Get back to work! At least that’s what January can feel like. I hope you had a restful and joyous holiday. But now, back to real life! It’s time to think about your 2018 L&D strategy.

An image of a sleepy dog wearing a Santa hat. With the holidays over, it’s time to work on your 2018 L&D strategy.

Anyone else feeling like this to start the year? (Pixabay)

What’s your learning and development strategy in 2018? No, I’m not talking about predictions for what the big topics will be. Marc Rosenberg already has that covered (thanks, Marc!). And I’m not talking about the massive project list you’ve been handed by your operational stakeholders. I mean your strategy. How are you going to help people do their jobs even better this year? How can you be sure you’re moving the needle forward on how you do your work while remaining agile to address timely stakeholder needs?

Even though I don’t know your business, I’d like to help out with your planning process. So, here are six additions for your 2018 L&D strategy that you may not have considered.

1. One small problem

L&D has a habit of swinging for the fences. We want to solve the big problems with big solutions and prove our value once and for all. Unfortunately, when you swing that hard every time, you tend to strike out a lot (look up Mike Schmidt to expand the baseball analogy). Business priorities also tend to have big components, leading to big, high-visibility initiatives for L&D. Sure, we could realize huge success. But, if we miss (or leave an audience out), we may take a step backward.

L&D should still go after the big problems. However, they shouldn’t be the only items on the list. Your strategic plan should include one small problem—one nagging problem that always comes up but never gets prioritized. If you can solve it quickly and simply, it will make a difference for your audience and build the trust necessary to go after those big problems. Know that wiki project I always talk about from my time with Kaplan? That started as my one small problem. And maybe it’s not just one problem. Maybe it’s one per audience. One per business unit. One per quarter. But you need to plan at least one simple, meaningful action L&D can take to establish value with your employees (not decision makers).

2. A list of experiments

It’s never a good idea to try out a new concept by applying it as part of a high-visibility project. To the contrary, I’m a fan of organic growth and iteration. This approach gives you the chance to fail fast, collect evidence on what does work, and make small fixes along the way with minimal effort and expense. But to pull it off, you need to dedicate a portion of your team’s capacity to research, execution, and evaluation. An experiment could be as simple as trying a new design for a job aid, or as involved as running a proof of concept for a new technology. Yes, this will take some bandwidth away from priority projects. You should position it as an investment in the long-term capability of the L&D function. Set clear expectations and goals for each experiment, and openly share the results—both positive and negative—to justify the expenditure and ensure everyone learns from the process.

3. Content review process

Do you have an ever-expanding catalog of potentially outdated content sitting in your learning management system that you keep saying you’ll get around to dealing with someday? Most L&D teams do. In a past role, I discovered we had amassed more than 600 LMS assets over the course of a few years. While each was active and available, I couldn’t tell you how often they were accessed or how relevant they were at that time. It took FOREVER to clean up that mess. While doing so, we established a process to regularly evaluate online courses to ensure relevance. It required scheduled effort twice per year, but it also increased the value of our resources and saved us from future content management nightmares. If you don’t already have a process like this in place, you should get started on it ASAP—before things get even messier.

4. Strategic lunches

L&D needs to spend more non-project time with critical partners across the organization. I’m calling it “lunch,” but it could be standing meetings, water-cooler conversations, or any other planned-but-informal tactic to build relationships across common battle lines. Are you having an L&D team-building activity? Invite the IT project manager with whom you always work. Throwing a team holiday party? Invite the corporate communications person who sends your training announcement emails. Plan strategic efforts to build trust and rapport that will become invaluable when you need help later.

5. Operation time

How much time do you spend embedded within the frontline operation you support? When I started on a new project at Disney, I always spent time in costume alongside the cast members we would be training—before we arrived at a solution. I gathered a ton of contextual information that wasn’t volunteered by the subject matter expert. It was the difference between designing for “how things should be” and “how things really work around here.” Regardless of role, everyone in L&D should be scheduled to spend time in the operation. Not only will they gain insight to inform their work, but they’ll also walk away with a greater appreciation for the people, the challenges they face, and how hard they work every day.

6. Development for the development people

The worst joke in L&D is that we never make time for our own learning and development. It’s not a joke. It’s actually inching closer and closer to mild hypocrisy. If you want to take your practices to the next level, you need to evolve the capabilities of your team. This will require time, effort, and resources. While you must maintain the agility to respond to timely business needs, you also need to fence off capacity for L&D development with barbed wire to make sure they get what they need, too.

I have one more point related to eating our own L&D dog food. As I’ve discussed in the past, learning activities should be targeted, blended, and fit into the workflow whenever possible. These same principles apply to L&D pros. Therefore, creating opportunities for your team should not always require a pile of time and money to send people to conferences and workshops. Rather, we should introduce practices and shape habits that foster continuous learning. For example, you could facilitate regular reflection sessions, providing team members with a chance to share successes and failures from recent work. You could foster network growth, and challenge team members to engage in industry discussions outside your organizational silo using platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn. Overall, L&D pros should be shining examples of how modern learning practices can drive results in the workplace. They just need the capacity and support to make it work.

Since you’re obviously a devoted fan of my column (humble brag), you may have noticed that these ideas are very similar to my suggested L&D resolutions from one year ago. After talking about these concepts for another 12 months, I have come to believe they are too important to leave to the individual. They must be systematically introduced into the L&D workflow to yield maximum benefit. Therefore, I highly recommend you make them formal parts of your L&D strategy.

Thanks for taking the time to explore learning—in real life—with me in 2017. Let’s show our organizations and employees what we can do and make 2018 a meaningful year for L&D! I’ll be here to help.