L&D Podcast AMA with David James Pt 2: L&D Today at Its Best (& Worst)

January 13, 2020

Written by Tamara Burgess


In this special episode of the L&D podcast, David James (L&D podcast host) opened the floor for an AMA (Ask Me Anything) session. Following on from Part 1: The Good, the Bad & the Frustrating, in this second post of a three-part series, David discusses some of the pitfalls and challenges L&D faces today.

Check out episode 13 of The L&D Podcast.

Is it time to rename L&D to L&P (learning and performance)?

There are so many opinions on this but it is an important and valid question because the “learning” moniker often focuses us on the wrong things. I mean, shouldn’t we be focusing on the goal rather than the means? 

When people are learning in the context of their work, they’re trying to do something in service of their goals ─ which might be around immediate performance, tasks, or prospects ─ but the “learning” is the middle bit. 

I’m actually drawn towards “performance and capability” because I think it speaks to both ends of the spectrum. The performance part, which is around the individual, is the job that needs to be done and to the extent that results are delivered. And the capability part is important for the organisation. Either way, I do think we need to lose the “learning part”. 

Do learning professionals need to become learning engineers or learning producers? These are hot new terms, what are your views? 

Building on what I said before, I don’t like the learning part ─ we don’t produce learning, the learning part is an internal process in service of a particular goal

I like what Andrew Jacobs has to say on this. He’s written about, and talks greatly around, moving from shopkeepers to engineers. If we think like engineers, we think in terms of the systems. Rather than trying to engage people in something that inspires the learning, we look at their system and find out does and doesn’t work in the context of their work. 

I like the term “engineer”, but an engineer of what? If we go back and focus on driving performance through learning, we might want to call ourselves performance engineers. 

Is there a big gap between those who advocate in a more modern performance focused development approach and traditional L&D themes?

Yes, I think that some of the problems in learning and development are that we take new terms and then look at the old practice and rebrand them. The gap is big because these two worlds start from very different places, but the gap isn’t insurmountable. 

The thing I’ve found that requires the most work is having L&D people “un-restrict” their thinking about what we should be doing in service of people, instead of taking the programmatic or product-focused traditional solution.

Why do we do such a poor job at developing L&D professionals? What could we do to solve this?

I think it’s because we grow learning and development professionals from the bottom up, starting the evolution process from scratch time and time again.

What does the ideal outcome look like? How do we make that learning better? It’s nano, it really is. We need to think big and understand what people are really trying to do and solve their problems in the flow of work, rather than our problems in the context of learning.

Should employee L&D be voluntary?

I think it should be voluntary, but if people aren’t engaging, I think it’s up to L&D to explore why that is. We should ask: what do employees really need? 

I think people don’t always engage voluntarily because they aren’t given what they need, when they need it, in an easily accessible format. If we use data to find out what people really need, the learning becomes automatic as they’re solving their problems in real-time. 

Has the time come to abandon the traditional LMS, LNA and TNA as they tend to serve what L&D delivers rather than what the business needs?

Yes! We don’t need to be looking at learning needs. We should be addressing business performance. 

When you speak with professionals who are in the midst of their transformational process, what do you often advise them to remember, or be careful about?

The key here is to focus on real problems. 

Real problems stem from data and are things like “team members are 50 percent more likely to leave within 12 months of a newly promoted manager being appointed.” Fake problems are things like not having an LMS, not having online learning, or not having a course to cover core skills

What do you think should be the first step to transforming L&D?

Re-imagine. Step out of the L&D world and speak to people. Ask questions about what people are trying to achieve so you can start finding solutions.

If we look at Spotify, for instance, they’re not taking an old model and then, just polishing it up for a new generation. They’re going back to how and why people want to listen to music. I think that that’s what we need to do in learning and development.

Don’t talk to them [your employees] about learning or training. Say to them, “When you came into the organisation, what were you trying to do and what was getting in the way?” When you’re talking to real people about real problems, you will start to uncover creative solutions. 

A big shout out to L&D podcast listeners Rob MoorsMichelle Parry-SlaterDavid PattersonMargaret BurnsideGrant SimmonsDamian McAlonan and Morten Max for the thought-provoking questions. Thank you!

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