Force feeding a turkey…or a duck.

Can growth and development be forced?

Spoiler alert, this is not an article about poultry farming.

This year marks 20 years of my involvement in the development of individuals, teams and organizations, and on this occasion, I want to make a current cross-section of the state of affairs in the field of personal development, based on personal observations, because the truth is out there...

The key events during the previous two decades were, of course, crises. When a crisis occurs, companies usually treat the budget for training and employee development like doctors treat appendicitis (inflammation of the appendix). It was surgically removed, and the body continued to function without interruption, as if nothing had happened. I had the opportunity to meet only a few top managers who were aware that after the crisis the organization should continue without interruptions, and this can only be done by investing in the knowledge and skills of employees during the crisis. I am currently working with one such organization.

The exception is the recent health crisis, which lasted longer than expected. Well, that's when money was pumped into development again, with the aim of keeping employees mentally healthy above all.

What did not stand still for a second during the crises was technology. It developed with such a dynamic that it was difficult to follow. Technology has provided us with fantastic tools, both for designing and distributing educational content.

The digital era, technologies, especially social networks have brought to the surface a new wave of various gurus, experts for self-help, entrepreneurship, for big earnings with minimal effort. And they know everything, even though they have almost no experience. I know that I can't see the world through myself, but I cannot forget that I was embarrassed to call myself a consultant, and that I was less than 40 years old...

The web of mutual support that they have built is very peculiar, although it is not surprising because their common catchphrase is "empowerment", so I guess that's how they empower each other. One guru sells a 6,000 EUR course and "teaches" people how to earn 200,000 EUR per year. Another guru has just decided to "invest in his personal and professional development" a sum of EUR 6,000, to teach him how to earn EUR 200,000. Hmmmm?!

Content like this has never stuck with me. However, as someone who specializes in the development of sales organizations, I find it interesting to look at it through the prism of sales approaches and skills. I've always developed an allergy to pushy salespeople. Well, those mentioned above are a completely new species. By definition, they address individuals in some vulnerable life situations, unemployment, low income, career turning point, etc. And that's when the "you're worthy, you deserve it" card is played (that's the empowerment, you recognized it), "invest big, so your return will be big". This "empowerment" also has its dark side in the form of reverse psychology, which they use to entice people to "evolve" with them. You can disagree to pay a lot for nothing, but you cannot give up. Well, that's where the psychological breakdown of "successful influencers" takes place and public shaming via social networks of people who gave up on the "personal development program" with sentences like "You don't have 500 EUR? Don fuck with me, you can work in a coffee shop, baby sitting, clean apartments...", or if you don't want self-proclaimed guru program "cheer up with me by NASA method", then "you are not brave and you are a slave to the patriarchy". None of this is specific to our market, it is a world trend, it is just colored by our mentality.

I believe that the attitude companies have towards the employee’s development contributed to this trend to a large extent. It is still seen as an expense in the budget and more as something good motivation and satisfaction, rather than something that has a direct impact on improved business results. Yes, the way companies promote their relationship to employee development is different from what I write, but marketing can often be misleading.

I have always respected companies that invest in employee’s development in a meaningful way. Companies that reinforce the application of techniques, skills and tools adopted in an educational program, monitor changes in employee’s behavior as a positive consequence of acquired skillset, measure and quantify the effects of education on business results are, however, very rare.

Here is my recent experience. I was invited to implement a training program for the sales team, which is partly made up of experienced reps and partly with just a little experience. They were looking for a program that would allow senior reps to "refresh their knowledge". When asked what they have received from education so far, I got an answer "all kinds of things..." and as the mandatory cherry on the top - pseudo science. I did a thorough survey of the sales organization and there was nothing to indicate that the senior salespeople were applying anything that could be called a methodology or skills in a structured way, but that they were doing it by…gut feeling.

After the first day of training, the group broke up. Why? Because they already knew all of that, because they worked for 6 years on developing skills with a reputable sales consultancy firm, because the expectations of the participants to immediately receive a technique for solving price objections are not met, even that was the topic for the second day of the training.

Yes, I was caught. That happened for the first time in my professional life. I have neither an exact nor a definitive answer to the “Why?” question. I can only ask a few questions back: What did you do and study during the period of 6 years? Why didn't you measure the effects of those trainings on behaviors and business results? Why didn't you ensure that what was learned was applied? And they don't have to answer me, but to themselves.

Force feeding of poultry is a method to accelerate the growth of the animal, and as one agricultural portal says, "The meat of turkeys fattened by forced feeding is juicy, tasty and in demand on the tables of the rich."

The concept of personal development nowadays is like a dumpling of grainy moistened food that is forcefully inserted into turkeys' beaks with a hose, so that they are fat, juicy and ready for slaughter.

Although many claim in their posts that "if you don't engage in personal development, time will pass you by, technology will replace you, you will be useless in the labor market", my advice is to stop when you feel you need a break from "personal development", test, improve, adjust the skills you have learned so far, transfer them into your routines and only when you feel that you have the capacity for new knowledge, continue your personal growth.

Organizations usually make business plans for the future based on historical data. Use historical data when it comes to employee development. Define a new starting point. Measure what has happened so far, what was the impact on business, and make a realistic plan for the future.

Here's some advice for both individuals and organizations. And the advice for all of us would be - don't be a turkey! Or a duck, whatever…

Dragan Vukosavljević

People development consultant

Force feeding a turkey…or a duck.
HiNT d.o.o, Dragan Vukosavljević August 3, 2023
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