A warm summer evening with a light breeze. A table laid under a canopy of fairy lights for 19 department heads including your seat at the business table as the invited representative from the L&D department.
You stand at the garden gate, taking in the scene of pre-dinner drinks, the conversational murmur interrupted by an occasional jovial laugh and the clink of two glasses meeting for cheers…How do you feel?
Food for thought
Some of you reading this will feel trepidation; some of you will feel elation. Some of you will feel excluded; some of you will feel invited.
‘Why does this matter?’, you ask.
I believe it matters because it describes the current collective psychological state of L&D in its broader organisational context. It picks up L&D’s call to, ‘finally have a seat at the business table’ – as can be observed in various social media laments.
At the same time, it also shows another world view which says that there always was a seat at the business table; it’s only a matter of taking your place and joining the business end of the conversation.
‘Uh, since when do we have dinners outside under a canopy of fairy lights?’, you ask.
Well, tell me one thing that has remained the same in our collective work environment since March 2020? So, we might as well use unthinkable settings to make a point!
In the end, it is this, thinking the unthinkable, that will take L&D – and indeed organisations worldwide – into our new, future reality. It will take a move away from a narrow lens focus, towards wide-angled shots, to see the new lay of the land before us.
What do I mean by that? Let’s look at some issues together:
I like food, so let’s stay with the analogy.
For starters, hybrid work models are here to stay. There will be no going back to offices as they were BC (‘Before Covid’). So, how is your appetite for proactively starting a conversation about what this means for your undoubtedly well-planned training calendar? Are you still hoping to ‘finally go back’ to half- or full-day, face-to-face training in a CBD location?
Well, what about the team members and stakeholders who have since moved up the coast, still merrily ‘Zoom-ing’ in bare feet and enjoying the non-commute life, being outrageously productive while doing so? What is your business answer to this conundrum? And if you are unsure, who could you liaise with to suss this out for the benefit of all involved?
Productivity levels are at a record high and must remain so to counteract the acute cross- industry skills shortages. And yet, learning must go on; some of it for sheer technical or compliance purposes and some to bolster soft skills organisation-wide.
What to do?
Well, to keep everyone eating while some are remote or highly mobile and some are sitting down to learn, let’s open all avenues to feed everyone the way they need it.
Some learning will still require more formal settings – take, for example, workplace ethics training and learning modules about internal copyright policies. However, much fare that can push the performance needle into the green zone should happen in the flow of work. This includes task-related knowledge bites that may be needed frequently or not but, in either case, matter for a successful task fulfilment outcome. How are you planning on bringing learning into the business where and when it is needed? What platforms do you suggest and how do you adapt the learning to suit the purpose, the user and the task context? Do you even still discern between learner and user? Why?
Some things in life are an acquired taste and may sound strange when done differently from what we are used to. Notice how I placed cheese straight after the main meal? Well, I have taken you to France, where they do it just like this. Are you willing to try that awkward looking piece? You may be rewarded with the most in-depth, authentic experience of a different culture if you do.
That same principle applies if you dare to try user-generated learning content from within a business unit. It will look different from what you know, but it may be THE key to opening doors to many ‘A-ha!’ moments as your subject matter expert on the screen talks the learners’ language like a native – because they actually are.
Have you invited users to create learning content? Do you know how to tell the good content from the not-so-good content? How will you socialise the learning and what will you do with feedback and commentary from peers?
Once you decide to take a plunge into this new world of attracting learners to your ecosystem rather than pushing training out as a default setting, you may find something else: There is a sweet freedom in this approach, in that your life as L&D will become more rewarding and, in some aspects, easier.
By opening up a continuous dialogue with business units – by providing flexible learning solutions that are also measurable in terms of performance impact – you will be seen as a true problem solver that matters for the bottom line, rather than a cost factor and a ‘we-need-training-in-XYZ’ order taker.
What you may also find is that, by pivoting to new authoring tools and modern learning platforms, your life will become less complicated. If ad-hoc learning content update requests used to spin your department around like sugar in a cotton candy machine, you now are in mission control because you are in command of well-tagged, thus easily searchable and easily updateable, learning content. Pair that with authoring software that can be used by anyone in your organisation and can deploy to any platform, and you will see how wide you have now cast your net of influence.
Good business ideas often start over a good chat and a coffee (virtual or otherwise). So, which departmental leader, sitting next to you at your proverbial end of the business table, can you call today to have a chat to? Likewise, who are some external allies you can invite along with you if you feel uncomfortable joining that table on your own?
I am always available to be your sounding board if you need some ideas on how to proceed.
This article originally appeared in Training & Development magazine, March 2022 Vol. 49 No. 1, published by the Australian Institute of Training and Development.