DPG interview Paul Matthews at a conference in 2018.
DPG is an approved CIPD centre that has been delivering HR, L&D and management programmes for 30 years. They caught up with Paul at a conference and asked him about the three elephants.


– The three elephants.

The elephant in the room, you’ve heard the expression. The elephant – it’s there, people kind of know it’s there, but, ‘oh hi Nelly’, but no one really talks about it.

And I started using that term for the learning transfer, when I was writing my book on learning transfer. And I realised that actually there were a couple of other elephants lurking in the room with the learning transfer elephant. Which is informal learning, because people do talk about that more because of the 70-20-10 stuff, but actually seldom implement it well or use well the power, or harness the power of informal learning.

And then the other elephant in the room is that many people end up on training courses where they shouldn’t be. So in other words it’s the wrong people in the wrong room. So the third elephant is the performance consultancy piece, the performance diagnostics, which is figuring out have we got the right people in the right room at the right time, looking at the right content so that then later on, they can learn informally and learning transfer it.

So all these three elephants kind of run as a herd, typically in most organisations and people will do bits of each of them. But what’s interesting is, you come out of that, I was fascinated, I’d been writing about elephants all these years and never knew it, but the other two books I wrote, but what you’ll find is, there’s a fourth sneaky elephant and this is the one where if you get the first three wrong, the brand ability suffers considerably because it’s kind of, well what’s L and D good for because it’s not focusing on learning in the work flow if it’s not focusing on performance, if it’s not focusing on sustainable behaviour change, this is all to do with the elephants.

So the fourth sneaky elephant that will come and bite you is the brand L&D and a lot of people say, well, let’s do some marketing and fix our brand and I say, well actually no, you got to fix your elephants first. So that’s kind of how you need to start working on your brand.

And then what I also do is a lot of work with organisations on L&D strategy and I’ve developed what I call the three elephant test for L&D strategy, which is basically have your L&D strategy out, get a highlighter and go through it and only highlight the lines in there that relate to one of those three or four elephants.

And almost every strategy document I’ve ever come across, and I do see quite a few, there’s very little highlighting at the end of that exercise. So effectively they’re ignoring still, even in their strategy, the three elephants.

The one that’s seen more often than not is the informal learning but they don’t have anything concrete in there and then when you look at what they’re doing, they’re not implementing or executing their informal learning strategy well anyway.

So that’s the three elephants. So I’ve ended up being an elephant expert. Oh, interesting fact, did you know elephants are scared of the sound of buzzing bees? So one way you can keep elephants out of your vegetable patch is put little speakers up with this chorus of buzzing sounds because they hate bees. If they get up the trunk, they sting and elephants hate that. So there’s an interesting fact about elephants. Which is not that good for L&D elephants but it’s good if you’ve got a crop that you want to keep them out of.