waste of human potential. (You might find less egregious examples elsewhere, but the fact that they are subtler doesn't necessarily mean they're less toxic).

And yet they persist, because they reflect deeply ingrained and hardly questioned assumptions.  We'll need some deep bureaucratic detox if we really want things to change. We have to "see the water we swim in," as John Kania, Mark Kramer, and Peter Senge  have put it.