Michael Parker is the Executive Manager, Group Learning and Development at Commonwealth Bank. We talk to Michael about his journey as a learning professional and the challenges the profession faces. This week we cover Part 1 of the interview, Part 2 will be published next week.
Jeevan Joshi: Michael, welcome to Learning Conversations. As we always do, let us begin by talking about how you got into learning?
Michael Parker: Thanks Jeevan. I have always had this underlying passion and interest in training. It probably goes back to my first manager when I was working in a branch who was progressive in the way he approached learning. He asked me to conduct the basic staff training which I really enjoyed. After that at the back of my mind, I wanted to teach and deliver learning.
After a very diverse sales background with the CBA the L&D department were looking to appoint a manager directly from the business and I was fortunate enough to take up a role as the state learning manager for SA/WA, and from there that passion continued to grow.
Jeevan Joshi: Do you think you will continue in learning, or will you return to business?
Michael Parker: Learning is definitely the thing that lights my fire. I still like the concept of sales and my sales background certainly helps me when I consult within the organization.
Jeevan Joshi: So Michael your business and sales background gives you an insight of the realities at the coalface. Will you lose this insight by continuing in learning?
Michael Parker: I would say that it is very much a reality. If I went back to a sales management role today, it would be steep learning curve for me. There have been and continue to be rapid changes occurring in product and operations in the finance industry. On a positive note the level of change is certainly engaging and great to be associated with from an L&D perspective. It’s a great opportunities to work with our business partners.
Jeevan Joshi: Hypothetically, if you were to go back to business what the most important skills you have picked up as a senior learning professional that would be most relevant there?
Michael Parker: Good question, Jeevan. I think a mindset shift in the actual philosophy of learning and the ability an individual has to learn, solve problems and be successful. A couple of decades ago organisations had a very hierarchical approach to how employees were managed. If my manager told me to complete a task a certain way, that is what I did, very few questions asked and often the ‘why’ was never understood.
Learning has exposed me to the ability of people to be resilient, learn and develop. Going back into the business my key learning would be, you don’t need to know it all as the knowledge and capability is generally there, you just need to harness and develop it both in yourself and your team.
Jeevan Joshi: And employees can easily access this knowledge.
Michael Parker: Yes. A good search engine helps as well!
Jeevan Joshi: Moving on to your current role. What are the key challenges that keep you awake at night?
Michael Parker: One of the challenges is the pace of change and increasing number of technological choices available. It is a double-edged sword. In some cases we’ve tried to force the learning to fit the technology rather than select the appropriate technology solution to achieve the learning objectives.
The other big challenge is the heightened expectations from business in demonstrating the value that we add. A lot of it is gut-feel and I think we have survived on that well. We need to get smarter about meeting the expectations and demonstrating value.
Jeevan Joshi: Let us talk about delivering value. In theory that is a pretty simple exercise. Employees need certain skills, knowledge and competencies and learning delivers it. Do you think there is a mismatch in what we perceive business wants from learning and what they actually want? Do they want more than just learning i.e. performance improvement?
Michael Parker: Yes there is. One of the reasons is that everyone has experienced learning or training in their life and therefore consider themselves to be subject matter experts in learning. Often business will come to the table with preconceived ideas of what the learning strategy needs to be. The challenge for the learning professional is to question this preconception if it is not the best solution. There are new technologies and work design solutions that the business may not be aware of. Another example is the neuroscience of learning and how this can be applied to improve learning outcomes.
Jeevan Joshi: What do learning professionals need to do to differently to have those kind of conversations?
Michael Parker: I think that we need to be proud of our profession and be more committed to making a difference. We must be brave enough to have that conversation rather than merely providing a service by delivering what has been asked. We need to ask the challenging questions.
Part 2 of the interview will be published next week.