You recognise the status quo cannot continue.

Your clients are demanding actual change that delivers different results in the face of an increasingly challenging and disruptive business environment. You’re hearing loud and clear that different organisational and individual capabilities are required and you know that it can’t be achieved one class at a time. At the same time, you fear that your L&D team aren’t ready for too much other than designing and delivering face-to-face training and e-learning.

What can you do?

L&D Is Stuck In A Pre-Digital Age

First of all, you’re not alone. The latest Towards Maturity benchmark report (The Transformation Journey) highlights what has been problematic within the profession for many years:

“The core skills that learning professionals possess have not shifted over time. But the pace of change in work and industry has increased, which is a real concern.”

The image below, taken from The Transformation Journey, illustrates the longstanding problem that L&D grow their skills in the classroom, largely neglecting the expanding skill sets required of modern People Development professionals:

An even more concerning trend is that most of the skills not directly related to the design and delivery of classroom training are less prevalent than they were 3 years ago. This derives from the ‘L&D Apprenticeship’ largely being conducted in the classroom – firstly delivering content and then developing further content, polishing the skills of delivery and facilitation but little else. It creates a myopic view of both the potential and the abilities of Learning & Development. As the profession zeroes in on this narrow branch of the skills map, an enormous amount remains neglected.

It is no coincidence then that L&D place so much belief in traditional development activities (face-to-face training) and diminish the value of digital to achieve comparable (let alone better) results, when it comes to preparing and developing employees. However, this can no longer be ignored and we must see that it’s a self-perpetuating cycle of our own narrow development that is maintaining this limited – and damaging – status quo.

But it’s also time for your team to look up and step up to embrace the broadening skill sets. So how can you do this?

Start With The Digital Mindset Before The Skill Set

L&D professionals are quick to see what tech there is available to them but are quickly limited by what they can do with it. This may start and end with the existing LMS:

“We could run a campaign to drive more traffic to the LMS…”

…or the e-learning authoring tool:

“We could create some more e-learning…?”

“How about we add some gamification?

“A webinar? People love webinars!”

Stop! Stop! Stop! This is the headless chicken approach to digital.

Has L&D evolved over the decades to be wildly swinging technology ‘solutions’ at undefined problems?

We need to flip this whole approach to stop limiting our imagination and our ability to solve real problems and give our clients what they need in order to succeed – not just what we have – or what we’ve seen at the last Learning Technologies exhibition.

Technology alone will not help us. We need to know what we are trying to do; what our clients are trying to do; and provide them with tools that both affect performance and show us that we’re making the requisite difference. Seems easy when it’s said like this. But whilst it’s not easy, it’s certainly less risky, and faster, and more cost-effective, and more focused on achieving the required results than buying the technologies we’ve always bought and hoping to get a different result this time.

So What Should You And Your Team Be Doing Instead?

I’ll condense this to three key differences that will immediately get you and your team moving in a digital direction, get you off the L&D treadmill, and break you out of the status quo towards digital transformation. And I’ll give you a clue, not one of these steps is buying an LMS and filling it with e-learning…

1. Get The Data

Acting on gut feeling or being motivated to do something due to the absence of an up-to-date programme are not reasons to build one. The perpetuation of the L&D status quo begins at this stage of the process. Acting on too little information and quickly translating performance and productivity issues into learning needs frequently results in the creation of ‘learning solutions’ that address the real problem like a cuddle fixes a broken boiler. It’s at the very earliest stages that we should challenge ourselves (and our teams) to get the appropriate data to show there is a real problem that needs our attention and quite precisely where the problem lies.

If you have a hypotheses (i.e. we need a new induction) find the data to back that up, otherwise it’s a hunch and whatever you do, it can’t ever be right (beyond the satisfaction ‘measured’ on happy sheets). As this Harvard Business Review article demonstrates, if you have a hypothesis, then you can test that by finding the data to validate or challenge it. Let’s take induction as an example.

As the HBR article states:

“Start with something… “

Perhaps you think you need to work on induction?

“Whatever it is, form it up as a question and write it down…”

What’s currently not working in relation to new starters?

“Next, think through the data that can help answer your question, and develop a plan for creating them. Write down all the relevant definitions and your protocol for collecting the data.”

Relevant definitions may require you distinguishing between types of new starters. If you work in a Contact Centre then you may recognise your core Operators as being a key target group, distinct from all others. In a Head Office environment, there may be less obvious commonalities between new starters. If you can, then be very clear about who you mean.

Another definition to be clear about may be when the induction period begins and ends? Is it from Day One? Is it until they pass their probation?

Then think about the data that may help you answer your question. What are your organisation’s key determinants of new starter success, i.e.:

These are just a few quantifiable suggestions for what might be (or what might not be working) in the new starter experience that affects all parties.

Then collect the data. Yes, I know you – and your team – want to get started and just do something but hold your horses. As Lewis Carroll quite famously said:

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”

…and then you’ll be left trying to justify your efforts (and the value your team adds) by conjuring up a largely fictional ROI number.

Plenty of the data you need will be close at hand and once you know who has access to it, then it’ll be easier to get it again to check your progress. But spend the time to put measures in place on your key metrics so you can trust your data.

This may seem like a lot of work before getting you to a solution but – trust me – this is where the transformation of L&D begins. If you know what, and where, the real problems are to be solved then you begin with data and a starting point. Everything you then do should be focused on moving the needle in the direction of improvement.

2. Understand The Experience From The Employee’s Perspective

You want to affect the performance of people so the next step is to find out what they are doing and what they need, in service of their goals. User-centred design puts the people you wish to help and influence at the heart of your solution – not just at the butt-end.

Too often, L&D don’t know what the goals are of new starters, new managers, technical or functional experts, or whoever they are trying to affect, and so they create goals for them. These may be ‘learning objectives’ or other assumptions made in the design of a programme. However, most people know – at some level – what their goals are. Maybe it’s to know how to get the right things done at their new company; or to understand what the role of manager is; or what they need to do to be seen as promotion material. By using your data to recognise distinct groups that are affected more (or more regularly) than others and understanding their experiences in relation to your data you dramatically increase your chances of stepping in the right direction. Find out what they are trying to do, (i.e. when they join your organisation) and what’s getting in the way. You can use an Employee Journey Map (see below) to help with this and visualise what new starters are trying to do, when they are trying, and what friction they are experiencing as they do.

In the context of new starters, friction may be as simple – and as diverse – as:

Organise the post-it notes in a chronological order so you end up with a temporal reflection of their journey and challenges. These may include:

Add more post-it notes until you have as complete a reflection as is necessary. You’ll know you’ve finished (for now) when you get a positive response to the question:

“If we addressed these together, would you then be able to do X*?

*When X relates to what they are trying to do when they first join your organisation.

The power of this exercise is that, afterwards, you can pretty much see the solution on the wall in front of you. All you need to do is work out how to bring it into real life.

But perhaps you don’t want your team to run an exercise as formal as an Employee Journey Map – and that’s ok. You might want to speak with some people individually. You just need to find some way of understanding how your data is reflected in reality. Going straight to the source – those experiencing what your data is showing – is the shortest way to make sure what you do next hits the mark and positively affects their experience and, therefore, positively affects your data.

3. Run An Experiment

Your Employee Journey Map will show you what needs to be addressed and your ability to move quickly and help address the highlighted problems can immediately start making a difference.

Now, L&D people love to create programmes – and are highly skilled in doing so – but this is not going to be the case with this experiment. Your Employee Journey Map has highlighted the situations, challenges and questions that are being faced and so all you need is a timely response to those. User-centricity, at this stage, means considering this from the perspective of the next person coming into your organisation and not the topics that you want to deliver at them. Challenge your team to use their imagination. To take every cap off their limitations and consider the ideal journey, according to those new starters. Digital tools should help you to deliver this journey, in service of those who will be expected to perform – and not just serve L&D in the delivery of stuff. Think user. Think results.

It may be as simple as a ‘how-to guide’. It could be a screen-recording showing system or process protocol. It could be a short video of an experienced colleague explaining what works for them. It could be about getting people together for a conversation, including those directly involved and somebody who is experienced in what they are trying to achieve. Sky use a comparable approach and call it a Minimum Valuable Product which is laser-focused on improving the work experience and results gained, which in turn affects the data.

The hardest part of all this is knowing what needs working on (the actual situation, challenge or question) but you have data and examples from the previous two steps. Step 3 is about providing digital resources or opportunities to meaningly connect people together in response to each situation, challenge or question. Of course, an experiment must include the target audience, so – in the case of new starters – those next through the door should experience the outcomes of your experiment to address their pain points (as uncovered by recent new starters). The right technology will help you to get where these employees actually are, when they really need support and guidance: At their point of need, in the flow of work.

Platform analytics will show you when and how employees engaged; how useful that engagement was to them (in the context of what they are trying to do and with the change you are working to affect); what else is required in order to achieve the desired results; and what else might be missing. To re-emphasise, the right technology should be doing this hard work for you. On top of that, modern tools will automate this process, creating workflows that get the right information, know-how and insights to those who need them, when and how they are most useful.

For example, in induction, this could mean:

Each of these can be created in next to no time, if you have access to those who know. Production doesn’t need to be professional – it just needs to not be unprofessional. The key is to make it useful to the people you’re trying to help. Think: Minimum Valuable Product (and refine it if it works).

How To Get Started

In a nutshell, these 3 steps ensure that your team know they are working on the right stuff in the first place and that rigour is applied to this decision. Creating a fast and effective route to what employees are actually experiencing – and struggling with – means that all resources (time, money, attention, and credibility) are spent wisely, in direct service of the data. And having stepped back and seen what needs attention, addressing these specifically and using smart technologies in order to package and automate your solutions means technology is working for you and your team and not the other way around.

When what is happening is inverse to all of this (i.e. you have technology that you’re seeking usage for, or – even worse – you’re trying to gain engagement in stuff that doesn’t serve your clients in the context of their primary reasons for showing up) then you and your team are slaves to the technology. You and your team will change this relationship with your tech by changing yourselves first and viewing your potential differently.

So let’s stop pretending that e-learning is just misunderstood by our clients or they don’t have time to learn. They do have time to learn – they do so every time they face challenging situations in the context of their work. So let’s support and guide them when they actually need it (during important transitions) and not a false situation whereby we expect them to down tools and look at largely generic e-learning that doesn’t reflect their situation or ambitions.

Help your team to realise that learning in the flow of work is where L&D is going and that it’s about the work and not about learning in the way that L&D have traditionally delivered it.

So challenge your team. Give them permission to experiment but hold them accountable for doing the right things in the first place.

David James is Chief Learning Officer with Looop and was previously Director of Talent, Learning & OD for The Walt Disney Company’s EMEA region.

Now an authority in contemporary L&D practices, David works with businesses to develop and implement social, agile and digital learning strategies that make learning work, with Looop.

See also:

How L&D Is Holding Itself Back From Digital Transformation

How To Gain C-Suite Support For Your L&D Transformation

How Sky Develop Their People At The Point-Of-Need And At The Speed Of Business

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