Thursday, July 3, 2014

Evolution of L&D - Some more thoughts

I love the serendipity of the web. And as John Hagel said, we shape serendipity.  To quote Yossi Vardi, “Serendipity doesn’t just happen in a serendipitous way. You have to work for it.” I have seen this happen again and again when interacting on the web—learning, lurking, contributing and participating. And it happened again over the last two days.

I recently wrote a post on the Role of L&D in the 21C Workplace which made me a part of a discussion happening half-way around the world and of which I had been so far unaware. When Don Taylor responded with a comment to my post on LinkedIn and called attention to a post around similar discussion via Twitter, I was led to this thoughtfully written post by Kandy Woodfield (@jess1ecat), The Future of Learning: Are we equipped for it?  
I loved this line in her blog: “I want learning in our organisation to be personally owned but organizationally supported.” This is what we need to strive for – the future of L&D lies in providing each individual with the personalized support they need to develop professionally and personally. We need to become – what Jane Hart had said a long time back – Learning Concierges. Suddenly, I was part of a larger discussion and debate with people of similar passion and interest. All of these made me think some more. I love my PLN!

Now to get back to the topic of L&D today, which is what this post is about…
Today’s L&D is faced with myriad challenges as highlighted in the posts linked above. And we have to accept that: 
  1. These challenges are not going to go away – if anything, they will multiply. 
  2. Technology will continue to evolve faster than we can cope leaving us all feeling like the Red Queen. 
  3. Workplace composition will get even more complex – it will no longer be only five generations working together but each one working very differently indeed – permanent, temporary, project-based, across time zones, from different cultures and countries. 
  4. Everyone (almost) will have their own devices and maybe, even wearable. 
  5. They will expect to learn using multiple devices – and L&D will have to consider this. 
  6. And of course, the nature of work itself will undergo multiple paradigm shifts in the next 10 years or less.

How can L&D remain relevant? Or should we ask, will L&D the way we know it remain? Do we see L&D undergoing a name change, identity shift or morphing into a different entity altogether. Charles Jennings makes very insightful suggestions here: The Best of Times, the Worst of Times: Opportunities and Challenges for the L&D Profession

Here are some of my conjectures to add to the ongoing discussion. IMHO, L&D will need to do some of the following: 
  1. Work together across organizations, countries, verticals and sectors to form L&D CoPs 
  2. Share learnings and new ways of doing things with greater focus on building the CoP – domain, community and practice 
  3. Use technology as an enabler and not the main aspect of learning 
  4. Become a part of the “learner” community as facilitators and enablers, providing support where needed 
  5. Be aware of the various drivers impacting the economy and the world of work today. (Refer to this excellent infographic by Ross Dawson.)

It’s time to bring learning out of the classroom. And if we miss the bus at this point, we stand to lose the collective trust of business that L&D can make a difference and is the much needed partner to business. Now, the question is not “What to do?” We are more or less in agreement on that. The devil is in the details, so to speak. In this case, “How do we go about bringing the change and making an impact?”

I have mulled over this question, and it has often kept me up at night. I imagine myself as head of L&D charged with the responsibility of making a difference to the bottom line, looking at short term requirements while keeping an eye on the long term strategic changes needed, and often break out in a sweat. 
And I ask myself, “What would I do?”

Here are some things I could think of and looking to the L&D CoP to learn more… : 

Connect with business: Keep an ongoing and open conversation with business using the language of business. 
Here are some possible conversation starters. 
  1. What are the key business measures / success factors? 
  2. What are the impediments to success at the moment? (Probe deeply in this area
  3. Who are the customers? What do they want? 
  4. What is the future vision? 
  5. What are the key skills required according to business to make things work?

Probe to find out if it’s a training (skill-gap related) need: Very often, training gets treated like a panacea for all ills to show the “authorities” that something has been done to revive the business. L&D unfortunately becomes an accomplice to this. The need to appear useful and show some results drive L&D to tackle all problems with a course/program or training session. L&D needs to step into the domain of OD (Organizational Development) and do a Root Cause Analysis. We need to stop feeling irrelevant and insecure and ask some tough questions.
Here are some possible conversation starters: 
  1. What challenges are the team/business unit/project facing? 
  2. What processes are being followed? 
  3. Since when has this problem/challenge existed? 
  4. Has there been any change in processes, workflow, or even in leadership? 
  5. What makes business think it’s a skill-gap issue? (Probe deeply in this area
  6. Has any key member(s) left the team, i.e., are less experienced folks doing the work of more experienced people or vice versa? 
  7. How aligned is the unit/team with the overarching organizational vision/objectives? 
  8. Is the team a new one – think of the stages of team formation (Forming, Norming…) and not yet used to working together? 
  9. Could there be a motivation issue? Are employees happy with the overall org culture? Do they feel valued? 
  10. Is the team co-located or distributed? If the latter, what is the communication process? How frequent is it?

Some of these questions may seem irrelevant, but from my experience, they matter. These often un-uttered questions lead L&D down the rabbit hole of courses and training programs. In the process of digging deeper, it is entirely possible to uncover information that the organization was unaware of and which could be a major cause of the issue being faced today. In short, let’s not jump in to design training but let’s take a step back and see what is needed.

Be a curator: Make courses (where needed) more dynamic – put together a course outline
that includes custom content (only if absolutely needed) and direct the learners to related 
content on the web – blog posts, You Tube videos, SlideShare presentations, podcasts,
white papers and articles, and even links to Twitter handles of experts in the said area.

Be a facilitator/enabler: Help employees find what/who they need to solve their 
immediate problem. Become a Help Line that anyone can reach out to for guidance. This 
means being comfortable with the various tools and devices the employees will use at 
work; being willing to research and be a connector; and have an online presence to 
facilitate conversations. Moreover, enable workers to use social tools to develop their 
own PLNs – within and outside of the organization.

Partner with HR: While L&D is a part of HR, we often tend to forget that.
L&D’s role should ideally start at recruitment itself: 
  1. To understand the kinds of individuals the organization is hiring and the reasons behind that 
  2. To prepare for onboarding that makes it meaningful for new hires 
  3. To connect new hires to relevant communities within the organization that will facilitate quicker learning and shorter time to productivity besides building a connect 
  4. Work in partnership with HR to think through the entire capability development framework in an organization.

Refrain from making skills/capability related training mandatory (if there has to be a 
training at all): Adults want to do well in their work and they are the best judge of how 
they want to learn. Provide different ways to acquire the skills – short courses, job aids, 
reference resources, links to external content, connect with experts, and so on. The 
employee will choose what suits him/her best at that point. When designing compliance 
courses that have to be mandatory for the sake of the org, make them crisp and succinct. 
Adding unnecessary games, locking progress and loading with irrelevant, good-to-know 
content is best avoided. 
These are just some of the things we can do. There are many more requiring a much more incisive approach and mindset.

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