In this special 13th episode of the L&D podcast, David James, L&D podcast host, opened the floor for an AMA (Ask Me Anything) session. From inspirational projects to downright frustrating situations, in this first post of a three-part series, David reflects on some of the highlights, and lowlights, of his L&D career.
What’s the most inspiring learning project you’ve seen?
The most inspiring learning project I’ve seen was the “Disney Digital Lab” which was run out of the Italian offices at Disney. Although I didn’t lead the project, I did have some oversight of it. The aim of the project was to transition a flourishing publishing business to digital. The business had a low proliferation of devices and therefore limited awareness and digital capability.
To make the transformation happen with a very low churn rate ─ I think the average tenure at the time was around 11 years ─ they had to develop people to work differently. They created mini, accelerated apprenticeships that were all run face-to-face.
The project team drafted in outside help and utilised expertise that already lived within the business to create digital labs. These labs helped to raise the awareness of digital and its potential capabilities. Employees were then able to redefine their jobs with this new framework.
The project was incredibly manual, but it was incredibly successful. It still inspires me because it solved a real problem. After all, you can’t solve real problems by simply running training programs. This project was designed to facilitate change within the organisation. That, for me, set the benchmark for everything else that I speak about, think about, talk about, and design and offer now to the learning and development market.
What was the most disastrous project and what did you learn from it?
There are, funnily enough, a few examples that come to mind… and they’re all my projects! Most of the mistakes that I made were during the design and delivery of training that had no impact. Perhaps the most prominent one is the customer service training I developed for frontline telephone staff. I squirm when I remember it because I think it made absolutely no difference. All I did was pull content that I’d already experienced on a training course and deliver it.
This ineffective training didn’t just cost money, but also the precious time of the attendees and myself, amongst other things. Of course, it probably cost credibility and all sorts of other intangibles. In hindsight, I made a lot of mistakes but they were a necessary part of learning the craft. I learnt that what “works” for one organisation doesn’t necessarily work elsewhere. I lost faith in delivery as a useful means of people development and started to think more systematically about problems and potential solutions.
During your time at Disney, what was your greatest source of frustration? How did you deal with it?
The Disney experience was an incredible one ─ excluding the learning technology. The LMS and elearning were dreadful.
I joined Disney in 2006 and left in 2014. The same learning management system was used throughout that time, with the same uninspiring content. You actually needed a training course just to understand how to use it. By the time that you finally made it to the content, you’d quickly find out that it wasn’t worth the effort.
I spent eight years at Disney either trying to drive traffic towards this archaic LMS ─ to help to justify the company’s investment in that tool, or looking for ways to reduce the pain of the end-user. It wasn’t until after I left Disney that I realised we can and should expect more from learning technology.
If you could only listen to one person in learning, who would it be?
That’s tough. I would say that if I was only going to listen to one person, it would be Tracey Waters at Sky.
Tracey’s been so generous sharing her practical views on L&D on medium and her team’s agile in learning series. I really value conversations that are grounded in the practical realities of business life solutions. You might have the best plan, but gritty reality will inevitably strike when it lands in an organisation.