Behind LifeLabs Learning’s L&D Strategy

I’ve been following LifeLabs Learning for a while now, enjoying their amazing free resources. I’ve always felt their learning experience to be science-based and high-quality, so naturally, I was curious if their own learning strategy draws from the way they interact with their customers. I was lucky that Roy Ben-Yehuda, a strong supporter of Offbeat was kind enough to take the time to introduce me to Massella Dukuly, L&D Lead at LifeLabs Learning. From then on, the conversation ran smoothly. Hope you’ll get as much value from our discussion as I did.

L: Let’s start with an introduction. Tell me a bit about what you guys are doing at LifeLabs. What’s the product?

M: LifeLabs trains managers, execs, and teams at 1000+ amazing companies in-person and virtually. Our programs are lab-based, which means that they’re packed with practice and science that appeals to data-driven minds. Workshops are short (just 2 hours!), fun, and give employees sticky tools that they can put to use the very same day.

L: You guys definitely have learning in your DNA, so I’m really curious to find out more about your internal L&D Strategy. So let’s start with the broad view. What do you think an L&D strategy should contain? More importantly, how does your L&D Strategy look like?

M: From a bird’s eye view, I think that any L&D strategy should start with clear goals. It’s imperative to know what needs to be accomplished because it gives your team an opportunity to do some reverse engineering. If you know what you want, it makes it a lot easier to determine what skills, knowledge, and experience you will need to get there. From that point, you get to build the tactical strategy (training, resources, LMS, speakers, etc).

Whichever avenue you choose, you’ll want to develop metrics that help support the success of the tactic. The goal is to make it clear to yourself and your stakeholders that the efforts put in place were successful. Ideally, you’re coming up with lead indicators (measures that help you know if something has been successful before waiting until it’s fully completed). Lead indicators also allow you to make tweaks and iterations at the moment so that you have a better opportunity to be successful if things aren’t going the way you’d like.

L: This sounds really well thought-through. How do you set goals? Do you have some broad goals of the L&D function, work with goals for each of your projects, or both? What kind of metrics do you use to measure them?

M: Yearly company goals and objectives are set by our steering team. Each role or business function has more specific goals that are developed by the department head and steering. These goals serve as an overarching pillar and then individual project-based goals are established by the project driver and project approver. Metrics might be scores on our engagement survey, time to completion, satisfaction, amongst many other things. One thing that is really important to us, as I mentioned above, is having a lead indicator, regardless of the metric. I love lead indicators because they allow us to make tweaks along the way so that we’re more likely to be successful.

Here’s an example of what this has looked like for our team. This year, we have a company-wide goal of “Becoming the World’s Best”. This speaks to our skills, knowledge, and experience as a team. We want to be the best at our craft. From a metrics standpoint, that means:

  • 90% of Labmates (what we playfully call one another) agree “I learn as much as I want”;
  • 100% of us meet or exceed our role metrics.

The metrics you’re seeing here come from our engagement survey. We use Culture Amp and worked with them to customize some of their questions based on our team values.

Given this goal and the fact that we are growing rapidly, it’s important that Labmates have the support they need in order to be successful, so our most important strategic L&D focus for this year is equipping our Role Sponsors (managers) to be able to enable learning on a day-to-day basis.

In terms of metrics for Role Sponsor training, here are a few of the things we’ll be looking at:

  • 90% of Role Sponsors agree “I know what I need to do to be successful in my role”;
  • 90% of Role Sponsors agree “I have the resources I need to do my job effectively (e.g., instructions, software, hardware, information)”;
  • 90% of Labmates agree “My Role Sponsor helps me to deliberately develop”;
  • 90% of Labmates agree “I find that 1-1s with my Role Sponsor are a good use of my time”.

As a lead indicator, I’m looking for at least an 80% confidence score after each Role Sponsor training or shared support tool.

Our L&D strategy is shaped through the end of the year and details each tactic, its impact, the overarching goal that it connects to as well as metrics for each tactic. We’ve also incorporated an L&D philosophy. We see this as an opportunity to be explicit about what L&D looks like at LifeLabs, what the company is responsible for, and what Labmates will be responsible for when it comes to their learning and growth.

L: You mentioned earlier that these goals lead you to understand what skills, knowledge, and experience your colleagues need. Are there any other ways in which you determine those needs? How often do you check in to make sure you’re still delivering against the right needs? Could you walk us a bit through the process?

M: Buy-in is fundamental for any change that someone might be leading and I like to approach it by first assessing the impact on my stakeholders.

For example, Role Sponsor training ultimately impacts everyone in the business, but some more than others. I want to know what’s working and what’s not for those who have a Role Sponsor and at that level of impact, I’ll usually do a survey of some sort.

To ensure that Role Sponsors themselves feel like this series of trainings and resources will be high impact, I’ll do listening tours where I ask them questions to better understand where they need support, what’s working/what’s not and one of my favorite questions, “If you could wave a magic wand to make this proposal ideal, what would it incorporate?”. In these conversations, I’m looking for trends, insights, and opportunities that satisfy my high-impact stakeholder’s needs. If I can’t incorporate something they’re advocating for, I get to have a conversation with them later and let them know why.

A more formal needs-analysis check-in would happen 2-3 times a year, and our engagement survey happens twice a year. There is always an open-door policy for people to come and share anything that they’re experiencing or notice others are.

L: After you gather the needs from all these data points, do you put all L&D initiatives on a roadmap? If so, what learning programs do you have on it to support the learning needs of your colleagues?

M: We don’t have a road map exactly. At the end of the year, we’ll begin to prep for how we want to tackle the following year. At the beginning of the year, we’ll finalize those plans, so I have a strategy with specific tactics mapped out through Q4. Each quarter we create what’s known internally as an A4 strategy template. This breaks down what the tactic is, how it will be rolled out during that quarter, who it impacts, how we’ll measure success, the key stakeholders, and the DACI (D=Driver, A=Approver, C= Consultants, I=Impacted) for the project.

L: Awesome! So what kind of tactics are on your plate each Q? What kind of methods do you use in LifeLabs?

M: There are a number methods. Here are some of them:

  • Facilitator-led training (what we do best!). This is great when you want to have people learn and practice new behaviors;
  • On the job, experience-based learning. This implies doing your role and not only learning along the way but building in intentional retros (usually in 1-1s) to extract what you’re learning or how you might handle certain situations going forward;
  • Self-paced learning (e-learning, video recordings, self-study guides). This is useful when you want to test knowledge;
  • Peer learning (meetings, 1-1s, shadowing). This is really helpful for social learning and relationship building;
  • Department Depots (resource guides, generally for role-specific learning). This works well as a medium to distribute knowledge;
  • Team retreats. We have these 2x a year, it’s an opportunity for us to connect, but we usually learn something new together. In the last retreat we all made pottery virtually!
  • Learning FUND ($1000 yearly learning allotment along with up to 3 days you can take off to participate in a learning experience). In the past, people have gone to conferences, taken workshops, and even used the money for 1-1 leadership coaching. This method is great for more exploratory learning;
  • Guided practice (observations or task-based practice that you’d receive feedback on). This is useful for practicing skills application;
  • Expert speakers (We invite people in from different areas of work to come and share their crafts with us. Sometimes it’s work-related, but we’ve even had a mixologist come before). This is great when you simply want to expose people to knowledge;
  • Moment of need (support from your peers, manager, or resources, this could be via Slack or some sort of database/helpline). This is great when trying to link learning to day-to-day tasks.

L: Some of the initiatives you mentioned require a budget. Could you tell us a bit about how should an L&D get by in building their budget? Where should they start? What should they take into account? Which are the most common challenges?

It makes sense to first understand how many people you’re looking to support. L&D Budgets often start with a per head cost. Every organization will be different depending on their size and who needs the support.

So for example, if your organization is primarily very senior, the investment in terms of cost might be more substantial than for more junior employees. You’ll need to take into account what you have in-house. So perhaps you’ve already got an L&D team of more than one person. They likely won’t do everything, but having people who have dedicated time and resources to do this work helps you allocate your budget to other places. If you have a one-person team, you might be spending more of your budget on vendors. Regardless of what that looks like, it’s helpful to know what purpose your allocations serve. For example, hiring a training vendor, like LifeLabs for example. What is your expected outcome? Knowing this will help you assess the value based on your priorities, which make it easier to prove effectiveness to your stakeholders.

Last but not least, consider variety. This can often be missed. People learn in different ways. It’s important that we have diverse avenues for learning as well as create effective frequency in the way we learn to keep things sticky..

L: All this sounds amazing. We know that learning plays a big role in shaping a company’s culture. So how does your L&D Strategy support the overall culture of your organization?

M: As you mentioned, learning is at the core of work that we do at LifeLabs. One of our values is ‘Always Be Learning’, so having a strategy and plan in place for LifeLabs supports our ability to be a Deliberately Developmental Organization. We want learning to be plentiful, but we’re really wanting to create a culture where learning feels purposeful and strategic. If learning isn’t properly demarcated, unfortunately, people often don’t recognize that they’re learning at all.

L: There seems to be a lot of L&D work to be done in LifeLabs. What roles do you have in your L&D team to support the implementation of your strategy?

M: Right now the L&D team is small, as in just me! I have the support of our Product team however, who supports product origination, especially with instructional design. Beyond that, I have an arsenal of teammates who want to see the L&D vision come to life because they understand the impact it will make on their lives and other Labmates. For any L&D leader especially those who are alone, work to build relationships with department heads and managers. With their influence, you’ll have a better chance of getting your message heard and a greater likeliness to bring that message to life. This also means understanding their needs and supporting them in those areas as best as you can.

L: A personal curiosity of mine regards the link between your product and your internal learning strategy. You’re basically delivering learning solutions to external clients. What have you learned from that relationship and also helps you in your internal programs? Are there any principles you’re following both externally and internally?

M: We really try to practice what we preach at LifeLabs and what is most salient is the power of equipping your managers, in our case, Role Sponsors with the resources, tools, knowledge that they need to truly be autonomous when working with their teams.

Beyond that, both internally and externally, we want to make learning bite-sized, can easily be built upon for effective frequency, and fun! Learning should be fun!

In thinking about what I’ve been most inspired by from our external work, creating internal cohorts is what stands out because it creates space for people to learn from one another and it gives people access to how their peers are thinking and working – something we don’t always have an opportunity for.

L: To wrap things up about strategy. Which are the most important aspects when implementing an L&D Strategy? What skills or knowledge do L&D need to be successful in their jobs?

M: You wrote about this in one of your recent Offbeat issues and I think one of the most important skills you’ll need to have as an L&D leader is your ability to consult and influence.

First, we have to be good at asking high-impact questions. These questions should be open questions whenever possible and create space for us to learn our stakeholder’s needs and gaps. This also means that we have to be good listeners and that we can synthesize to the core of what actually matters. Sometimes people say that something is a problem, but in reality, it’s something totally different or that they’re looking for a completely different solution, so we have to be good at understanding what our work is trying to accomplish.

Our ability to market well is a skill that is often neglected. An L&D leader needs to be able to share what we’re offering in a way that is exciting. We have to make it relatively low lift, and we have to share why it matters – how it impacts both the individual and the org.

L: As a final question. What would you recommend to other L&D professionals who are at the beginning of their careers? Are there any resources you follow and you’d recommend to others?

If you’re at the beginning of your career I highly recommend spending time learning about how people learn. Brain science is a great foundation for building successful L&D programs. Additionally, make sure you’re modeling the learning that you’re trying to create for others. Identify your gaps by developing relationships with people who will give you meaningful and honest feedback. Attend workshops and events and join groups with other L&D/ People Operations professionals. Here are some of my favorite resources:

Connecting with other L&D professionals to learn what they’re up to, what challenges they’ve run into, and what’s working.

Lavinia Mehedintu has been designing learning experiences and career development programs for the past 9 years both in the corporate world and in higher education. As a Co-Founder and Learning Architect @Offbeat she’s applying adult learning principles so that learning & people professionals can connect, collaborate, and grow. She’s passionate about social learning, behavior change, and technology and constantly puts in the work to bring these three together to drive innovation in the learning & development space.

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