Wake up L&D. Do festivals, not movies!
I’ve just completed a keynote at World of Learning in the UK, exploring some of the emerging technologies that are impacting today’s businesses. We covered the usual topics (AI, VR, mobile, personalisation), before diving into a fairly meaty dialog about how the entire Learning and Development industry needs to to re-calibrate a bit.
The “rude awakening” came from the realisation that there is a growing gap between many companies’ aspiration to change and adapt, and the real money invested in employee skills development. This is not to say that those businesses don’t want to invest in change – but rather that they don’t see L&D as a core part of getting there. We’ve seen this across many sectors, especially where the sector itself is evolving fast.
Star employees are most certainly learning – but they are working around L&D rather than being enabled by it.
It feels like L&D is in a race for relevance.
We explored several reasons for this. The most significant seemed to be a fairly fundamental disconnect between the metrics that L&D still hold themselves accountable for, and the goals of the wider business. Many still seem to use some form of “bums on seats” measure – which has almost zero alignment with the core business goals, and is hardly likely to be reassuring when the CEO/COO/CFO are tossing and turning in their beds, wondering how to solve current business challenges.
A bit like these train tracks – the goals of L&D, and those of their businesses are drifting further and further apart.
But all is not lost. Our session explored how this could be addressed by 2 strands of activity:
- dump all the bums-on-seats type of metrics used to evaluate learning, and instead try to measure impact against real, current business goals. Ideally in combination with other departments. Make them shared goals. Don’t measure what you did – measure what the impact was!
- embrace digital. Many of the latest tools for improved comms / workflow / management / data sharing are also great for learning. Use them as a channel to partner with other departments (silo-busting), and align much more closely with the wider business direction.
One metaphor that seemed to encapsulate a lot of this was challenging the audience to think about what sort of person, “L&D” would be. Most saw themselves as craftsmen or woman skilled at arranging a training intervention. A bit like a film director – carefully putting all the pieces together to create a finely honed learning experience.
My pitch was that the time for such a controlled environment is long gone. If you really want to embrace the fragmented portfolio of technologies that surround us, and create a really meaningful learning experience for the full diversity of your employees, L&D needs to be more festival organiser than film director. You need to give up some of that precise control, focussing more on creating an environment that encourages all sorts of different modes of learning to flourish. You dont want one platform (film), but rather an entire ecosystem (festival). Take care of all the enablers (good food, great music, first aid, etc) and create zones for different types of activity. But don’t expect to control it all.
Be a festival organiser, not a film director.
The workplace-performance landscape is changing fast. L&D has a golden opportunity to dive into the center, helping to curate change. But if all you are focussing on is those movies, you’ll be constrained to one tent at the edge of the field.
This idea seemed to generate real resonance with the audience. It connected well with the need to work across other departments, and align to a broader set of goals.
What do you think? Does it work for you too?