Let’s move L&D from a request-and-fulfill function to an anchored arm of company strategy.
The noise around making learning a core agent in a company is loud. Recently, it has crescendoed. L&D analysts and practitioners advocate for learning professionals to be embedded in company culture, direction, and decision making.
For an idea of what that might look like, consider HR, which has been wrestling with a fundamental rethinking of purpose for years, and has repositioned itself as a strategic champion of partnership within organizations. As HR professionals have moved from compliance managers and policy enforcers to people- and business enablers, HR has weathered such challenges as misunderstandings of the role, competing priorities, lack of sponsorship, and other factors that threaten to impede its progress.
Learning from HR
L&D can learn from how HR has been overcoming these challenges. Any redefinition of functional mission (think manager to business partner) requires people to adapt and change, in ways big and small.
Business leaders and decision-makers need to expand their circles to include their L&D counterparts and find value in their contributions. Managers who send off training requests without a second thought might bristle at an assessment of how that training’s output could help meet business objectives.
Changes to process—especially with respect to oversight—or philosophy can elicit resistance, and negative perceptions of the “new way” can spread throughout an organization. One goal when transitioning L&D away from request-and-fulfill has to be creating a smooth pathway of change, even while bearing in mind that stuff’s gonna happen.
Handling the wobble
The most affected in this shift will likely be the L&D team itself, because the entirety of their work and relationships within the organization will change. Design cycles might have to quicken and the team might work with new and different types of subject matter experts. No matter what the practical changes are, how the team talks about their roles, communicates them to others, and executes new daily tasks will determine their happiness and performance.
During organizational change, people go through a period of “wobble”—discomfort and uncertainty about the future of their work—as they become more aware of what is changing, learn about it, test it out, and settle into or resist their expected participation. In transitioning L&D to a strategic partner, an L&D manager needs frequent touchpoints with their team to control and shape the change message and to promote engagement. One forum for doing that messaging is the daily stand-up meeting.
The daily stand-up
Agile project teams rely on the daily stand-up ritual to check progress. These huddles keep team members informed and connected—in 15 minutes, each member reports on their slice of a project, a practice that promotes visibility and accountability.
People expect and value the stand-up as part of their daily workflow. Learning leaders can implement the daily stand-up with their L&D teams as they experience the “wobble” of moving toward strategic partnership. (Agile and Scrum purists, please excuse this deviation from tradition.)
Here are two ways to use this format to help your team stay mainly happy and engaged during the change process.
Anchor the stand-up questions to the change effort
During a stand-up meeting people are typically asked to respond to three questions:
- What did I work on yesterday?
- What am I working on today?
- What issues are blocking me?
Your L&D team stand-up will use these questions, too, but before the first person reports, guide their responses like this:
Please think about how your work connects to strategic priorities and outcomes. When you respond to our stand-up questions, keep in mind:
- How are my work and its outcomes connected to our strategic priorities?
- Are my actions aligned with what we’re trying to achieve?
- How am I doing this work differently from how I did it in the past? (For those approaching their work in new ways.)
At the end of team members’ responses, ask them to share any questions or concerns they have about the new/different work or what’s ahead?
Let’s say an instructional designer attends the stand-up after meeting with Anya, a highly regarded division head at the company. The ID’s report out might sound like this:
What I did yesterday: Yesterday I met with Anya about her request to add to the skills library for her division.
How I am doing my work differently: Rather than noting her requirements, writing a proposal, and putting it into the design queue, I asked her what she wants people to be able to do in their jobs and how that will improve her division’s overall performance. That conversation helped us make her request more specific and targeted.
What I am doing today: Today I’m starting a formal performance analysis for a few job functions Anya suggested and revising the initial skills list she requested. I'll prioritize this as well.
What issues are blocking me: No barriers right now.
Do I see the alignment: I felt good about the way I handled the meeting. Usually I listen and immediately agree to a project without assessing its potential impact. I think we avoided building a series of modules that would not have resulted in improved performance. A more deliberate approach based on a performance analysis should help us prioritize and specify what matters.
What questions/concerns do I have about my new work: If the results of my performance analysis contradict Anya’s request, our next meeting might be hard. She’s very determined to get what she believes she needs for her division, even if data don't necessarily suggest it. So I’m kind of nervous about that.
This stand-up response connects actions with change efforts and gives you, the L&D leader, insight into where you might put your energy to support your team.
As a follow-up, perhaps you will arrange for a prep meeting with the designer before the next meeting with Anya, or review the results of their performance analysis. These snapshots into your employees’ experiences during change will help you refine your efforts and strengthen your presence with other leaders.
Practice change messages and mantras
Dedicate a short slot within the stand-up to practicing change management messages and mantras. These are the messages your team needs to repeat when they work with leaders and internal customers. For them to communicate effectively with other people in the company about what’s changing, they need low-stakes practice.
My colleague Dr. Janet Emmendorfer, a skilled change advisor, often reminds me of the power of these mantras during change efforts: clear key messages that people can easily understand, hold on to, and in turn voice on their own.
Repeat them ad nauseam across multiple contexts for days, weeks, and months of the change initiative to give team members the language they need, but also to ground those who might stray from the focus or otherwise lose sight of the big picture. You could open a practice session stand-up with:
Today we’ll practice our key mantra: “Performance over content.”
Here’s our first scenario: (insert scenario). Let’s practice role playing this conversation with a stakeholder. Remember to use the mantra to help reframe their concerns.
If needed, briefly elaborate, but always come back to “performance over content.” Get them there, and try to keep them there. (Conduct role play scenario.)
In a 15–20 minute stand-up, team members can role play, and you can observe if and how they weave in the “performance over content” mantra. In a virtual meeting, use breakout rooms for practice time and make sure to praise good examples that you observe, offer feedback when someone needs to adjust, and model how it’s done when you see it go awry. The beauty of this rehearsal is that it doesn’t drone on, people immediately feel connected, and they know they’ll have more short practice sessions in the days ahead.
Rotate through this message-mantra stand-up style a few times a week, or add it to the start of a recurring meeting. Share progress and examples of successes in improving the use of the mantras. And leave time/space for people to return from their meetings with stakeholders and debrief about their execution of the mantra in context.
Building an inherent support system
Stand-ups have long served their purpose for project teams, and they have an important function in projects that involve change management components. Because L&D teams collaborate with stakeholders across and outside the organization, they must approach conversations, negotiations, disagreements, and new project work with clarity and ease. If your team isn't up for the challenge, they won’t be able to get others on board. Stand-ups are generally nonthreatening launching pads to the unknown but meaningful change that happens beyond them.
Let me know how it goes.
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