Curate, Converse and Connect More; Create Less
Yesterday afternoon, I listened to the best conversation I have heard thus far about what learning and development’s new strategy should be and how to get there. The speakers were Nigel Paine and Andrew Jacobs, learning and development (L&D) rock stars in the UK. They deftly built a framework around things I had been pondering for quite a while, so I am pleased to finally articulate and share it here. As both an L&D professional and technologist, I am excited by the massive changes afoot in L&D that may be striking fear in others. I hope you find value in my thoughts combined with those of the gentlemen, and it helps you “put your front foot forward” as Nigel and Andrew say.
The first thought Nigel and Andrew presented was that most L&D teams currently have a strategy around delivery, but not around the benefit of what we are producing. Therefore, we need to take a step back and consider what the value of our function is and what it will be going forward. As Andrew said, “If you haven’t got a clear strategy as to why you’re doing stuff, you’re very much like the Tasmanian devil. There’s lots of activity that’s being undertaken, but no direction, and you’re going to ping about from one place to the other without having clear guidelines as to what’s expected.” Exactly! It is time to get strategic in your thinking!
From Shopkeep to Engineer. The guys then had a lively discussion around the need for L&D professionals to shift our mindsets from that of a “shopkeep” to that of an engineer. What a brilliant analogy! The shopkeep runs around doing what is asked for, delivering this part and that, providing lots of options, but not always the right ones. The shopkeep has more of a short-term view, is focused on what they are selling, and thus delivers less real perceived value. Also, with modern technology, the shopkeep can be replaced, because those parts can now be found and purchased online – much like a lot of L&D content. Where do learners go first when they want to know something today? Google or YouTube, the two best search engines and sources of content available. If you thought the answer was your organization’s learning management system, then you really need to keep reading or risk becoming obsolete in the very near future.
To contrast, the engineer first works with you to be sure you understand exactly what your issues are. They have defined processes to be most efficient and have a much longer term view. Your engineer has the expertise that is needed and is trusted to know where to find and how best to utilize resources. She works together with a client to find, design, and/or build the best solution. Engineers think strategically before they think tactically. How many times is L&D told that a training class is needed to solve a problem which might be better solved another way? You don’t see business leaders telling IT or Marketing the details on how to solve their problems, do you? It is time to think like an engineer and have a more mature conversation with the business, instead of parent/child discussions where L&D is told what they need to do.
Taking Inventory. Before you can begin to strategize though, you have to consider several factors and take them all into account, or ultimately your strategy will not work. First and foremost, consider the culture of the organization, the nature of the relationships within the organization, the overall structure, and the business’ industry. Next, you need to consider your relationships within the organization. Consider your current systems and processes. Look at what technology you already have. Approach this with an open mind looking towards future needs though. Think of the pieces and structure that might need to be changed. Do not say that you cannot make changes just because you are tied to existing systems. You need to be looking at what the best solution is, not what is familiar and comfortable to you. Finally, look internally at your team, their culture, and the skills they possess. What new skills do you need? Does your team have the maturity to be able to take this on? If they are not ready, then your strategy will not be able to move forward.
Caution: Culture Ahead. Let me throw in a few words of caution about culture at this point. Culture can definitely derail strategy. If there is an influential group that does not buy into your plan and management does not support L&D and approach the situation properly, that can be very problematic. Always with change, you must get out front and manage it with openness, transparency and communication of your specific message. This is even more critical within the L&D team at this point. What is their thinking and capacity for change? Beyond that, are they willing to change? While you always hope not, if someone is unwilling to adapt or make needed changes, there may need to be a strategic personnel change made.
Initial Conversations. When you are comfortable with your inventory, then start having conversations with business leaders. Through those conversations, your strategy will emerge. Always keep in mind that you are developing a business strategy, not an L&D strategy, so it should not be done in isolation. It should be based on what the pressing needs of the business are. Never look at it as being final though. It should be an ongoing process to reflect where the business and L&D are currently, but always with an eye toward the future. It will be necessary to revisit your strategy from time to time, evaluating your successes, failures, solutions implemented, and ongoing needs of the business.
The 4 Cs. After having the right conversations, your L&D strategy will likely look very different than it has in the past, so be prepared. Given all of your planning and conversations, it will be more focused on the needs of the business and the individuals within the business. Given the shift in learners’ needs and current speed of business, rather than creating or delivering content, you should expect the focus to be around L&D teams curating information, continuing to have conversations within the business groups, and providing individuals with not only ways to connect to each other, but also the relevant tools, experts, and information they need. These are the four Cs: Curate, Converse, and Connect with less need to Create.
Critical Communication. With a strategy developed, it is time to communicate it and get buy-in from business leaders to ensure your strategic goals are aligned. To be taken seriously and clearly convey your strategy, it is critical that you communicate not in L&D language, but in business language. Try to give people a vision of the world to come in terms they will understand by relating it to the business’ overall strategy and problems they are trying to solve.
The Scary (or Fun) Part. Now comes the scary or fun part, depending on your outlook: Implementation. As you do so, be sure you are engaging with the business and not going away and doing it in isolation. Start small. If you are doing things right, it should grow organically as people talk about what L&D has done for their group within the organization. Build narratives to demonstrate your successes. Work out loud, so people are aware of your successes. Part of your strategy should be to get people started sharing, creating bigger business conversations around L&D, and demonstrating its value to the organization.
Prepare for Impact. L&D’s long-term success is predicated upon its positive impact on the business. To ensure the success of your plan, continue having conversations with those in the business. You must find out what worked and what didn’t, so you can refine what you are doing. The managers within the business should be measuring the performance of employees to determine the impact L&D initiatives have had within the business. L&D should assist in figuring out how to do the measurement, as well as providing the framework and tools to automate and track it; however, determining what behaviors are important to measure and the measuring itself should be done within the business groups.
MVP Status. Your next round of strategic adjustments will come from ongoing conversations you will have, and it will get easier every single time. Because you now have the proper outlook and framework to successfully meet the needs of the business and measure L&D’s impact in meaningful ways, the value of L&D within your organization will be crystal clear and can only be enhanced by new tools and technology in the future.
Previously published on LinkedIn here.