Since the beginning of this year, I’ve witnessed an untold amount of people lose their roles in Learning & Development (L&D). I believe it’s an outcome of what the business thinks about the impact the profession makes when such roles are often among the first to be lost during times of struggle.
I think this is a positive thing.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t me saying that people should lose their jobs. But this is a sign that we, as L&D professionals, need to do better at making the roles we occupy affect the business in a more impactful way. And it is precisely the time to do just that.
The World Economic Forum talked in January of this year, about the need to reskill more than 1 billion people by 2030. And this was before COVID hit. That same report also included a more short-term warning. Within the next 2 years, 42% of the core skills required to perform existing jobs will change.
That is a monumental opportunity for those in L&D, including myself, to make a real and meaningful impact on the businesses we work with and for.
Here are the top 10 rules I follow to help my clients and achieve business impact through L&D.
What is your purpose, as a learning professional?
Ask yourself this question, right now, and then write the answer down as your north star.
If you don’t have a clue what it is, then ask around. As a learning professional, you have access to your customers in ways that those marketing folks (more about them later) could only dream of. Pre Covid, you could walk over to their desks. Now you can send them an email, pick up the phone, or send an instant message. You have direct access to your customers. So how about using them to help you define who you are, what you have to do, and what they want and need from you?
If your answer to the headline question was something about creating new and exciting learning programs, go back and ask yourself again.
Consulting may give you images of middle-aged men in suits, but that isn’t how I want you to picture it. You are a consultant now. A business partner who needs to unearth what the business is doing (and not doing). Only then can you help find solutions to problems that actually exist. Not just problems that you think exist or worse yet, solutions that are just nice to haves.
Here are some good places to start when the Manager calls you to try and set up some ‘learning’ for their people:
- Why now? (this will lead to uncovering the real reason why someone wants something)
- What problems are you trying to solve? (a deeper follow up to question 1)
- What are the performance & behaviour expectations? (start with the end in mind!)
- Why these people? (and why not other people?)
- What are the business or department goals and why? (then determine if this links with what you are doing)
Another tip I would recommend to any L&D team is to understand where your business makes and loses money. If you can help with making more or losing less, you will get the ears of people very quickly.
Focus on problems
Every single person has a problem. At least one. And at work, it is often quite a few. You need to find out what they are (as suggested above) and help solve them, because who doesn’t like to have a problem solved? If you want to sound even more professional, you can ask them what is stopping them from performing at the level they either want or need to.
By focusing on the real world of people, we give ourselves the best chance of designing for those problems that we otherwise wouldn’t have been aware of. If you manage to help someone overcome their problem, you will build credibility and be able to make tangible links between the work you do and both the satisfaction and output of those you are helping. This will make your life a little easier when it comes to evaluating your impact, which we have sucked at doing in the past.
Provide resources where needed
Let’s say someone doesn’t know the directions to navigate through London in rush hour traffic. You wouldn’t design an e-learning module to help them, would you? The conditions would almost certainly be different in the real world vs your e-learning module (different cars, people, weather, etc). And it would be a monumental task to try and remember all that.
We talk about learning in the moment of need (which is good). But you also don’t want to try and teach someone the route right before they started off. They might recall a little more than if you would do it 6 months prior, but they would still make some wrong turns here and there.
Now, unless you’re a cabby, I suggest there are many things, such as these directions, you don’t need to learn at all. Yet we often focus on ‘teaching’ people all this stuff in a business, when a simple guide is all they need.
In the navigation example, it’s clearly Google Maps (it’s better than Apple Maps, sue me). Your in-house technology might not be as sophisticated as Google or Apple, but there are still many things you can do. If you have run endless training sessions on helping people use your LMS, and they still have trouble with it, you’re probably doing it wrong. Wouldn’t a quick guide and some instructional videos work better?
Learn from others (especially Marketing)
There has been a lot written lately about L&D and marketing. I loved the article written by Ashley Sinclair for her amazing brand MAAS. The parallels are quite clear about what L&D can learn from marketing (which has gone through a major shift in not so recent years). Marketing used to be about sticking up posters, billboards, and TV ads for the masses. Now it is about targeted user preferences. L&D must make that same shift and move away from mass content dumping to specialized and targeted support for people. So how can you start?
- Make it personal. Begin to understand more about your people/customers and you will get to learn their problems, their tasks, and their interests. Design around those things.
- Test your products & services. You can do real-time testing and react to feedback from your customers. That way you will make your offering more relevant and increase buy-in.
- Use data to your advantage. It’s time to move along (and far away from) the happy sheets or numbers of people doing a particular e-learning. If you don’t have the data you want, start looking for it and collecting it.
- Begin understanding consumer behaviour. Marketing messages and copywriting is a science. The more you can learn about what makes people tick, the more you can use that to drive engagement and impact in your learning experiences.
Your colleagues in HR are often close to the work you are doing. L&D is more often than not reporting to the same functions, meaning collaboration is, on the face of things, more possible. I have spoken before about finding people’s problems and using data. HR often knows about and has access to both of these things.
Build your network within the HR team. I have had many of my best discussions by gaining awareness of people’s struggles via colleagues in HR (such as stuttering development or specific project issues). Push to be a part of other HR processes or to see their outcomes, it will help you target the right person at the right time.
Begin to understand learning
I have been guilty of this and I know a lot of you have too. You’ve ‘ended up’ in learning and are trying your best without really having a clue about how people learn.
So how can you actually begin to do that?
Not everyone can go and get a degree in Neuroscience. But there are fundamentals you can master to give you the building blocks. In the process, you will be showing it’s important to learn about your work. Some of the first points I would recommend:
- Research the process of learning, and reflect on how you have learned what you have so far;
- Make learning experiences peak curiosity. Set challenges just beyond current skillsets, but not too far;
- Blend journeys that are spaced over time, allowing practice and reflection in real-life scenarios;
- Begin to understand someone’s affective context (their problems and tasks I referenced earlier). If you can, help them solve those problems.