The Big L&D Reset – A Call To Arms From The Future

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Restarting L&D: It’s time to do things differently

Let’s be honest – you’ve read enough about change and Covi’ and how the world is different. You’re probably filled to the brim with information on what you should do and how you should adapt, pivot, shift. You’re likely inundated with virtual conferences and webinars and Zoom chats (video off pliz). But this change, and indeed the entrance into a new year does give us a chance to take a pause, doesn’t it?

 

Following such incredible disruption to both our personal and professional lives, it’s natural to look at the negatives this imbalance has caused us. 2020 was, after all, a bit shit wasn’t it? The highlights of my year included leaving the house for food and buying new loungewear (seriously). 

 

But it’s not all been doom and gloom. We’ve had some lessons too – change can happen and we can survive it. We can sometimes even thrive in it. Now the question is, can we and should we sustain it? I believe this pandemic has given learning and development REAL opportunities to do things differently both now and in the future. Because this change Covid has caused is permanent; our hearts and minds are not the same. Our learners are not the same. 

 

And we are not the same. And that’s OK.

 

Others in L&D are changing, but are we? Really?

I’m the first to admit that the learning and development industry needs a shakeup. I try to do a lot of shaking myself, but you are a stubborn lot at times! 😉

 

But what’s not changing? Well….for starters, a lot of the ‘thought-leadership’ in our industry is steeped firmly in the past, with perspectives tainted with the ‘old ways’ of doing things and why they were effective. We also lean too heavily on tech to solve problems which are so painfully big that I can’t even understand why we think a new LXP would fix it all. We’re constantly on the search for panacea, the wondrous and elusive gleaming genius of a solution to all our problems. 

 

But jesus guys, surely we know this just does not exist? 

Our challenges are big and interlaced with the business’ and the sentiment of the people within it. L&D’s problems don’t generally spur from the way training is created and delivered, at least in my opinion. They’re bigger and much more complex. Our learners are disengaged and would rather turn to YouTube and Google. Our business stakeholders have unrealistic expectations of what L&D should do. This often equates to a culture of order-taking which, in some senses, means very little of our own function is left for us to ‘fix’ in the first place. Sidenote: this is likely the reason we often turn to tech as our solution, because that is something we DO control!  

In a nutshell, we got some big problems.

l&d-changeIt is broke, so we do need to fix it 

These temporary solutions (ie, throwing tech at the problem) weren’t working for a long time before ol’ Covi hit. But what this gargantuan pandemic did (and is still doing…please go away now Covid) was give the world some time to take stock. Other industries which have been obstinate and just focused on short-term solutions suffered; Covid undoubtedly accelerated their slow extinction as they proved unable to keep up with the pace of change. And as a result, their success is dwindling…

The ‘high street’ was already dying, with retailers shifting to online, personalised shopping experiences… 

Industries such as print were failing, primarily due to the digital revolution. This may well have been the final nail in the coffin…. 

Steel and manufacturing began struggling to keep pace amongst the growing demand for more sustainable sources… 

These industries have simply had to evolve, or they die. To me, the changes we observe outside of L&D way beyond the pandemic are a barometer for the changes L&D too has been experiencing. To respond to changing audience needs we shifted to mobile learning (now basically just essential). We’ve then moved away from prescriptive learning and LMSs to more modern, social learning environments and platforms. We’re also starting to look at data, and analytics, and maybe even marketing to help us better solve our problems (yay for MAAS!). 

Slowly, glacially at times, we have begun to outgrow our old ways of working. But have we yet moved away from our old ways of thinking? I’m not so sure. And my worry is that as long as our old mindsets, old ways of thinking and working continue to exist, we’ll never really be able to reach our full potential as a critical business function. 

 

So, how can we truly capitalise on the potential of L&D? With this incredible opportunity of change at our feet, let’s ask ourselves: “what do we need to do differently?” 

 

So, what does L&D need to do differently? 

Well, I asked some of my friends…because they seem to know more about this stuff than I do. 

 

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LORI NILES-HOFMANN, Co-owner, NilesNolen

Whilst there are many things L&D needs to change, the most imperative is to mobilise deliberate upskilling and stop with the spray and pray generic course libraries. 

 

Companies are facing massive shortages where vital skillsets are not available in talent pools. Employee upskilling is the most direct way for every company to maintain viability and competitive advantage. L&D must begin to collaborate with talent management to analyse the HR data to identify and close the skill gaps imperative to the business, not track completions or hours of training.

 

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MATT ASH – Director of Learning & Performance, Media Zoo


We need to do less, better. I have yet to encounter a client where content is the solution to their challenges. There is a wealth of research on effective behaviour change that ties in directly to how people learn. It’s time to open our eyes to the reality of implementation of L&D across the business.  Benchmark, test, adapt.

 

 

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AMANDA NOLEN, Co-Owner, NilesNolen


Start focusing on business outcomes instead of learning outcomes, and stop talking about learning (for the sake of learning). Stop throwing stuff online or digitising it as fast as possible… when it wasn’t delivering clear value to begin with.

 

 

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JACK LOCKHART, Learning Experience and Performance Manager, PerfectHome

We need to show radical accountability for the experiences we deliver and support. I’ve started to really lean on the phrase ‘the standard you walk past is the standard you accept’ as a benchmark for what I do in the business. If I really hate that experience that I own, what are other people going to think of it?

I also feel we have a responsibility to use evidence-based practice as a chance to educate others around us. It’s easy to chop others down for not doing it. Or that ‘they should know better’ when actually it could be a chance to support, coach and educate to bridge some of the divisive gaps that have come up. A rising tide lifts all boats.

 

 

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JOHN HINCHLIFFE, Talent Manager, Jam Pan

For me, it’s about how we provide answers to questions that meet people at the point that they need them. Organisations, and we as learning practitioners, have to acknowledge that we are fallible as human beings and forget a lot of information, thus we cannot rely on our learners to still know the information they consumed in the future. 

To provision for this we can create easily accessible, short pieces of knowledge to provide our learners with the information they need, when they need it and in as few steps as possible. This not only means looking at the content we create but also the systems we utilise to house this for ease of access. If you do not have a Learning Platform that supports this then maybe it is you have a Sharepoint site with relevant folders, a number of channels on your MS Teams with user generated content to provide answers to FAQs or even at its most basic level an email with curated links to external material that provide the solution.

 By allowing people to obtain the right information when they need it, it will bring a number of positive ROIs to the organisation, which in turn increases the value of the L&D function.

 

 

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EGLE VINAUSKAITE, Director, Skillbright Labs

What often gets lost among budgets, courses and completions, is that the L&D function, when done right, can help people reach their career aspirations and all the good things that come with them.

 

This responsibility needs to be taken seriously. Content, programmes and technology need to serve a business and/or employee need. Time spent talking with end users needs to be viewed as essential to create something useful, not a corner to cut. And data capability should be a strategic goal to know where, when and how to best support employee learning.

 

Sales, marketing, product and other business functions figured this out ages ago. There are skills and methods that can be readily borrowed. Support is available from more experienced industry peers. This is not the future—the time is now.

 

 

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LAUREN WALDMAN, Founder, Learning Pirate

L&D needs to start treating learning as a fundamental HUMAN skill and not that of a business transaction.  Look deeper into the meaning of true learning, how it’s done and how we have evolved as human beings to facilitate that process within ourselves.  

 

Learning occurs on an everyday basis, whether we realise it or not. We have an unlimited capacity to do so and once we understand ourselves and our operational system (our brains) much better, not only can we evolve as learners but as greater more aware humans. 

 

 

 

 

It’s time to truly put learners first 

Why on earth has it taken a pandemic for us to start to understand that our people are the glue of our business? Our people, their hearts and spirits and minds are precisely what keeps our businesses running, but at times our industry seems to lose sight of how human L&D truly should be. 

There’s some fantastic advice above, but one thing is for certain. We need to change and we need to truly humanise L&D if we are ever to be successful in this digital, globalised world we’re now living in. Evolve or die. I know which one I’m picking.

Stop passing the buck: Learner engagement is L&D’s responsibility

According to a poll I ran on LinkedIn, 78% of people do not think learner engagement is L&D’s responsibility. And that blows my mind. 

Learner engagement is always a hot topic in our industry. Everybody is quick to share their top tips, tricks and hacks of boosting it – but the conversation rumbles on year after year. And perhaps this poll is a clear indication of why: If L&D aren’t willing to take responsibility for learner engagement; who will? And if nobody takes responsibility for it, will it ever improve?

I’ll be honest with you, the LinkedIn poll came from a place of desperation. I often hear phrases like “line-managers don’t give people time to learn” and “the senior leadership team doesn’t prioritise learning – so there’s no learning culture here”. And it’s these phrases that stop L&D taking responsibility for the crisis at hand. So I put this poll up in the hope I’d just encountered a bunch of L&D cynics, and that industry-wide perception was different. But regrettably, that wasn’t the case. 

 

The importance of learning culture  

The term ‘learning culture’ is used a lot in the L&D industry. Just like ‘learner engagement’, everybody has a bag full of tricks to create a sparkling learning culture – but almost no organisation seems to have one. Learning culture is defined as

“…a collection of organisational conventions, values, practices and processes. These conventions encourage employees and organisations to develop knowledge and competence.” – Tala A. Nabong, 360training.com

This can be roughly translated as ‘organisations giving their people the time, space and permission to learn’. And yes, that needs to come from the top. The senior leaders in your organisation must embrace learning, and understand that learning can drive business growth. Your organisational culture has a huge impact on learner engagement. In fact, Sirsendu Das, a learning solutions architect, provided a great example of culture’s impact on learner engagement:

Consider the Army for a second. Nobody enrols to become a soldier without full awareness of how they must act. Training is never considered optional, or a ‘nice to have’. There are no gimmicks or engagement tactics to get junior soldiers interested in training. Instead, it’s an integral part of the culture in the Army; and the culture itself takes care of learner engagement. 

Of course, the stakes are likely to be much higher for a soldier than they are for our learners. But the principle remains the same. Our people need to be highly skilled and proficient at their jobs in order to make the most impact, and the only way to become highly skilled and proficient is learning. This acceptance of learning should be embraced company-wide and baked into your culture. And the single best way to ensure this is by your senior managers setting an example.

 

Leaders must set an example to ensure learner engagement. 

But what if they aren’t leading by example? What if they aren’t embracing learning opportunities – or worst still, what if they’re bad mouthing them? In this situation learning professionals often shrug their shoulders and give up trying. But that shouldn’t be the case. 

If your leaders aren’t engaged with learning and development, it almost certainly comes from a place of misunderstanding. All business leaders want one thing: for their business to be prosperous and achieve the best it possibly can. As learning professionals we know the impact learning can have on the bottom line, but do your senior managers realise this potential? Do they understand that by implementing a learning programme about smart working practices that you’ll boost company productivity? Do they know that by reducing the number of health and safety incidents in the workplace you’ll decrease spend? Perhaps not. And it’s your responsibility to educate them on all these topics and more.

 

Learners need time, space and security to learn 

Once your senior managers begin to embrace learning, you’ll see a shift in perceptions trickle down your organisation. But often line-managers are a blocker; and therefore are in the firing line of L&D’s blame game. 

Learning something new can make your employees feel vulnerable. Often they’re worried about the fear of failure, or the time they’ll have to dedicate to learning. And the only way to overcome this is by line-managers offering both time and psychological safety for people to complete the learning at hand. 

But line-managers unsurprisingly prioritise the day job and the operational aspects of an organisation. They want their teams to work smarter and be more efficient. And they do not see how corporate learning can help with this. Instead, they see it as a waste of time.  This is for one reason: line-managers don’t understand what they (or their employees) will get from the learning you are offering them. And they’re worried about how their managers will react if employees take time out to learn, and aren’t high on output or productivity. They’d rather their people focus on operational training and learning on the job. It’s this fear cycle that inhibits learning on the job, and it’s L&D’s responsibility to shift perceptions and educate line-managers on the ‘what’s in it for me?’ (WIIFM).

 

Developing self-directed learners

There are often arguments in the world of L&D about the learner’s responsibility when it comes to learning. And it’s frequently used in defence of both senior leaders and line-managers. If employees were passionate about learning; the organisation would facilitate it. But they don’t ask – so they don’t get. And this is where the phrase “self-directed learners” seems to crop up. 

Self-directed learning is defined as learners who “take charge of their own learning process (diagnosing learning needs, identify learning goals, select learning strategies, and evaluate learning performances and outcomes)”

 I’m sure we all agree this is a huge responsibility to place on a learner’s shoulders – especially when they’re keeping up with their day job alongside it. So what happens when we do this? Your employees don’t prioritise learning – and your business misses out on the myriad of benefits that come with corporate learning.

The truth is, we can’t expect too much of our employees when it comes to learning. They don’t care, and that’s absolutely OK.

Of course we want motivated and driven employees in our organisation. But their primary goal as an employee is to complete their day job to the best of their ability. And this sometimes means that seeking out learning opportunities falls to the bottom of their priority list. So, unless you encourage learning, it won’t happen. 

But as well as facilitating learning, L&D must also market their learning effectively. Marketing learning is often harder than marketing a product or service. Instead of asking people to sacrifice money, you’re asking them to sacrifice something much more precious – their time. And considering 1 in 8 workers in the UK work more than 48 hours a weekwhich is between 8 and 11 hours longer than most people are contracted to work – it’s safe to say your target audience, aka your learners, are super busy. 

Because of their hectic schedules and desperately trying to maintain a work-life balance, your learners will not take responsibility for learning if they do not understand what’s in it for them. What will they get from embarking on the upcoming learning programme or training day? What is the opportunity cost of spending time learning vs. doing their day job? There is only one team responsible for answering that question – and yep, you guessed it – it’s the L&D team.

 

No matter which way you cut it… the buck lies with L&D

No matter the excuses you make, or how many times you blame others, there is only one team that is judged on the effectiveness of learning. And there is only department solely responsible for learner engagement – and that’s L&D. Of course, for true learner engagement, and for the development of a learning culture, you must have buy-in from everybody mentioned above. But the only way to ensure that is by L&D standing up and taking responsibility once and for all.

Don Taylor, Chair at Learning Technologies Conference, joined the debate on LinkedIn – and summarised the matter so succinctly: “Why is it L&D’s responsibility? Because we are the professionals. If we are (for example) brought late into the implementation of a new platform, and told to train people on it, we should only do so after certain criteria are met: sufficient budget, top-level support, guaranteed time from managers, whatever is needed. As I say, we are the professionals. We know what it takes to produce an engaging learning programme, and should fight for it.”

You wouldn’t blame the finance team for poor marketing. Nor would you blame a customer for receiving a bad haircut. So why do L&D blame other divisions of our organisation, or the learners themselves, for poor learner engagement? Leadership and line managers are our peers and colleagues, and the learners are our customers. 

 

Instead of passing the buck, it’s time L&D stood up and held themselves accountable. 

As Teemu Lilja summarised so nicely in his comment on LinkedIn: “Shared responsibility usually ends up in no responsibility.” 

It is our job as learning professionals to educate everybody on the impact learning can have on the wider organisation. And yes – that may mean spending some time ‘managing up’, and educating senior leaders. It may mean spending time discussing the ‘what’s in it for me?’ with line-managers. It may even mean you have to run learning campaigns and create a hype around your learning, to get learners engaged. But whatever needs to be done – it’s the L&D team’s responsibility to do it – and boost learner engagement once and for all.