Change! Revolution! Resistance! You hear words like these more and more nowadays in relation to a variety of topics, from politics to technology. These terms have also been flying around the L&D community for several years now in response to the perceived declining value of corporate training.
I’ll leave it to Clark Quinn to summarize. After all, he literally wrote the book on L&D’s need to evolve—or perish. “Existing training and development practices need a major overhaul. Learning and development practitioners and managers must increasingly face the fact that old methods are no longer relevant in today’s tech-savvy world and, in many cases, they simply don’t work.”
We—L&D professionals—want to change. We want to evolve. We want to do a better job. Well, at least most of us do—and for good reason. Deloitte points out in its 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report, “As legacy L&D responsibilities become less relevant, the opportunities for L&D to be more relevant have never been greater. L&D organizations that recognize the new future of careers, embrace exponential changes in technology, and become flexible content curators rather than right content creators have the potential to become highly valued business partners.” From where I sit, L&D has never been more ready to embrace a new role when it comes to workplace performance. No, we’re not all there yet, but a growing number of L&D leaders are driving forward with awesome new (and solid traditional) ideas. That’s awesome, but it also makes me wonder: What about everyone else? Are they—the people we work with and support within our organizations—ready for a new and evolved L&D?
How is L&D perceived in your organization today? Many are still seen as order-takers, even if they’ve been improving their strategies for some time. L&D is that team that pops in and out of employees’ lives when something big happens, like a new product release or major process change. We also handle that regulatory stuff that people have to complete every year, and we’re probably involved in the onboarding process at some point. Other than that, L&D doesn’t typically demand ongoing time and attention from the workforce.
A huge chunk of the people we support still think workplace learning should look like school. After all, that’s what they grew up with—both academically and professionally. There has always been a dedicated time and place for learning, whether it was an actual school, corporate university, or online system. Obviously, this hasn’t been the case in everyday life for years, given our ubiquitous access to information and one another. And, of course, they’re learning all the time just by doing their jobs. However, they haven’t been asked to use those same natural learning and problem-solving skills in the workplace.
When it comes down to it, we all want the same things. We all want people to do their jobs better so they can be happier, more engaged, and show better results for the business. So at least we have something in common. Now, in order to best support our workplace ecosystems, we must enable a mindset shift across our organizations to help everyone involved see the value of a modern approach to learning—before we get too far into our new strategies and tactics.
While I definitely generalized how L&D is currently perceived across organizations today, the reality is that this perception varies considerably based on the roles people play in workplace learning. Stakeholders and subject matter experts may assign completely different value to L&D than do frontline managers and employees. Therefore, L&D must seek to influence all key players in appropriate ways based on their existing mentality and evolved role within a modern learning ecosystem. Tactics will likely vary by organization, but these influencing activities should include both structured and unstructured conversations as well as practical application exercises focused on the priorities of those you need to influence.
Stakeholders are the people who run the business and make the big decisions, including whether or not to resource L&D. They have become comfortable with measuring our value based on completion metrics, such as compliance status, project readiness, and hours of training offered per employee. However, we know this type of data only goes so far in really justifying L&D effort. In order to facilitate the evolution of the learning ecosystem, we must help stakeholders recognize the connection between learning and business results. Our measures of success must shift to align with the business, and we must be permitted to make strategic decisions based on the data-driven needs of the organization—not just vague, rushed, and conflicting requests for training.
Subject matter experts have the information and experience we need to enable learning and performance at the frontline. To date, they’ve been trapped in a “when all you have is a hammer, everything is a nail” scenario with regard to training. A modern learning ecosystem affords us a variety of methods for providing support that aligns to performance needs and fits within the workflow. Therefore, we must help SMEs understand these “new” tactics, such as shared knowledge and performance support, and recognize the value they can provide, especially when they don’t include the formal training with which SMEs are most familiar.
Managers are the most important players in the modern learning ecosystem. They’re in control of the operational day-to-day and have heavy influence on the people doing the work. So far, many managers see training as something that just has to get done so people can do their real jobs. They’re often called upon to track people down to ensure timely completion for training efforts that, in their minds, have little to no value. A modern approach to learning recognizes and leverages the power of frontline managers to enable performance improvement. Rather than just seek their buy-in and tactical assistance, L&D must align learning and support to the managers’ role in driving performance improvement, especially when it comes to proactive coaching.
Employees are doing the work every day. When it comes to training, they are often heard remarking, “I don’t have time to learn today.” A modern approach appreciates that people are at work to do the job, not to learn. Therefore, learning and support must be continuous and fit into the workflow wherever possible. While they’re already learning on the job with or without us, we must help employees recognize the impact of continuous learning on their ability to do their jobs better. We must help them recognize how our evolved tactics, such as microlearning and curation, align to their natural learning behaviors and are therefore worth the time and effort.
Extended L&D represents the larger learning function, beyond those who are making decisions related to our ecosystem evolution. This often includes execution-oriented roles, such as designers, developers, facilitators, administrators, and account managers. While the other players we’ve already discussed are essential in shifting the organization’s mindset, the process should really begin here. Discussion of new tactics and approaches may raise questions about roles, responsibilities, and personal value. We must ensure clarity and understanding within the extended L&D team so they can support our influencing efforts elsewhere within the company.
So how should L&D influence each of these groups to ensure they recognize the value of a modern approach to learning? That’s a difficult one. Every organization is different, and different players play different roles in workplace learning and performance. Therefore, each L&D team must identify and apply tactics that work best for them. That said, here are a few high-level considerations to keep in mind.
- Focus on value: This is ultimately all that matters. Rather than stress the philosophical strength of our approach, we must clearly demonstrate the value it provides to our people and our business.
- Paint a clear picture: We don’t have to explain everything about what we do to everyone we work with. Learning science is only so exciting to most people. Rather, while we should provide the opportunity for depth of understanding to those who are interested, we must adjust our messaging based on the value proposition and role our audience will play in our evolved ecosystem.
- Take a consistent approach: The more solid our framework for addressing performance challenges, the more easily understood our approach will be across the organization. This demonstrates not only strategic effort but also clear mastery of our craft. We should be able to easily explain how we can apply our reimagined approach to address any and all potential workplace performance needs.
- Provide practical guidance: We can’t stay theoretical if we hope to bring everyone along for the ride. We’re L&D people and often speak our own L&D language. The people we’re trying to influence are usually much less excited about this stuff. Therefore, we must quickly get practical and specifically show how we will provide value with our new approach.