Politics in Workplace Learning

Politics yuck, politics tricks, politics risk, politics fix, politics rules, politics is. Truth is, politics is the hand-to-hand application of anecdotal and scientific wisdom on human learning and cognition.


Here in the United States, we are in the middle of an exciting and critical Presidential election campaign. I love observing politics because I find it intriguing from a learning-and-cognition standpoint. Here are some things we (as learning professionals) can learn from the political wizards.

  1. Repetition is worth repeating.
  2. Space your repetitions over time.
  3. Have powerful messengers repeat the key messages.
  4. Authentic messengers are listened to longer and with more engagement.
  5. Messengers who lose credibility (or integrity) are doomed.
  6. Prioritize your messages. Brand your messages into a potent theme.
  7. Vary the delivery of your messages, but stay consistent in the underlying message and theme.
  8. Learning messages that are aligned with on-the-ground realities are the most powerful. It is only the very rarest of incumbents who can overcome a bad economy. It is only the rarest of learning messages that can overcome irrelevance or everyday business distractions.
  9. When your efforts or credibility are attacked, fight back hard and fast. When candidates are attacked, they attack back, disputing the assertions. If your training efforts are impugned or criticized anywhere in your company, go on the offensive. Dispute the claims immediately and publicly. Let people know public criticism of your efforts will be met with vigorous rebuttals. Pull the criticizer aside privately and ask them not to continue their claims. Explain your realities. Educate them about the learning enterprise. Send out communications to key stakeholders disputing the claims, if not directly then indirectly by highlighting successes. After stopping the bleeding, listen to the complaints to see if there is truth in them. Fix the problems as soon as you can. Go back to the complainers and tell them how you fixed the problems. Ask the complainers for their support and ideas going forward. Remind them of your need for resources, support, etc. Help them solve their business problems. If you do get public complaints, see those as a warning sign that you are screwing up big time. Reach out and get better feedback on how you’re doing and how you’re doing politically. Build better feedback into your learning measurements and designs. Remember, if you’re a leader of the learning enterprise in your company, you have a responsibility to ensure that the learning-and-performance efforts will work. If your training efforts have a bad reputation, the learning will never get the support it needs to move from learning to application and you’ll never get the resources you need to get real results.

Bottom line: Embrace politics; it’s only human.