Using Data to Disrupt L&D, with Barbara Thompson

January 15, 2020

Written by Tamara Burgess

Disruptive L&D leader Barbara with David James


With over ten years’ experience in L&D and a passion for continuous improvement, Learning Experience Architect Barbara Thompson is a disruptive, modern, L&D leader. 

Looop’s Chief Learning Officer David James had the pleasure of catching up with Barbara on the L&D podcast for a thought-provoking conversation on transforming L&D with data.

Read on for Barbara’s four main L&D dos and don’ts, or tune in to episode 12 of the L&D podcast for the whole conversation. 

Data: The Core Component of Disruptive L&D 

The foundation of any disruptive, or successful, transformation is knowing what an organisation’s real problems are.

Real problems flow from data, not assumptions. 

Real problem: “Our one-year churn rate across the business is 55 percent.”

Fake problem: “We need a three-day workshop to train our new starters.” 

Barbara says that L&D is not going to “drive you [your business] where you need to be” unless you have a real understanding of “the business you’re in” and “the friction that people have”. 

For Barbara, transformative L&D means “rethinking everything”. From “understanding what we should be working on and our use of data” to “the whole perception of digital and how we demonstrate our value.” Amazon, “didn’t just create a really nice shop-front to sell warehouses full of stuff”, instead they identified the level of convenience that people wanted and solved for that, very real, requirement. As a result, it’s the biggest internet company, by revenue, in the world. 

Transformation isn’t looking for new problems to solve with shiny new tech or dumping content on employees in the hope that they’ll take notice. It’s problem orientated. The role of the L&D team is to bring value to the organisation by solving for those, very real, problems.

Need practical advice on how to start using digital to solve real problems? Download the disruptive L&D playbook by David James

Barbara’s 4 L&D Dos & Don’ts

If you’re committed to putting the employee at the heart of your L&D programme, check out Barbara’s four recommendations for a successful L&D strategy. 

1. Don’t Tell People You’re “Transforming L&D”  

Why not: It might sound counterintuitive, but the word “transformation” can carry a lot of baggage with it 一 especially within businesses that are emotionally invested in the current order of things. Telling people that you’re “transforming L&D” can set the wrong expectations, or worse yet, raise the alarm. 

What to do instead: Have quality conversations with employees across the business and get familiar with the challenges that they face on a daily business. From these problems, you’ll find solutions that aid performance

2. Don’t Focus on Learning Activity

Why not: Learning KPIs like “attendance rate” and “number of questions asked” give no clues on how effective an L&D strategy is. Data on learning activity only serves our L&D egos. It’s irrelevant to the end-user so it won’t help a user to navigate, and overcome, business friction.

What to do instead: Focus on the data that comes from having quality conversations. As Barbara says, if you’re able to say “The data is telling us this. Therefore we’d like to invest in X.” You’ll be able to on the front foot. You’ll be able to have the kind of insightful conversations that spark the change for organisational performance. 

3. Don’t Design the L&D Programme that You Want

Why not: The architect of a system has different requirements to the end-user. Ultimately, all that matters in an L&D programme is what the user 一 the employee 一 wants and needs. L&D often keeps itself busy by conjuring up problems to solve rather than finding out what employees and the business need in order to shine.

What to do instead: The sentiment “10 minutes in planning saves an hour in execution” really holds true here. Understand what user experience (UX) truly is to solve problems at the employee’s point of need. That way, your L&D programme won’t end up being an unwanted, unused relic.

4. Don’t Operate Under the Radar 

Why not: You might be tempted to “perfect” your innovative ideas before sharing them, but there are two problems with this approach. The first is that no idea is ever perfect 一 even more so if it’s an untested idea. The second is that you won’t be able to fully understand the business friction if you work as a silo. 

Barabara recalls the time that she worked on a web app for global graduates:

“I was using the beautiful imagery on Unsplash and I took it to go and test. They said ‘the essence of it works really well, it’ll really help us.’ But they didn’t care for the imagery because it had no resemblance whatsoever to the organisation. For probably two or three minutes, my ego was slightly bruised. But actually, that’s exactly what we needed to hear. We needed to test it and iterate.”

What to do instead: Barbara’s advice is that you test and iterate upon your ideas. Start by designing a minimal viable L&D programme and then use employee feedback to keep improving. As a result, you’ll be in the position to create something truly transformational. 

Need practical advice on transformational L&D? Download the disruptive L&D playbook by David James or speak to our L&D experts

Connect with Barbara Thompson on LinkedIn and Twitter

Connect with David James on LinkedIn and Twitter

You May Also Like…