Driving Performance Through Learning with Andy Lancaster

October 20, 2020

Written by David James


Towards the end of 2019, David James spoke with Andy Lancaster, Head of Learning at the CIPD and author of the Kogan Page published book ‘Driving Performance Through Learning’, on The Learning & Development Podcast.

They had this conversation when Andy’s book had just been published and it frames the conversation around the changes that are affecting Learning & Development, its long-established practices and the required development of L&D professionals.

Read on for some of the insights Andy shared in that conversation, or tune in to episode 26 of The L&D Podcast for the whole conversation. 

What Can We Practically do to Support the Transformation of Organisational Learning to Really Support Performance Improvement?

There’s been lots of talk around ‘how does learning change and morph in order to really drive organisation performance and KPIs?’ For Andy, it was about writing something, exploring, researching and finding the evidence base for how we can actually support learning directly in the workplace, in the flow of work.

Wherever you are, Learning in the Organisation Needs to be Driving the Core Purpose

There is room for wider learning, personal learning, lifelong career learning. The essence of the book is how do we really ensure learning, which is quite costly in terms of the investment, really affects how the organisation performs?

It Doesn’t Matter What Sector You’re in, we Still Have to Drive the Performance of the Organisation

For Andy, if you’re in a commercial setting, it might be about Sales, it might be about shareholders, it might be about share price, but equally, if you’re in a Public Sector organisation, it’s about delivering excellent services for members of the public against, sometimes, really tight budgets.

In charities, you have a core purpose for why that charity exists. For Andy, performance is not a contentious word. If we are Learning professionals in organisations, an absolutely fundamental part of our role is to support the organisation to be brilliant at what it does, whatever that might be.

We’ve Got to do Things Differently

In terms of how organisations are changing, Andy has approached that from three perspectives; Work, Workforce, and Workplace. At CIPD they use these really useful lenses. 

If you think about Work initially, operational models are being disrupted everywhere. It doesn’t matter what sector you’re in, there are creative things going on, which means the way we operated a few years ago probably can be different. To that extent, our past achievements don’t guarantee success anymore. We can’t rely on the past. Planning is more difficult. We need to be more agile in our approaches, our customers, whoever they may be, are often more demanding now. Data is prevalent everywhere. The very nature of work means that the way we approach Learning has to change. We are no longer thinking about work in single workplaces with static workforces. It’s very different.

To that extent, Workforce is changing as well, with probably the greatest range we’ve ever had in the workplace. Andy’s son is now entering the workforce as an apprentice whilst he’s two-thirds of the way through his career and likely with his current pension to be working for a long time. We’re seeing the actual workforce is incredibly different, far more flexible. At one time, we had full-time employee status. Now, we have much more flexibility, aging staff, less hierarchy in organisations. Staff are more demanding of what they expect from the organisations.

Then there’s the Workplace. Single locations are really rare. We know that now. It’s about flexible working. It’s about collaborative working, and working using tech. 

Work, Workforce, and Workplace are changing so dramatically, that the concept of just running a course in a venue won’t cut it anymore, which is the premise of the book. We need to think about organisational priorities, organisational shape, workforce shape, workplace change, and think how learning fits in.

How do we Unpick the Concept of Just Relying on Events and Courses? 

For instance, to think about a dispersed workforce dotted all over the world with multi-generations working there, with new methods of management, maybe we’ve done that and perhaps the workplace is now far more technology based? For Andy, the exciting thing about having written a book is you realise the opportunities for this are absolutely brilliant.

There are huge challenges that challenge our whole framework of thinking about Learning, but the opportunities to leverage whole new ways of delivering Learning in the flow of work are compelling. This doesn’t mean we won’t be doing face-to-face events, but now moving learning into the workflow is a compelling vision which we must grasp.

You’ll Have Some Folks Who May be Resistant to Change

Some are considering change and some might be more at the pioneering end. Andy’s experience and privilege means he gets to go around the world and meet learning professionals in various sectors globally. In general, he doesn’t find change is a massive resistance. The biggest issue is: “How do we do this?”

Clearly, there are some who think face-to-face is almost core to their vocation. It’s a big challenge: 

“This is what I do. I stand in front of people.” 

For Andy, the compelling thing that he found is that people are struggling to make this transition to this three-dimensional world we’ve talked about. He says:

“I think one thing that’s really helped me in this, if I track back in my career, I had a number of years as both Head of Learning and Head of HR at one of the very large substance misuse rehab charities. This was working with people with heroin addictions, major alcohol addictions. Working in community projects and prisons or whatever.

What I learned working in that environment and seeing people struggling with the most fundamental changes in their lives is unless you paint a compelling vision, change is a very difficult concept to go with. The thing I learned from very experienced workers working with people struggling to achieve change was the compelling vision was really important.

Interesting for me when I looked, what are the change models we have? Kubler Ross, which is based around bereavement and major change, is a model which is steeped with negative emotion. I’m not saying that a change won’t have that but my experience is change does not need to be a fear-inducing prospect if the vision is correct. 

One of the models we used was called the Transtheoretical Model, which you don’t see appearing in very many places because it’s based in Healthcare, by Prochaska & DiClemente. Now, this is really important for me. They talk about pre-contemplation as the key starting point for change. That’s about, “Why do I need to change?” Which then goes into, “How on earth am I going to make the first steps in change?”

Working with folks who have substance misuse challenges, you paint a very compelling picture about the need for change. Then you build a very positive vision. For learning professionals, we need to have a very clear, foundational vision of what this looks like. It’s scary thinking where we’re going. To that extent, in one of the early chapters of the book, I challenged myself: Is it right to use an addiction model? The more I thought about this, in some ways, we are addicted to courses and events. There is an addictive nature to Learning & Development that we’re very tied into.

It’s not about resistance to change. It’s about, often, we are paralysed, not quite knowing how to go into that, which is why I spent all those hours writing Driving Performance Through Learning because this is a practical approach as to how you can make that shift in your practice.”

Find out more in episode 26 of The L&D Podcast. 

Learning Needs Analysis: It’s Time-consuming. It’s Difficult. It Tends Not to Involve Employees

This is the work that’s driving the Learning solution. Andy admits he has done Learning Needs Analysis based on totally subjective performance appraisals that were a year old.

We’ve got to consider the work, which is where Performance Consulting is the key. Performance Consulting is really what we need to be doing, which Andy believes frames Learning in the context of work in the organisation, not in the context of Learning. 

What we’re beginning to do is have meaningful diagnostic conversations about ‘what does work need?’ and ‘what do people need?’, and then we step back from that and think ‘does learning play a part in that?’. In Andy’s experience now, working as a consultant in big organisations, often learning might have a part, but we’re talking about systemic ecosystems. We need to get away from our traditional ‘this is learning’ to ‘this is a learning solution towards Performance Consulting’, and that’s a new skill set for most learning people.

Now, We’re Hearing ‘We’re Going to Spend Less Money’ but the Answer is Not Less Money. It’s How We’re Going to Target Resources for Maximum Impact

Those of us who have designed programmes, say Management Development programmes for example, we’re packing people into hotels and office buildings and we’ve realised this is not an efficient model for learning.

For Andy, the Performance Consulting piece, having talked to some fairly senior leaders recently, stabs at the heart of the learning professional who’s like:

“We’re not particularly interested in what you’re running, in many ways, what we want to know is, is the learning function actually having an impact on what we’re doing?”

Years ago, we used to count the number of bums-on-seats. How many training days have we delivered? What’s the average spend-per-employee? These are, in a sense, meaningless figures. The bottom-line is Performance Consulting conversations getting to the crux of what we’re trying to do and asking ‘what is the organisational outcome we’re driving?’

We’re not going to track meaningless data if it’s Customer Service. What are the complaint levels? How do we support learning in the flow of work for staff to drive better Customer Service? 

In Driving Performance Through Learning, Andy went back and revisited Performance Consulting models. This was an eye-opener for him, since there are many. Without giving them away here because if you want them, you can buy the book, but Andy managed to distill some cracking questions.

These are the showstopper questions which we as learning professionals need to get on to. Part of it, for Andy, is having the conversations with the right people. That includes learners, and it includes business leaders and managers. We need to get out into the ecosystem, not be driven by Learning Needs Analysis, which is saying it’s going to be a learning solution. We may come back and say:

 “You know what, folks, we don’t need a learning solution here at all. What we need is a system change”. 

For Andy, one of the foundations for this shift, this new vision, is we move to Performance Consulting conversations where we forensically diagnose what we need to do to support performance.

A Number of Learning Professionals are Struggling With Their Own Professional Development

In order for Andy to be able to go in and diagnose and support a creative, modern workplace-based solution, he needs to be a modern learner himself. The evidence we have and, again, it’s in the book, is just under 50% of L&D professionals are extremely concerned about the state of their own professional development. If we go back to the initial model, is there a resistance to change? Maybe some. But a lot of people want to change. It is time to be experiencing what it is to be in digital communities and to create digital content.

We need to think about what’s going to drive the learner’s experience. For Andy, the smart device is absolutely fundamental in this. It’s changed the way we live. Andy used it to track his way from the station to meet David to record this podcast, as well as using it to find a coffee shop the same morning. For a lot of learning professionals to understand even how a smart device can support learning is absolutely crucial on this one. Andy has an acronym in the book called FACTS, which is Flexible, Accessible, Collaborative, Tailored and Step-change. Now let’s forget, LMSs. Let’s forget LXPs. 

What we’ve got to do is we’ve got to have technology, where learning professionals could say:

“Is this flexible to enable anytime, anyplace learning?

Is it accessible, that people can get hold of the stuff, great learning stuff when they need it? 

Can we link with other people, is it collaborative? 

Is it tailored, does it allow me to grab great personal content? 

Does this really have a change in practice, the performance piece?“

Andy thinks for learning professionals, we need to get a new philosophy for learning. We’ve been stuck down the behaviourist end of e-learning, compliance e-learning, 8 out of 10 tests. Read the stuff, do the test, see if you can change your behaviour. We’re now in a constructivist world where learners are helping to construct their learning. For Andy, he thinks one of the big game changers has to be that we as learning professionals experience a modern constructivist approach to learning, and then we can replicate what we’ve experienced ourselves.

The Digital Revolution is Affecting all Professions

What you would do in Marketing 5 or 10 years ago is completely different now. You look at the impact of social media on Marketing. We’re not in a vacuum here, but if we’re thinking about effective solutions, right now, most of that revolves around a smart device.

The fact it’s more difficult doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it, so there’s got to be a commitment for us now that we put the learner at the heart of learning and we put the learner needs at the heart of learning. It’s not just going to be organisational focus, but what they need. Self-direction is really important, that they have things that they’re pursuing, but providing the tools that people can be brilliant at work without being dependent on events. This is a compelling and very exciting vision for us in L&D.

Let’s Stop Using Pedagogy

That whole concept is around teacher-led with young people. That’s where it comes from. We need to embrace Malcolm Knowles and Andragogy and Heutagogy, where the self-direction is and what really motivates us. Bill Pelts is now talking about Techno-Heutagogy. The fact that the smart devices, which we have on the table in front of us, are now the means to support that self-directed learning. For Andy, this is the crux. There is a whole chapter in the book on this one because we need to think about supporting learners in what’s really important for them, their managers and the organisation.

Whatever Stage You’re at, Whatever Role You’re in, we all Need to Grasp a New Compelling Vision For This

We’ve got to get away from learning-focused diagnostics to thinking about diagnostics in the organisation. What are we trying to do? How do we design differently? Not with an event-based agenda but for a resourcing agenda, an empowering agenda for learners. That requires new delivery. Again, to emphasise, it doesn’t mean we’re not going to do face-to-face, as it’s appropriate on some occasions, but we need to think about how technology now supports us with that. 

Finally, Andy has shared a couple of quotes that we could instil in L&D.

Vincent Van Gogh is attributed with saying: 

“What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything? I dream of painting and then I paint my dream.” 

Andy says if Van Gogh says you dream about it and then you go and paint it. 

Abraham Lincoln is also credited with saying:

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.” 

Andy says Driving Performance Through Learning is a fresh way of looking at this. It’s about painting a rich new picture.

L&D Needs to Start Focusing on Business Outcomes to Drive Performance

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About Andy Lancaster

Andy Lancaster has more than 25 years’ experience in learning and organisational development in commercial, technological and not-for-profit organisations and has also worked as a consultant. As Head of Learning at CIPD, Andy is responsible for professional development and learning products, content and qualifications for L&D, coaching and mentoring and management and leadership.

Connect with Andy on Linkedin and Twitter

Connect with David James on LinkedIn and Twitter

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