Is L&D acting like Volkswagen?

I’ve had a horrible thought.

Are we, in L&D, guilty of installing defeat devices?

I’m talking about our approach to assessment centres and various types of testing. But let’s recap on the Volkswagen situation.

Volkswagen has admitted installing software in diesel cars which reduces emissions purely for the duration of a test, and then whacks them up again in normal driving conditions.

Naughty, cheating Volkswagen.

“Cheating”, in this context, means “being temporarily compliant when the real ongoing situation is non-compliant”.

This made me think about the organisational support given to staff who are approaching promotion boards, assessment centres and other types of test. There is pressure to provide intensive preparation, to help people memorise competences and the “correct” responses, to find ways of practising how to demonstrate certain behaviours.

The problem is this.  Staff already come with one half of the defeat device: the software to recognise when they are in test situations. All they need is the other half: the ability to fool the equipment (assessors) for a few hours.

Then they can revert to noxious emissions for the rest of their career. Their toxicity might get results for the organisation in the short-term (better mpg) but only at the expense of wider motivation and organisational health in the medium-term (environmental damage).

So are we helping them to be “temporarily compliant when the real ongoing situation is non-compliant”?

If so, L&D is Volkswagen.

(Just to be clear, this is not a comment on my own organisation, the FCO, which has a pretty rigorous system of promotion for UK staff and certainly does not over-coach candidates, in my opinion.)

I just have a wider unease about the idea of “temporary compliance” and the L&D/education professions.

What are teachers doing when they push endless past papers and mock tests at their pre-GCSE Year 11s?

What are we doing when we “prep” people for interviews?

I haven’t thought this through very clearly.  All I’m saying is, before we throw stones at the next passing Golf or Passat, we should consider whether we, sometimes, cultivate people in a greenhouse-type environment.



One thought on “Is L&D acting like Volkswagen?

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  1. We can’t cultivate people in a greenhouse-type environment if we want them to thrive outside. Too much L&D practice is anchored in the environments L&D prefers and not the realities of the people they serve.

    To your point about toxicity, assessment centres et al can disguise by their format & prep. I’d also say they can create an environment that norms to “expected” levels of mediocrity (what we’re looking for) rather than individuality or excellence (you & your potential).

    Your L&D is perfectly designed for the results that you get…

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