In my work with learning and development leaders, I commonly encounter professionals working hard to enhance other employees’ skills and develop them for the future of their positions. Yet, so often, that same effort isn’t invested in preparing themselves for the future. So, beyond mastering the fundamentals of the field, what is a L&D leader to do?
Here are five ideas to achieve more by doing less based on two themes I consistently hear from learning professionals.
The first theme is that training time is being reduced (which is why I wrote Same Training, Half the Time) and the second is that technology’s role in both delivering and developing learning is growing quickly. In this context, as a L&D leader, you need to be critically discerning in accepting project requests, diplomatic in communicating the reasons for your choices, steadfast in holding project teams accountable for distilling content to its essentials, committed to developing your teams’ skills, and strategic in documenting successes. Here is why:
Discernment: Enthusiasm for workplace learning is a great thing. On the flip side, though, too many requests for weakly substantiated needs can quickly drain the resources—and energy—of any L&D team. A critical role of the L&D leader has always been ensuring a knowledge or skill gap is contributing to a performance issue if learning is going to factor into the solution. Going forward, I see L&D leaders also needing to insulate teams from expending effort on requests that should have been redirected. It might be assumed that creating and curating a suite of succinct learning moments is proportionate to the time required to experience micro-learning, or that the speed of technology decreases development time and the time investment for delivering e-enabled learning. My experience is that this is not the case. You will be well advised to identify and put your resources behind the learning moments that will have the greatest return.
Diplomacy: The learning function is typically a cost center. It also relies on other parts of the business for expertise, support in reinforcing learning, and cooperation in scheduling and enrolling employees in training among other things. As such, developing and maintaining relationships is critical to leading a robust and respected learning team. If you will be discriminating in taking on projects, you will need to demonstrate tact and justify the rationale of your choices when declining a request in order to preserve the relationship and sustain the partner’s interest in collaborating on future projects.
Distillation: When time constraints get tighter (such as with micro-learning) and when potential distractions for learners increase (as with technology-enabled virtual sessions), isolating the need-to-know content from the nice-to-know becomes vital. Information is readily available—grab your smart phone, conduct a quick search—and bam, information. Learning professionals must become adept at distilling the essence of the learning experience—not just providing information, but developing skills and changing behaviors. To do that, you need to determine and include only the content that is critical to supporting the desired behaviors. While you have always done this, you must do it with increasing intensity and scrutiny.
Developing skills: Your customers’ expectations on how technology is leveraged in learning are increasing. To keep pace, if you are savvy, you will invest in your team’s development. This may be through formal learning, but it can also happen in other ways. If your mind goes right to taking a class in a course development software, think broader. Sure, learning new tools is an option, but what about graphic design, video production, script writing, or gamification? These are some of the skills learning professionals will be expected to draw upon going forward. They are specialties of their own, but they feed the L&D function. Beyond formal training, you should facilitate staff development by scheduling projects with timelines that allow for experimentation and learning curves associated with integrating new elements, by writing performance goals that grow skill sets into new areas, by encouraging mentoring relationships that tap into departments like marketing, IT, advertising, public communications, or media relations to develop the associated skills of these functions, and so on.
Documenting successes: Is there another business unit that can get away without justifying its existence? Without demonstrating its value in meaningful ways? Somewhere along the line many L&D teams defaulted to the “billions served” model – and began counting seats filled as a measure of success. They also became comfortable relying on anecdotal compliments and reporting “they really liked it” enthusiastically. Sales teams can’t do that. R&D teams can’t either. No other business unit can. So, get serious about measuring and recording the successes realized by your and your team’s initiatives. And then use the data to market L&D so the first two D’s of this post – discernment and diplomacy – become easier to achieve!
These five skills complement the long-standing needed L&D skills of business acumen, instructional design, effective communication, and project management among others. They also complement one another and when layered will become exponentially significant. Focusing on one or two of them may be good….but likely not good enough.
Tell us your thoughts. What skills are you focused on developing? What skills do you see as essential behaviors for L&D leaders?