It’s late December, and we’re on the Internet. I’m pretty sure I’m required by web law to do some type of grand “in review” thing that looks back on a challenging but fruitful year as a way to springboard into a promising future. I think I’ll save the look back on 2016 for my Just Curious Blog and instead take this opportunity to share a few other year-end messages with the L&D community.
First, thanks for reading my “In Real Life” column this year! This is entry No. 9 in my ongoing series, and I’m looking forward to digging into more practical L&D themes with you next year. I hope you’ve been able to use one or two of the ideas I’ve explored here to help your people perform better on the job. If you’re just tuning in, check out my other contributions here.
Next, I’d love to hear your suggestions for themes about which you’d like to see me write in 2017. Is there a particular topic you believe isn’t being discussed enough within our industry? Are you having a hard time bringing a new idea to life and looking for some shared experience? Please share a few suggestions in the comments below or contact me directly with your ideas. It would be a great help as I continue to work on making this column as useful as possible in your everyday work.
Finally, I’d like to borrow from an overplayed year-end convention and talk resolutions. I’ve never quite understood the need to plot improvement goals onto the calendar as opposed to just doing it whenever you happen to figure out the need. This is one of the many reasons why I can’t stand the concept of annual performance reviews. That said, I do recognize the value in the reflective exercise people go through when drafting New Year’s resolutions. “People who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don't explicitly make resolutions,” according to Statistic Brain. So, while plenty of people “self-promise” to use that new gym membership only to bail out by mid-February, in real life there’s something to be said for pausing, thinking about what you need to do better next year, and writing it down.
What would a list of L&D professional resolutions look like? We all bring different backgrounds and experiences into our roles. We work for different companies with unique contexts and priorities. We have different strengths and weaknesses (“areas of opportunity” for the HR crowd). While I don’t know your life or what focus may best help you achieve your personal and professional goals next year, here are five L&D resolutions I believe would benefit our industry as well as the people we support every day:
1. Spend more time in the operation.
The farther away we get from where the work is done, the harder it becomes to understand people’s real needs. This is a big part of what brings us to develop a complex eLearning module when a one-page job aid would do the trick. Find ways to get back into the day-to-day on a regular basis so you don’t lose touch with the reality of your workplace. We don’t have to be the subject matter experts—in fact, we really shouldn’t be. But we still need to know what it feels like to do the work we’re trying to help people do. This is why I “sacrificed” at least one off day every quarter at Disney to get back into my costume and complete a frontline shift. It was also a lot of fun and helped me earn people’s trust and respect.
2. Don’t get sucked in by trends.
How much time are you spending right now drooling over the possibilities of virtual reality for learning? How is that helping the people in your workplace today? Sure, we should make every effort to stay aware of the latest and greatest in our field. However, this shouldn’t come at the expense of solving our current problems. New and shiny doesn’t equal effective. Trend after trend should have taught us this lesson by now. Keep your feet firmly planted in today while remaining flexible so you can pivot to innovative, proven ideas at the right time for your organization.
No, I didn’t just vilify or condemn VR. Well… maybe I did, a little. We’re a ways off from VR ubiquity in the workplace, folks. Let’s try to get mobile, on-demand resources to work first. :-)
3. Design as if you had to use it.
“Would I want to do this?” It’s a pretty simple filter for solving user motivation issues when it comes to learning experiences. I’m astounded by how often L&D pros build content that they would never want to consume for themselves. If you wouldn’t do it, why would you subject someone else to it? Compliance isn’t a good excuse. Neither is scale. We must be clever and innovative in our strategies and consider user motivation before making content design decisions.
4. Don’t measure your success with useless data.
Plenty of organizations still lean heavily on completions and quiz scores as measures of training effectiveness. You and I know they’re meaningless, but our partners haven’t caught up yet. So, even if you have to report on this data to make your stakeholders happy, you don’t have to base your own success on the same measurements. Don’t be satisfied with your work just because you averaged a 4.7 on the level-one survey. Make business impact the measuring stick by which you judge your performance. Provide insight into this impact along with the familiar data reporting to help your partners see the light.
5. Get outside your bubble.
“We cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” I’ve come across several variations of this oft-attributed-to-Einstein quote. Regardless, it’s my current favorite. We can only do so much on our own. It’s very easy to put on blinders in a support role within your organization and try to carry the weight on your own shoulders. Meanwhile, L&D teams around the world are trying to solve the exact same problems. Don’t just wait for your one annual conference or the next local chapter meeting. Leverage online resources and start developing a personal learning network (PLN) that can help you overcome day-to-day challenges in your role. Given that you’re reading this column, I’ll assume you already have a head start on this one.
I challenge you to draft your own list of 2017 L&D resolutions. No, this isn’t the same as that list of development goals you’re being “asked” to come up with in alignment with your company’s 2017 strategic priorities so you can copy/paste them into your HRIS only to forget about them until next December. I’m talking about a simple, but meaningful, list of things you want to do better during the next 12 months. And, in the spirit of working out loud, I invite you to share your resolutions with your peers in whatever way you prefer. Write a blog post. Record a vlog. Add them in the comments below. Share your resolutions with your PLN so they can help you achieve them through shared accountability.
I’ll go first. Next year, I want to get back to telling more practical stories. I have spent the majority of my career working within large companies where I experienced the daily realities of workplace learning and operations. Today, my role with Axonify gives me the opportunity to “wax theoretical” and explore new ideas that can help influence our customers and partners to improve their L&D strategies. However, I’m starting to notice that sometimes I lean a bit too far toward the theory and lose that footing I always had “in the L&D trenches.” So, as I build new articles and presentations for next year, I’m going to revisit my storytelling approach and get back to the practical nature that yielded so much great feedback during my first few years of industry activity. I also plan to feature more stories from my earliest L&D roles, especially what I learned during my time at Disney.
Thanks again for joining me as I explore L&D in real life. Happy holidays! Now enjoy this festive and ridiculous video of me and a few eLearning Guild folks! Ah… that never gets old!