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Book Summary: The Learning and Development Handbook – A Learning Practitioner’s Toolkit

The Learning and Development Handbook (2022) is a practical guide for human resources experts who want to upgrade how people learn in their organization without slavishly following new fads. So what’s their best bet? Michelle Parry-Slater thinks companies’ can benefit from the digital revolution, but only if they embed professional development in wider cultures of learning. That means one thing above all: working with the grain of human psychology, collective as well as individual.

Book Summary: The Learning and Development Handbook - A Learning Practitioner's Toolkit

Content Summary

Genres
Recommendation
Take-Aways
Introduction: A new approach to workplace learning.
Organizations can’t rely on old learning models in a changing world.
Face-to-face learning is popular, but not for the reasons people tend to give.
Social learning is deeply rooted in the human psyche.
Use internal experts to create equal access to social learning.
Tech is great for learning but the magic ingredient is motivation.
Summary
Final Summary
About the author
Table of Contents
Overview
Review/Endorsements/Praise/Award
Video and Podcast
Read an Excerpt/PDF Preview

Genres

Corporate Culture, Education, Management, Human Resources, Leadership Training, Personnel Management

Recommendation

Learning’s evolution away from the in-person, classroom and formal model toward a self-directed, blended, social and digital approach is well underway, learning consultant Michelle Parry-Slater writes in this comprehensive guide to the new world of workplace learning. While classroom learning remains the best approach in some circumstances, an organization’s overarching strategy should guide its approach to L&D. The author advocates for L&D to be more consultative than prescriptive; more inclined to curate content than create it; and more comfortable with analytics, AI and measurement.

Take-Aways

  • Workplace learning has changed markedly since 2000, and since the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Learning should align with and link to organizational strategy.
  • Executives, line managers and workers are responsible for learning.
  • Steer stakeholders to consider a range of interventions.
  • Start and end the process of learning design with evaluation.
  • Encourage social learning.
  • Embrace digital learning; make it relevant and engaging.
  • Consider all forms of learning and blend the best mix for the learner and circumstances.
  • Note six factors when putting learning into practice.
  • Learning evolves in organizations.

Introduction: A new approach to workplace learning.

Michelle Parry-Slater’s Learning and Development Handbook opens with an observation that’s unlikely to shock anyone. The workplace, she notes, is changing – fast.

The skills needed in today’s business world aren’t the skills we needed in the past. Keeping up with change means the same thing for organizations as it does for individuals: upskilling and reskilling. So far, so uncontroversial. Everyone knows that, right?

Well, knowing something and acting on that knowledge are two different things. Which brings us to a second – much more surprising – observation.

Despite the digital revolution, most companies still rely on classroom-based, face-to-face learning to train their employees. Studies show, however, that the typical employee forgets around three quarters of what they learn in such settings within just one day. Put differently, most companies are spending a lot of money and wasting a lot of time to achieve very little.

Michelle Parry-Slater is convinced that there’s a better way of doing things – that’s why she wrote this Handbook. And in this summary, we’ll dig into her alternative approach to workplace learning.

In these summaries, you’ll learn

  • Why training courses often aren’t about work at all;
  • What the digital present and the analogue Stone Age past have in common; and
  • Why it’s sometimes best to let people do their own learning.

Organizations can’t rely on old learning models in a changing world.

To start off, we’re going to be talking about learning in a particular context – organizations and companies. In other words, we’ll be looking at professional development.

Our question, then, is how professionals master new skills and pick up the know-how they need in today’s fast-moving workplaces. But before we get to that, let’s take a step back and think about learning in general. How does any learning take place?

From schools to universities, public talks, and office training programs, it often happens in a similar way. This learning model centers the sage on the stage. Let’s break that down.

Although the specifics vary, the idea is usually the same. There’s an expert – an individual with special access to some kind of knowledge. Then there’s the audience – the people who turn up at a certain time and place to learn from that sage. This model is face-to-face: everyone is present in person. It’s also top-down. The teacher talks; the audience listens.

There’s a reason this model is so common – it can be very effective. As we found out during the Covid-19 pandemic, something important gets lost when traditional learning environments like classrooms disappear. And there are things you really only can learn if you’re physically present. Online-only courses aren’t a great way of acquiring first-aid skills, for example. You need the real-world, face-to-plastic experience of breathing into a CPR doll. It’s the same with learning to drive – you have to sit in an actual car on a real road with a bonafide instructor.

Thing is, though, face-to-face learning isn’t the only way people can learn. It’s a cliché, but, like so many clichés, it’s true: the digital revolution is a game-changer. The smartphones in our pockets give us unprecedented access to knowledge, bypassing that sage on the stage. The laptops in our bags meanwhile allow us to work remotely, eroding the old emphasis on physical presence. These are simple facts, Michelle Parry-Slater says, and neither organizations nor learning and development specialists can wish them away. The upshot? We need new approaches to professional development.

That doesn’t mean abandoning tried-and true methods in favor of fashionable gimmicks. Immediately adopting the latest tech isn’t a cure-all. But we can’t just keep doing what we’ve always done because, well, that’s how things are done. What we need to do, she suggests, is spend more time thinking seriously about learning in this new environment. In some cases, face-to-face will still be the way to go; in others, it won’t. Oftentimes, the best approach will be to blend different models.

Take just one example. When the author worked with the Girl Guides, she looked at their first-aid program. She realized that some 80 percent of the organization’s refresher courses could be taken online. You just don’t need people to be physically present to sit multiple-choice tests on basic medical knowledge. A skill like CPR is different – you need to practice it for real, with an expert. And that’s what the Girl Guides do. They keep the analogue stuff analogue and move the rest online.

The point, here, is that face-to-face learning isn’t going away – it’s too important. But it’s not the be-all and end-all of learning. That, Parry-Slater thinks, is the key lesson for organizations and their learning and development teams. In practice, though, that’s often easier said than done.

Face-to-face learning is popular, but not for the reasons people tend to give.

In 2020, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, Britain’s leading association of HR professionals, published its annual “Learning and Skills at Work” report. Its conclusion: face-to-face learning was still the dominant approach to professional development in Britain. Evidence from other Western countries paints a similar picture.

Organizations, it seems, are resisting change and sticking to old learning approaches even as technological change opens up alternatives. But where does this opposition to new ideas and models come from? One factor is simple inertia. Learning in professional contexts has mirrored classroom-based learning since the Industrial Revolution. The idea that learning happens when an expert takes to the stage and delivers their knowledge to a captive audience has deep cultural roots. That’s hardly surprising – it’s an idea that’s been around for a long time.

That’s not the only factor, though. In fact, the most common argument in favor of face-to-face learning isn’t that it’s the only or best approach. The usefulness of remote and online learning models is well-documented, after all. The real obstacle to change is the stated preference of would-be learners. When asked, they typically say that they prefer classroom-based learning.

The problem for learning and development professionals is that you can’t just tell people that their ideas are outdated and that you know better. As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. Forcing those would-be learners to adopt methods they’re not sold on is a recipe for resentment – and very little learning. So where does that leave you – how can you persuade people to try new and valuable approaches which they might distrust? There’s only one answer, really: you have to find out what they’re actually getting out of face-to-face learning.

Start digging and you’ll often realize that there’s not necessarily a lot of overlap between people’s stated preferences and their real preferences. Teams might say that they love that three-day training course in a hotel on the other side of the country because it’s a great way to learn new skills. In reality, though, they might just appreciate the chance to spend more time with colleagues. Or that it buys them some time to think. Or, more simply, that it gets them away from the daily grind.

These are all good reasons to like face-to-face learning. Like school classrooms, events which require physical presence aren’t just about absorbing knowledge and honing new skills – lots of other things happen there too. And those things matter. Well-rested teams that know each other socially as well as professionally tend to be more productive – and happier. You don’t want to cut those face-to-face events because learning isn’t front and center, but it’s important to call a spade a spade.

If you find out that social bonds are important to a team, you’ve discovered another strategy you can use to foster professional development. That brings us to our next topic – social learning.

Social learning is deeply rooted in the human psyche.

Let’s circle back to the question we posed earlier. How, we asked, does learning happen? As we saw, in formal contexts it’s usually top-down and expert-led.

Lots of learning isn’t like this, however. It doesn’t involve experts; it takes place between peers. It’s horizontal, not hierarchical. Psychologists call it social learning.

Humans are social animals. We constantly pick up information and ideas from other people. We chat on buses and tell stories around water coolers. We listen to podcasts, read books and blogs, and watch movies. We gossip, swap tips, recount experiences, and observe how our peers behave in different social situations. That’s how we learn about the world. That’s social learning.

Social learning goes all the way back to the origins of Homo sapiens. Our ancient ancestors shared stories around campfires and on the walls of caves – the canvases for some of humanity’s earliest visual storytelling. Survival depended on watching and copying others. That’s how you learned how to hunt, light fires, and distinguish between delicious berries and fatally poisonous doppelgangers.

Of course, Stone Age humanity’s social world wasn’t very big – it usually extended no further than the territory of the tribe. Over time, the social world expanded. When the printing press came along, information began to circulate across continents. Nowadays, information circles the globe in seconds. Fundamentally, though, little has changed. When we watch amateur chefs cooking pad thai on YouTube or browse fitness forums, we’re doing something humans have always done: learning from our peers. Sure, it’s gotten a lot more technologically sophisticated, but it’s still social learning.

So what does this have to do with the summary – professional development? Let’s see if we can join the dots. To do that, we can turn to the work of the American educational psychologist and author Julian Stodd, who has written a lot about learning and development in the digital age.

Learning, Stodd notes, is built on trust. If we trust someone, we will believe that they’re telling us something important and useful, rather than tricking us into accepting beliefs that benefit them. As social animals, though, we’re primed to trust knowledge we acquire through social learning much more than the knowledge we acquire formally. That’s why, for example, so many people are happier to accept ideas they encounter online, from peers, than ideas that come from on high, from experts.

Stodd’s conclusion, like the author’s, isn’t that we need to reinforce the authority of experts. Instead, they argue that we should work with the grain of human psychology. If social learning plays such an outsized role in knowledge acquisition, we should find ways of incorporating it into learning strategies. So, to come back to professional development, here’s the question we need to ask: how can we facilitate people learning from each other for the benefit of work?

Use internal experts to create equal access to social learning.

So let’s look at the workplace. Of course, there’s a ton of social learning already happening even if no one is deliberately orchestrating it.

Say someone’s struggling with some software. They might go to HR to ask for formal training. But let’s also say there isn’t an old-fashioned, face-to-face course they could attend, or there is but it’s next month. Chances are, they’re not going to sit around twiddling their thumbs for a month. No, they’ll ask a colleague to show them how it’s done. Problem solved – right?

Not quite. The issue, here, is that offices aren’t perfectly egalitarian places. There are cliques and in-crowds and shared experiences which bind some people while excluding others. If you’ve just joined a new team, for example, or you don’t happen to sit next to the right people, you’re going to struggle to access information you need. Put differently, leaving social learning to chance is unfair.

And that’s why learning and development specialists need to step in. Question is, how can you do that? One strategy is to build up ties between team members and internal experts.

An internal expert is pretty much what it sounds like – someone who knows a lot about a certain area. For example, imagine a company has an accountant called Sarah. Her field of expertise is clear – she’s the go-to person for financial matters. But she might not know how to use the company’s holiday booking system. Abdul in IT, though, knows all about that. Luckily, the learning and development team has already drawn up a checklist of the company’s internal experts. When Sarah comes to HR with her problem, they can put her in contact with Abdul. Later on, when Abdul needs to do his expense processing, he knows whom to approach – Sarah from accounting.

The relationship between Sarah and Abdul is informal and horizontal – it’s based on social learning. But that relationship has been facilitated. It’s a result of the learning and development team adopting a deliberate social learning strategy. It’s playing the role of a skills matchmaker. By compiling a list of internal experts, it’s cut out a lot of wasted time and annoyance, too – just think how frustrating it is when you don’t know how to do something at work or who can help you. Best of all, everyone from insiders to newbies has equal access to help and assistance.

Another great way of nurturing social learning is to host lunch-and-learn sessions. The idea here is to get people who might not know each other all too well together at lunch to discuss a topic. Typically, an expert kicks the session off by sharing insights into their area of expertise and the conversation flows from there. Sharing ideas and stories over food connects to a very old and deeply rooted social convention, and it helps keep these sessions low-key and low-pressure. Although this is still work time, it’s ultimately just a group of people sitting around eating food and having a good conversation. And that really does connect the dots between human psychology, learning, and better workplaces.

Tech is great for learning but the magic ingredient is motivation.

Let’s wrap things up by looking at the digital revolution we mentioned at the beginning of this summary. As we said, it’s a game-changer. But that doesn’t mean it’s a silver bullet.

Thing is, we only learn when we want to learn. And technology is a means to an end – an awesomely efficient means to an end, but a means to an end all the same. Just think of all the great content that’s freely available online. There are entire libraries’ worth of brilliant ideas out there, just a few seconds away. But lots of people don’t use the internet to consume that content. Technology can give us access to learning, but it doesn’t drive learning. Not on its own. The missing key is motivation.

Motivation often gets lost in all the talk about digitalization. Yes, new tech has made it easier and cheaper to put lots of people through training courses at record speed, but how much are unmotivated e-learners really going to take from those courses? Answer: next to nothing. Boring learning that’s only there to tick boxes and keep overheads down doesn’t motivate anyone. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Instead, we need to think about another question: what does engaging, effective digital learning actually look like?

First off, it has to be short, convenient, and relevant. That means high-impact interventions at the point of need. In practice, that’s an intuitive online help functionality for new software – not a one-off, hour-long online training course that interrupts people’s workflow.

Second, it has to be made to the same standards as the digital media people regularly consume. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does have to be as well made as the YouTube videos they watch. Learners are motivated by the prospect of a quick win, and clearing these bars shows them that you get that.

Context also matters. Remember what we said earlier about people liking face-to-face learning because it gets them out of the office and gives them a chance to network? Well, people often dislike digital learning because it feels passive, lonely, and sedentary. We’re social animals; we enjoy learning with peers, not alone in front of a screen. E-learning, then, isn’t a stand-alone solution – it needs to be embedded in a wider culture of social learning. One way of fostering such a culture is to host regular drop-in sessions for people to chat about their challenges and experiences with tech. Sharing digital tips or links to digital tools as well as success stories of how people have used those tools via email is another option. Even better, you can challenge people to present ideas and tools they find effective. Anything that gets people talking and sharing is a winner here.

Summary

Workplace learning has changed markedly since 2000, and since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Work and workers have undergone revolutionary change since the dawn of the new century, making application of 20th-century teaching to the 21st-century workplace absurd. Workers – especially since the COVID-19 pandemic – demand new approaches, technology and a shift from classroom training to a broader blend of self-directed, online and bite-sized learning that better fits today’s faster, more dynamic work environment. Sadly, few organizations have embraced this shift.

“Face-to-face learning is no longer fit for purpose. It is not efficient, effective, enjoyable or engaging.”

Classroom training still has its place, just far less often. With portable and powerful smartphones, laptops and tablets, employees access and engage with learning content differently today. L&D professionals should rethink learning content delivery. With or without L&D, workers no longer have to wait for a course to learn what they need, or to stay productive. L&D professionals need to discover what workers want, what they need to do their jobs well and how they learn best, depending on requirements.
L&D professionals should enlist the aid of subject-matter experts across the organization to encourage peer learning and knowledge transfer. They should partner with line managers to emphasize the importance of learning, and to support each employee’s development. L&D professionals should stay on top of adult and workplace learning trends, technologies and approaches by building their own networks of external L&D experts and thought leaders. They should also attend conferences, watch presentations, and read journals and books.

Learning should align with and link to the organization’s strategy.

Beyond measuring the effects of learning programs against metrics that matter to the business, connect learning to business strategy and key objectives. Learning leaders should know their corporate strategy thoroughly, and build L&D strategy in relation to that overarching business strategy to ensure that all learning interventions and initiatives support it.

“Learning solutions have to be aligned to your company strategy.”

Talk to C-level leaders about their strategic needs, and then to line leaders and other influencers. This approach helps you learn about specific needs, hot issues and constraints learners may face. It also provides an opportunity to help leaders understand the value L&D can deliver, and may earn you their support.

Executives, line managers and workers are responsible for learning.

L&D cannot succeed without the active engagement of stakeholders. List the people you need to engage across the organization. Earn their engagement by making learning relevant to organizational and learner needs. Prepare a two-sentence description of what learning has to offer. Enlist the support of influencers, managers and executives by listening to them frequently and mapping their needs to your efforts.

“L&D can advise, can support, can cajole, can encourage, but people have to be on board and involved for learning to happen.”

Even when you recognize gaps in business needs that learning likely resolves, resist offering your ideas right away. Stay curious. Listen, consult and ask open questions – such as “why?” – to understand all challenges.

Steer stakeholders to consider a range of interventions.

When talking with an L&D professional, leaders will bias their thoughts toward applying learning to their problems, even when it’s not appropriate. Get to the root of the issue before discussing solutions. Ask leaders about various financial and non-financial costs of doing nothing. This questioning helps identify what success looks like and how to measure it. Ask for data to allow you to gain a deeper understanding of any problem or opportunity. Once you possess a thorough knowledge of the issues and of the precise gaps you need to close, then you can discuss solutions – including learning solutions, if learning proves most appropriate.

Start and end the process of learning design with evaluation.

For too long, both L&D and corporate executives allowed learning evaluation to come after learning – and, even then, the focus remained, primarily, on attendance and learner reaction forms. Learner impressions of their training, as captured in post-training questionnaires, tend to reflect the quality of the food, the temperature of the room and the entertainment value delivered by the instructor. Know what defines success – ideally hard measures important to the business – before you design the intervention, and use that knowledge to guide development and optimal delivery of the program. Wherever possible, link learning interventions to measurable improvements in key performance indicators (KPIs) for which your line leaders and executives are accountable.

“We have been getting evaluation wrong in L&D for years, and it is time to change.”

Evaluate learning with tools like Thalheimer’s Learning-Transfer Evaluation Method; Brinkerhoff’s Success Case Method, Phillips’s 6-Stage Model and Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels. When you use a methodology like ADDIE (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, Evaluation), put Evaluation at the beginning and the end (EADDIE).
Replace typical training evaluation questionnaires with three main questions: “What went well, Even better if…, and What is next for them?” Focus on measuring performance outcomes – ideally, against KPIs – not the learning itself. Measure less tangible performance-related outcomes, such as the effects of training on employee engagement. Use data visualization and storytelling techniques to report your findings.

Encourage social learning.

Recalibrate reward and recognition programs to recognize those who share knowledge and help others. Connect employees, so they can share knowledge, and coach and mentor one another. Whether explicitly teaching one another, conversing, sharing ideas, or offering advice and help, social learning comes naturally to employees, so organizations should leverage it.

“Social learning is simply people learning from people. It is the glue that sticks us together and the oil that eases our journey through life and work.”

L&D should encourage and facilitate any social learning already taking place. It should, for example, identify and leverage legitimate internal expertise through “lunch and learn” sessions, communities of practice, and via internal social networks or platforms. L&D should implement an internal mentoring program for two-way knowledge transfer, and curate learning content from the internet and other sources to provide learning pathways for employees.

Embrace digital learning; make it relevant and engaging.

Workers today find their communities online as often as in person. User forums, professional networks, communities of interest and the like abound on the internet. People learn from each other in these spaces. Like social learning, employees online engage in digital learning with or without the involvement of L&D.

“Digital learning is happening on work premises, in work time, to enable people to do the work they are paid to do, whether L&D provide it or not.”

Throw away any e-learning programs that make learners click through slides and take a quiz at the end. Make the learning relevant; strive to give learners snippets that they can use in the flow of their work. Avoid one-size-fits-all solutions. Help each learner get what he or she needs from your digital learning. Blend e-learning with face-to-face and other forms of learning to keep pace with change and to transfer knowledge within the organization as efficiently as possible.

Consider all forms of learning and blend the best mix for the learner and circumstances.

Blend classroom courses, podcasts, books, social learning platforms, digital networking events, webinars, conference attendance, and e-learning chunks and classes, depending on circumstances and objectives. Consider “flipping the classroom” when including in-person learning – classroom or digital. Ask learners to engage with digital learning, books and videos on their own, outside the classroom. In the classroom, focus on social learning and conversation, helping learners make sense of what they learned on their own.
The ICE framework can help you to determine where L&D should introduce learning solutions. ICE stands for Information, Communication and Education. People often need information, but information doesn’t always require education. Depending on its complexity and purpose, other forms of transfer prove more efficient and appropriate.

“Never forget the primary reason L&D exists – to help people perform better at work.”

Consider digital snippets of information and learning that help workers learn in the flow of their work. For example, a person who needs to know how to use one feature in Excel should be able to access a brief video, rather than be forced to stop, find a formal Excel course – online or off – enroll, wait, and then attend the whole thing when all he or she needs is a specific piece of information. When you interrupt a person’s flow, they become less productive. Encourage self-directed learning by helping employees assess quality content and by curating small items of high-quality learning. Structure self-directed learning chunks, so employees can easily search and find them, digest them and keep working.

Note six factors when putting learning into practice.

Consider the environment in terms of how learners will access the content; permission in the sense of what managers and leaders allow; and culture around how the work gets done and how people learn. In some cases, digital learning fails because the environment does not include access to computers and/or the internet for all workers. A blended learning course may fail because managers discourage watching videos, listening to podcasts or reading articles during work hours. Self-directed learning may never get off the ground because workers punch in and out and can’t even visit the restroom without permission, let alone direct their own learning.

“When people don’t know something, they just want to get the information and move on with their day.”

In addition, consider the ‘”3Rs”:

  • Required – The minimum a learner needs.
  • Resourced – What else you can supply to the learner.
  • Referred – What the learner can teach others.

By considering the bare minimum a learner wants and needs to get started, you set them on their path quickly. Layer in more learning later, if needed. This nurtures openness to more learning. Once this takes root, move toward getting people to share their learning, whether a book, video, a presentation or otherwise. Through this process, you build a learning culture.

Learning evolves in organizations.

Abrupt advances in learning often require disruption. COVID-19 likely revolutionized learning in many firms, for example, by requiring them to move quickly to digital and social learning. Normally, you should move adaptations in learning along at the historical pace of change within your organization, so that people feel comfortable with it. Learners might drive change, for example, by using their digital devices and the internet to learn, even if the firm has not yet caught up.

“Of all the gifts L&D can give to a learner, I believe it is the skill and habit of reflective practice which is the kindest of all.”

Build in time for learners to think about what they learn and to practice it on the job. This practice makes learning stick. Ask people how they might apply their learning in various work scenarios. Use case studies and virtual reality where possible. Work with managers to set expectations that learners will practice their new skills or apply their new knowledge when they return to their jobs.
Experiment, measure progress, adjust and repeat. Strive to make learning relevant and embrace multiple modes of learning. Exercise patience; learning change takes time and people may not appreciate your efforts at first. Celebrate every success and persevere.

Final Summary

You’ve just the summary to The Learning and Development Handbook, by Michelle Parry-Slater. The most important thing to remember/take away from all this is:

How we learn is changing – both in and outside the workplace. Digital technology has made it faster, cheaper, and easier to learn than ever before, but it’s no perfect solution. If we’re not motivated to learn, we’re not going to learn anything – regardless how fast, cheap, and easy it might be. That means HR teams need to embed new digital tools in a wider culture of professional development which foregrounds social learning and solves people’s real problems at work.

About the author

Michelle Parry-Slater runs Kairos Modern Learning in England and consults with organizations seeking modern, blended workplace learning.

Michelle Parry-Slater is an award-winning L&D professional with more than 15 years’ experience in the industry. She is the Founder and Director of Kairos Modern Learning, an L&D consultancy specialising in driving a shift from traditional courses to the best of digital, social and face-to-face workplace learning. Michelle Parry-Slater is also an L&D consultant for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), the Lead Volunteer for L&D for Girlguiding UK and was listed as one of the Top 20 Corporate eLearning Movers and Shakers of 2018 by eLearning Industry.

Michelle Parry-Slater | Website
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Michelle Parry-Slater

Table of Contents

Foreword by Laura Overton
Preface
Acknowledgements
How to use this book
How to use this book
Part One Practical L&D Tips

01 Practical L&D Setting the scene for L&D in modern practice with some immediate ideas to try Trying to solve new problems using old technology
Who are your learners?
Subject matter experts
Line managers
Personal learning network
Demonstrating value
What’s the work?

02 Strategy for L&D Looking taller and wider, building L&D from a business strategy Becoming strategic
What is the company strategy and what do we do with it?
Examine strategy carefully
Maintaining a strategic focus
Talking the language of your business
Macro thinking versus micro thinking
Starting from a position of strength
String theory

03 Stakeholder Engagement How to create better impact in learning by building great relationships Stakeholder engagement
The strategic latte
Stakeholder mapping
Building relationships
Difficult developmental conversations
Cake theory
The impact of stakeholder engagement

04 Consultative L&D Gathering evidence to ensure a future learning direction through consultancy techniques and impactful questions in order to make learning effective Myth busting
Fixer or critical friend?
Find your evidence
Consultative L&D questioning
And finally, learning solutions
Career management

05 Data and Evaluation How to use data and evaluation for full effect to support a move to more valued workplace learning Data definitions
Evaluation models
How to start better evaluation
Ask better evaluation questions
Seek out meaningful data
Showing value in data
Value chains
Presenting the stories from data
Data analysis in action

06 Social Learning Making the most of people learning from people How to get started using social learning
Model good social learning
Checklist of internal experts
Lunch and learn
Managing tacit knowledge
Curation
Communities of practice
Trust and culture

07 Digital Learning Steps to building a business case for digital learning The digital community
The beginnings of a business case for digital
Start with what you have
Different types of digital learning
Focus on motivation
The cultural shift
Trust and technology
Moving with the pace of change
The changing nature of work
Knowledge management
Digital learning drivers
The benefits of digital community
Digital learning in organisational context
How does L&D keep up?

08 Blending Learning How to offer a holistic approach to workplace learning The Whole 100
Mindset matters
Willingness to change
Shifting L&D skills
The importance of language
Branding
Trainers or facilitators
Working with subject matter experts
Practical ways to move towards a blend
Whole person learning
Blends we can measure
Part Two Frameworks

09 ICE – Information, Communication, Education Kairos Modern Learning’s framework for managing information ICE Framework
What is information?
Upholding the flow of information
The balance of teach and tell
This is not Comms versus L&D
Education and Communication crossover
Adult Learning Theory
Curation
Storytelling
Motivation
Knowledge management
The importance of Flow and Drive

10 EPC – Environment, Permission and Culture Kairos Modern Learning’s framework for building a learning culture Context of the EPC Framework
E – Environment
The physical space
The digital space
Getting environments right
Supporting people to learn
The actual environment
P – Permission
Permission online
Modelling behaviour
Enable creative thinking
The consequences of not addressing permission
C – Culture
The way things are done around here
Shifting culture
We’ve always done it this way
Reflect on the whole
What is next for L&D?

11 3Rs – Required, Resourced, Referred Kairos Modern Learning’s framework to develop learning solutions Purposeful learning solutions
Start with the end in mind, again
R1 – Required
Strip back to the minimum
R2 – Resourced
Ensuring good resources
Sharing resources
R3 – Referred
The 3Rs framework in pictures
Other design models
The move to digital with the 3Rs
The fourth R – Reflection?
The whole framework working together
Part Three Strategies

12 Evolution or Revolution Understanding your context in order to know how to approach modernizing your workplace learning Choosing evolutionary or revolutionary L&D
Progression at the right pace
Context
Emotions
The historical context
Your history of learning
Organisational stories
Skills
Recruitment
Normalising digital learning
Your why and business case

13 Reflective Practice The value of reflection and how to build it into your learning strategy L&Ders must be reflective practitioners
Solo reflective practice
Group reflection
Personal learning networks
Support networks
What did you learn this week?
Making notes
Wild writing
Feedback
The Thinking Environment
Taking action on reflection

14 Hold it Lightly and Celebrate Success How to be resilient on your change journey when promoting a new learning offer Life gets in the way of the plans
The progression and growth of learning
Dial down perfectionism
Celebrate success
The complexity of learning
Keep in relevant
L&D moving forward

In conclusion
Afterword: The story of #NoPlasters
Index

List of Figures
Figure 2.1  Girlguiding L&D Strategy Map
Figure 4.1  Virtual College
Figure 9.1  ICE Framework
Figure 10.1   EPC Framework
Figure 11.1  3Rs Framework
Figure 11.2  Three boxes
Figure 11.3  Three boxes plus assets
Figure 11.4  Three boxes plus assets plus journey
Figure 11.5  Three boxes plus assets plus journey plus community
Figure 11.6  3Rs Framework with added Reflection
Figure 13.1  Unconscious to conscious competence

Overview

The skills needed in today’s business world are not the same as they were in the past. Therefore, upskilling, reskilling and developing staff has never been more important. However, classroom training isn’t the best way to achieve this with employees forgetting more than 70% of what they’ve been taught within just one day. Learning outside the workplace is social, digital and immediate and companies need to embrace this to achieve the productivity, performance and revenue benefits that come from effective learning.

The Learning and Development Handbook is a practical guide for L&D professionals wanting to move away from traditional classroom teaching but not sure where to start. Full of practical tips and advice, this is urgent reading for anyone in the learning profession.

The Learning and Development Handbook includes advice on how to embed social and digital learning, make the most of blended learning, adopt brain-friendly learning and design more effective learning content for improved employee engagement and performance. This book also provides guidance on how to identify learning needs in an organization, gather evidence to engage stakeholders and align L&D strategy with overall business strategy. There is also expert guidance on how to evaluate and measure the effectiveness of learning, where to find the data needed to support learning activity. Written by an L&D practitioner, for L&D practitioners, this book is packed full of tips, hints, tools and models that can be used to improve both employee and overall business performance in the immediate, middle-term and long-term future.

Review/Endorsements/Praise/Award

“Michelle has been there, she’s got a whole collection of t-shirts and in this book she generously shares her extensive experience of what needs doing to modernise learning and make L&D more effective in organisations. As I read her words, I could hear her voice – it felt like she was sitting beside me as my personal coach. From the not inconsiderable #NoPlasters campaign, she has created a no nonsense treasure trove of practical ideas, advice, action plans and tips, with case studies to give meaning to what’s been achieved. Following her own advice, she includes plenty of reflection and gives the reader the confidence and encouragement to try things out for themselves. There is only one Michelle but if you invest in this book you’ll have her on your team and she’ll help you fly!” ― Joan Keevil, Chair of the eLearning Network

“In our fast-changing world the facilitation of engaging and effective learning requires a radical new foundation. Based on a depth of practical experience, this book defines a toolkit of strategies and tactics that now underpin successful organizational learning. Sound theory mixed with innovative practice makes this a must-read for those serious about impactful learning.” ― Andy Lancaster, Head of Learning at CIPD

“Michelle writes with complete commitment to helping L&D people achieve efficient, effective, engaging and enjoyable learning and development experiences irrespective of size of department or organization. The superb ‘short read’ at the start of every chapter makes it easy to get key information before deciding if you need to go deeper – perfect for busy professionals. This should be within arm’s reach of every L&D practitioner who is serious about modernising learning and aligning it with business strategy.” ― Jessica Chivers, coaching psychologist & CEO, The Talent Keeper Specialists

“An eminently useful guide, based on practical experience, and supported by research, this is a great handbook for any L&D practitioner looking to move beyond the traditional classroom delivery model.” ― Donald H Taylor, Chair, Learning and Performance Institute

“This is THE handbook that you need to read if you’re in L&D or any leadership or management role in your organization. It stimulates the creative juices to consider what could be next to help reach your vision. Packed with the practical, no-nonsense we’ve come to expect from Michelle, invest in this resource to level-up your thinking in this space.” ― Amy Brann, Director of Synaptic Potential, author of Engaged, Make Your Brain Work & Neuroscience for Coaches, Keynote Speaker, Consultant

“Making the strategic shift from training to evidence-based learning and development is no easy task when trying to create a continuous improvement learning organization with measurable impact. It is so much more than just terminology. This book helps with the pain and pleasure of operating in this space with practical advice, frameworks and strategies. As an experienced practitioner herself, Michelle understands that there is no one right way of delivering L&D but acts as a guide to enable you to find your own way supporting you with case studies, tips and ideas but more importantly that call to action to nudge you out of your place of comfort to deal with the complexity of the workplace in an ever increasingly complex world.” ― Shakil Butt (FCIPD, FCCA) HR & Leadership Consultant, Founder of HR Hero for Hire

“Organizations are looking for tangible ways to engage and develop their employees. Michelle Parry-Slater has created a handbook that brings L&D to life with a mix of being practical, strategic and accessible for one and all. Her work is relevant to all organizations and industries. It will be a fixture in my HR/Business quiver.” ― Steve Browne. SHRM -SCP, VP of Human Resources, LaRosa’s, Inc. and author of HR on Purpose and HR Rising

“I expected great things when I heard that Michelle was writing The Learning and Development Handbook and I wasn’t disappointed. Insightful, informative and brilliantly structured, Michelle really walks her talk as a Learning and Development practitioner making every chapter easy to absorb, learn from and relate to. Many handbooks can be dry times but this is definitely not one of them, I highly recommend this as a worthwhile read for anyone in business.” ― Lucinda Carney, author of How to be a Change Superhero, host of the HR Uprising Podcast and CEO of Actus Software

“I alternate between being an ice-skating and deep-sea diving type of reader and this handbook caters to both. I found that the short vs long read format makes it easy to get the information I need, in the way I need it. Not a book to be wasted sitting on a shelf, this will be a ‘go-to’ for me!” ― Amelia Clark, L&D Practitioner

“I was hooked on Michelle’s insights on the world of L&D when I followed her daily #NoPlasters tweets. This book is a long overdue evolution of that series and takes it to a whole other level. There is so much I love about this book, the structure is genius, the honesty of Michelle’s experience and the drive to share her learning about learning with others for starters. She really shows in this book the level of depth and breadth of this wonderful world of learning and development. It does not matter if you are starting out in your career of this amazing profession or have years and years of experience there is something for everyone in this. And the reading lists in every chapter will take you further on an amazing learning adventure. It is a page turner.” ― David Hayden, co-author of Learning and Development in the Workplace, Digital Learning Portfolio Manager (L&D) at CIPD

“This is a brilliant curation of helpful thoughts and sources of information, and as such is an excellent read and resource in itself. The quality content, clearly presented and simply said, is delivered in a warm, open, informative and engaging manner. It invites the reader to learn, reflect, draw their own conclusions and apply the practical content to their circumstances. Whether new to L&D or a seasoned L&Der, Michelle’s book will have you thinking, reflecting and growing as it provides both challenge and comfort around our practice and place in the world of HR and work, and beyond.” ― Denise Sanderson-Estcourt, Head of People, The Open Data Institute

“It’s not often I get really excited about a new book on workplace learning and development. This book from Michelle Parry-Slater is different. Michelle has the gift of explaining concepts and situations – especially in the corporate learning and development field – in an easy-to-understand way which focuses on the practical aspects and that is what we all need. This book is an excellent handbook of all things that the modern workplace training professional needs and I thoroughly recommend it to all in the learning and performance field.” ― Colin Steed, co-founder of the Learning & Performance Institute and founder of Learning Now TV
Review
“I expected great things when I heard that Michelle was writing The Learning and Development Handbook and I wasn’t disappointed. Insightful, informative and brilliantly structured, Michelle really walks her talk as a Learning and Development practitioner making every chapter easy to absorb, learn from and relate to. Many handbooks can be dry times but this is definitely not one of them, I highly recommend this as a worthwhile read for anyone in business.” ― Lucinda Carney, author of How to be a Change Superhero, host of the HR Uprising Podcast and CEO of Actus Software

“Organizations are looking for tangible ways to engage and develop their employees. Michelle Parry-Slater has created a handbook that brings L&D to life with a mix of being practical, strategic and accessible for one and all. Her work is relevant to all organizations and industries. It will be a fixture in my HR/Business quiver.” ― Steve Browne. SHRM -SCP, VP of Human Resources, LaRosa’s, Inc. and author of HR on Purpose and HR Rising

“This is THE handbook that you need to read if you’re in L&D or any leadership or management role in your organization. It stimulates the creative juices to consider what could be next to help reach your vision. Packed with the practical, no-nonsense we’ve come to expect from Michelle, invest in this resource to level-up your thinking in this space.” ― Amy Brann, Director of Synaptic Potential, author of Engaged, Make Your Brain Work & Neuroscience for Coaches, Keynote Speaker, Consultant

“I alternate between being an ice-skating and deep-sea diving type of reader and this handbook caters to both. I found that the short vs long read format makes it easy to get the information I need, in the way I need it. Not a book to be wasted sitting on a shelf, this will be a ‘go-to’ for me!” ― Amelia Clark, L&D Practitioner

“Making the strategic shift from training to evidence-based learning and development is no easy task when trying to create a continuous improvement learning organization with measurable impact. It is so much more than just terminology. This book helps with the pain and pleasure of operating in this space with practical advice, frameworks and strategies. As an experienced practitioner herself, Michelle understands that there is no one right way of delivering L&D but acts as a guide to enable you to find your own way supporting you with case studies, tips and ideas but more importantly that call to action to nudge you out of your place of comfort to deal with the complexity of the workplace in an ever increasingly complex world.” ― Shakil Butt (FCIPD, FCCA) HR & Leadership Consultant, Founder of HR Hero for Hire

“This is a brilliant curation of helpful thoughts and sources of information, and as such is an excellent read and resource in itself. The quality content, clearly presented and simply said, is delivered in a warm, open, informative and engaging manner. It invites the reader to learn, reflect, draw their own conclusions and apply the practical content to their circumstances. Whether new to L&D or a seasoned L&Der, Michelle’s book will have you thinking, reflecting and growing as it provides both challenge and comfort around our practice and place in the world of HR and work, and beyond.” ― Denise Sanderson-Estcourt, Head of People, The Open Data Institute

“It’s not often I get really excited about a new book on workplace learning and development. This book from Michelle Parry-Slater is different. Michelle has the gift of explaining concepts and situations – especially in the corporate learning and development field – in an easy-to-understand way which focuses on the practical aspects and that is what we all need. This book is an excellent handbook of all things that the modern workplace training professional needs and I thoroughly recommend it to all in the learning and performance field.” ― Colin Steed, co-founder of the Learning & Performance Institute and founder of Learning Now TV

“I was hooked on Michelle’s insights on the world of L&D when I followed her daily #NoPlasters tweets. This book is a long overdue evolution of that series and takes it to a whole other level. There is so much I love about this book, the structure is genius, the honesty of Michelle’s experience and the drive to share her learning about learning with others for starters. She really shows in this book the level of depth and breadth of this wonderful world of learning and development. It does not matter if you are starting out in your career of this amazing profession or have years and years of experience there is something for everyone in this. And the reading lists in every chapter will take you further on an amazing learning adventure. It is a page turner.” ― David Hayden, co-author of Learning and Development in the Workplace, Digital Learning Portfolio Manager (L&D) at CIPD

“An eminently useful guide, based on practical experience, and supported by research, this is a great handbook for any L&D practitioner looking to move beyond the traditional classroom delivery model.” ― Donald H Taylor, Chair, Learning and Performance Institute

“Michelle has been there, she’s got a whole collection of t-shirts and in this book she generously shares her extensive experience of what needs doing to modernise learning and make L&D more effective in organisations. As I read her words, I could hear her voice – it felt like she was sitting beside me as my personal coach. From the not inconsiderable #NoPlasters campaign, she has created a no nonsense treasure trove of practical ideas, advice, action plans and tips, with case studies to give meaning to what’s been achieved. Following her own advice, she includes plenty of reflection and gives the reader the confidence and encouragement to try things out for themselves. There is only one Michelle but if you invest in this book you’ll have her on your team and she’ll help you fly!” ― Joan Keevil, Chair of the eLearning Network

“Michelle writes with complete commitment to helping L&D people achieve efficient, effective, engaging and enjoyable learning and development experiences irrespective of size of department or organization. The superb ‘short read’ at the start of every chapter makes it easy to get key information before deciding if you need to go deeper – perfect for busy professionals. This should be within arm’s reach of every L&D practitioner who is serious about modernising learning and aligning it with business strategy.” ― Jessica Chivers, coaching psychologist & CEO, The Talent Keeper Specialists

“In our fast-changing world the facilitation of engaging and effective learning requires a radical new foundation. Based on a depth of practical experience, this book defines a toolkit of strategies and tactics that now underpin successful organizational learning. Sound theory mixed with innovative practice makes this a must-read for those serious about impactful learning.” ― Andy Lancaster, Head of Learning at CIPD

Video and Podcast

Book Summary: The Learning and Development Handbook

Read an Excerpt/PDF Preview

Foreword

by Laura Overton

Award winning L&D industry analyst, author and facilitator and Founder of the Towards Maturity L&D benchmark study

There comes a time where an organisation’s traditional approach to L&D is no longer enough.

A time when traditional classroom offerings are no longer sustainable, when the expected budget and resources are no longer available. When business is moving so fast that a traditional training needs analysis has barely begun before today’s critical demands have eclipsed the original urgent need. A time where the reskilling and talent agenda shifts from the HR plan to become your CEO’s top priority for driving business survival. A time where learning professionals have new opportunities to make innovative contributions that add a new levels of business value.

To be honest, the L&D community have been discussing for decades the need to revolutionise, rethink, remodel and reframe L&D offerings in the digital, ever-changing workplace.

It is all very well talking about the modernisation of L&D: the challenge comes when we need to act.

And that time is now.

My interest in modern learning practices started in the mid 1980s – fresh out of university and inspired by new technology to deliver learning any time anywhere. In the early 2000s my frustration with slow progress led me to revisit the question ‘How can learning innovation deliver real business value?’ Curiosity led me to establish the Towards Maturity benchmark study that explored the question from many angles around the globe.

During my 15-year tenure leading the Towards Maturity research study, my team continually searched for examples of effective practices that drove real business value. And we found Michelle Parry Slater. She was working at an international company, weary of travel as an L&D manager delivering workshops around the globe. Her vision captured our attention – learning that delivered practical business outputs required more than an injection of education. It was based on the opportunity to have great conversations, surface the best explanations and share ideas. Michelle’s Learn Share Grow model was at the heart of her online academy and her practical strategies for delivering her vision were an inspiration to many.

My own research showed that high-performing learning organisations such as Michelle’s embodied a refresh of ideas and a reframing of learning services. They consistently showed that modern learning strategies that deliver business results are focussed on business value from start to finish. They recognised that L&D is not just about providing content and information but finding new ways to equip individuals, teams, and the organisation as they adjust and adapt to new working models.

High-performing learning organisations embrace the holistic processes of learning – the formal, informal, natural processes that are both complex and complicated. They are not just the destiny of the elite, those with great budgets, full business backing or big teams.

High-performing learning organisations come from all sectors and business sizes. What sets them apart is that they are inspired and led by true learning changemakers, those who understand the changing requirements of work and are prepared to leverage their talent and the talent of those around them to meet those needs in new fresh ways.

Those learning changemakers are real people in real workplaces willing to explore, to act and to try something different to move L&D towards a more modern, consultative, blended learning practice.

Michelle embraces this philosophy and through her #NoPlasters campaign shared her valuable tips and encouraged others to do the same. This handbook takes that practice one step further as she explores the practical tactics, frameworks, mindsets, skillsets, toolsets and datasets we need to take the next step into a modern future.

As an analyst and writer, I know that capturing and sharing ideas can be exhilarating, but it is also something that demands courage and tenacity. As each word and chapter are finalised, you always believe you could have shared more. In this book, Michelle has shared just enough! Enough to make sense of a complex world, enough to build courage and enough to get started.

Michelle said at the height of her #NoPlasters campaign, ‘If I can help one person in their job to take the next step then it’s worth it.’ This handbook goes further, helping you to identify and take the best step that will help you make progress in your own complex world of work.

What is more, this handbook will stand the test of time. Michelle’s recommendations come from a deep-rooted sense of getting the work done – the work of unlocking potential, one step at a time. For me she is a true learning changemaker and this handbook will help all those in L&D who want to be the same.

Preface

Generally it is fair to say that people like comfortable shoes. We might try new shoes, but there is nothing like the familiarity of comfortable shoes: they feel nice, easy, warm, reassuring. The problem is they eventually wear out and don’t serve their purpose. I see L&D in comfortable shoes in many places I look. Coasting along; we need to change our shoes. Our organisations need to demand more of us; indeed we, need to demand more of ourselves. The call to action has been laid down for us (see the 2019 CIPD report Professionalising Learning and Development) and we need to rise to the challenge to offer more effective, efficient, enjoyable and engaging L&D.

Sukh Pabial, a friend and fellow L&D practitioner, sparked me thinking in a blog he wrote, L&D is not about simplicity (https://pabial.wordpress.com/2019/04/09/ld-is-not-about-simplicity (archived at https://perma.cc/YX42-QVRE)). That L&D is complex, indeed that life is complex, is the reason I wanted to write this book. L&D is complex because organisations are complex, people are complex. As practitioners, how will we ever get to grips with the complexity and provide learning which is simple enough to be understood, yet sophisticated enough to be, well, enough?

To simplify the complexity, I find it useful to understand it more. I encourage you to really get to know your businesses before you even consider what you can do in L&D for your organisation. As an L&D practitioner looking to simplify the complex, to be effective in your practice, and to modernise your L&D offer, I offer you this book to help you know where to start.

Many books you read, conference speakers you see or TED talks you watch will tell you their model, their way, their answers. They make you feel their way is the only way: within the walls of their book lies the one true answer to all the problems, follow these top ten rules on how to do this thing and there will be nirvana. As one practitioner to another, I can reassure you this book will not do that. There is no one way to navigate the complexities. There is no one nirvana. There is no one person who can influence the right answers for you and your organisation – this book has so many influences from so many people I couldn’t name them all. There is a way forward for you, for your organisation and for the people whose learning you are responsible for, but there is no one way for everyone. Wouldn’t life be boring if there was?

I am an L&D practitioner, like you. I am responsible for making L&D happen, like you. Over the years of experience I have gathered some thoughts and ideas. I have shared them via Twitter, via blogs, via the conference circuit, via Learning Now TV, and now here in this book to reach more L&Ders who may feel alone or frustrated at trying to achieve better L&D outcomes. I have been practicing my craft of helping adults learn for twenty years. I have been writing this book for one. We can but do our best. I therefore bring you my truth, what I know and have experienced in my context. I hope that it resonates with you and your context.

Within the walls of this book there are things to consider, to think about and to try. There are some frameworks, ideas, experiences and stories shared. But there is no one way. There is only your way for your setting. This book (and indeed any you read) needs to be considered only in light of supporting you to create your own way. This book is practical and will encourage you to be practical in its application. This book is not academic, nor massively researched, though I have tried to be evidence based. It is a book written for L&Ders who are looking to move to a more modern workplace learning approach. This book is to encourage you to step outside of your mindset and what you may know as truth. This book is simply here to help you to get curious, to help you try things, to help you feel brave, to be your cheersquad, to help you move towards more effective, efficient, engaging, and enjoyable workplace learning. This book is not the only way to climb your metaphorical L&D mountain, but I genuinely hope it encourages you to have a go.

An aside: a quick word on the word ‘learners’

I don’t like the word ‘learners’ really. People are people. However calling people people in some contexts doesn’t identify them sufficiently for you to know which people I am talking about. So for want of a better descriptor, in this book I will call people who are undertaking some type of learning, learners. Forgive me, I know you are all unique, individuals and worthy of more than a generic descriptor.

Protecting identities

On occasion in this book I cannot be specific in my examples or evidence of former clients who don’t want to be named, for a variety of reasons. I respect that choice and make no apologies for respecting their confidence.

Acknowledgements

When writing a book, we really have to be grateful first and foremost to those who choose to read it. Thank you for putting your hard-earned cash into this relationship. I trust it brings you useful value.

Big thanks to my family who enable the eclectic life I lead, of my business, my job, my volunteering and dog owning. To Jamie, Beth, David, Amy and my parents, Irene and John, I am profoundly and always grateful for all you support me with and do for me, for believing in me and for loving me.

A special shout out to my daughter Amy Slater for her diagrams used in the book, which sit proudly alongside Federico Gaggero’s illustrations.

To all my wider family, I thank you for shaping me. Special thanks to Samantha for your work at Kairos Modern Learning, and Annette for being simply amazing.

There were some people who helped turn me into an author – Lucinda Carney, David Hayden, Alison Jones, Francis Miller, Laura Overton, Phil Willcox, and Roisin Woolnough. Book experts, cheersquad, generous knowledge sharers, thank you.

There are many colleagues and clients without whom I could not have learned my craft. Thank you sincerely to you all (many of whom don’t want to be named as the world thinks they were doing this modern learning stuff already!). A special call out to Katherine Marlow who first believed in me, to Andy Lancaster and the CIPD Learning team, to the Curiosity Team at Virtual College and to Ed Parsloe at The OCM, plus so many fab clients who taught me as much as I taught them.

Thank you to the original readers, sharers, supporters and beneficiaries of my 2015 #NoPlasters Twitter campaign of tips on better ways to do L&D. Particular thanks to Kevin Maye and Katherine Chapman, who I only knew through Twitter, and yet they stepped in and stepped up to cover a holiday during the year of tweets.

An enormous thank you to Girlguiding. I love facilitating weekly meetings with my amazing Guides who inspire me with their energy, creativity and thinking. Sincere thanks for the honour of being Lead Volunteer for L&D, enabling the evolution of learning within our Movement through a fabulous team of staff and volunteers.

Thank you to Colin Steed and my colleagues at Learning Now TV who enable me to share my ideas and those of so many interesting people I interview. Colin does such a great job of sharing wonderful learning to L&Ders, and I am proud to have a small part in that adventure alongside him.

Thanks to my personal learning network, my #PLN, whom I adore for their thinking, their challenge, their engagement and their push. Tweeps, I am deeply indebted to you all.

And finally, thank you to fellow founder Fiona McBride and all our volunteer hosts at #LnDcowork. You are an awesome community for all who work in L&D/OD/HR. We started #LnDcowork to avoid working alone in the freelance world; feel free to join in. You can check for dates at https://about.me/lndcowork (archived at https://perma.cc/4KNQ-KKBZ).

The Learning and Development Handbook

How to use this book

This handbook is for the busy L&Der who needs a quick read. It is arranged in three parts. Within these parts, each chapter follows a formulaic approach to make it easy for you to pick the book up and put it down as you need.

This is the structure:

Part One

Practical L&D tips

Part One is in eight chapters. Each one forms part of your practitioner’s guide. Each chapter is a topic that can be considered independently and as a whole, built on each other to form a loose framework for workplace learning.

Part Two

Frameworks

Part Two is in three chapters. Each one offers a framework for you to consider and hang your work upon for efficient, effective, engaging and enjoyable L&D. These frameworks are not learning design models; they are more overarching concepts to consider in L&D. Illustrations and client stories bring these frameworks to life.

Part Three

Strategies

Part Three is in three chapters. They are intended to help you understand your context and how that impacts on the L&D you offer. This part is more than topics, tips and frameworks. Rather, the focus here is to offer ways of considering your overall approach to L&D to ensure a sustainable future.

Skip table

1

Practical L&D

2

Strategy for L&D

3

Stakeholder engagement

4

Consultative L&D

5

Data and evaluation

6

Social learning

7

Digital learning

8

Blending learning

9

ICE: Information Communication Education

10

EPC: Environment Permission Culture

11

3 Rs: Required Resourced Referred

12

Evolution or revolution

13

Reflective practice

14

Hold it lightly

Each chapter contains eight sections. Each one is explained on the next pages.

An introductory topic précis, the shorter read will give you enough to spark your thinking and help you get started. If you are busy you can get the gist of the whole book with these 14 chapter five-minute (-ish) reads. Or, if you are not sure how interested you are in a chapter’s topic, the shorter read is a taster. Or, if you want a refresher of the chapter later on, you don’t have to read the whole chapter again.

The longer read is the deep dive into the topic, broken down into subheadings to enable you to get straight to what you are looking for. Although it’s designed to be read in its entirety, I know people like to bob in and out. Occasionally you will see examples in boxes to help bring the topic to life.

In each chapter I have tried to bring my thinking to life with a case study to share a story or interview so we can learn from others. It is comforting to know you are not alone with challenges you face. It can be a useful spark to hear how others handled their challenges, and came out the other side. I have offered my reflections on each case study, but these are merely my thoughts. The real value of the case studies is when you reflect on them within your ow context.

The success criteria for the topic are focused around mindset, skillset, toolset and dataset. Hence… the ‘set list. Feel free to scribble your own ideas for success criteria in these boxes too.

The tweet tips are from my #NoPlasters campaign to reduce sticking plaster solutions in L&D, alongside a tips checklist to encourage your thinking and how to use the ideas.

The thinking questions are a suggested list of questions to help you reflect on the chapter’s topic within your own workplace context. Perhaps mull them over with a colleague.

The action plan is a suggested set of next steps as your call to action. Be sure to add your own and take action!

More than a simple bibliography, the library list points to resources such as books, blogs, web articles, research, podcasts, Learning Now TV interviews, conference sessions, and other resources which have informed my thinking and have influenced the chapter. They are somewhere for you to head to for further exploration and learning.

Part One

Practical L&D Tips

These first eight chapters offer you a toolkit along a loose scaffolded framework that you can use to consider your workplace learning offer. Starting with organisational and learning strategy, we move onto stakeholder engagement and consultation, gathering evidence and data, and supportive learning solutions via social, digital and blended learning. Perhaps not all of this will be where you or your organisational L&D currently resides, and that is fine – it is not all a pre-requisite, rather a store of practical tips and ideas to think about and try.

01

Practical L&D

Setting the scene for L&D in modern practice, with some immediate ideas to try

There are a lot of lone L&D practitioners out there – people who are the only one with responsibility for this crucial function in their organisation. There are also a lot of learning teams that are made up of just two or three people. Even big, global organisations sometimes only have a few Learning & Development professionals (L&Ders) in the department. I know this because I am an L&Der. I have been that one person taking care of the learning and development needs of a large, globally-dispersed workforce. I have been an L&D consultant for several years, working with practitioners, corporate clients, third sector and public sector clients. Now I am at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). I know what your world is like and I know that it can be a very interesting, but sometimes puzzling place. It can be particularly daunting, given that workplaces are changing fast, learning is changing fast, and you need to be helping steer those changes. Hence I am writing this book for us, for you.

I have done what you are doing, and I want to help you with the challenges and issues you might be facing. Maybe you have some questions you would like answers to. Hopefully you will find answers in this book. I am very much a practical L&D person and it is that practical, tried-and-tested L&D experience, thinking and suggested solutions that I want to share with you in the following chapters.

For me, it all started years ago with teaching English in Japan, an experience that sparked my interest in helping adults learn. Teaching English as a foreign language taught me some great things about how to help people learn, because when you have a language barrier you realise very quickly what does and doesn’t work when it comes to adult learning. Above all else, it taught me that you can’t just tell people stuff – it will never land. You have to teach them and teach them well.

With any situation, I always start by asking why – why are we doing this? Why learning? Why now? What is the problem that needs to be solved? As an L&D practitioner, you should always ask this, because if you can identify the business problem that needs to be solved it becomes so much easier to identify what learning needs to happen, and how you will know that the learning has both happened and made a difference. Asking why enables you to identify who the audience is and how you will engage with them to facilitate their learning in a way that meets their needs. It’s important to remember that each person needs a differentiated experience to suit their personal needs.

There is a big problem that all we L&D folk need to solve at the moment and it’s this: face-to-face learning is no longer fit for purpose. It is not efficient, effective, enjoyable or engaging; four very important things that learning and development should be. As a result, face-to-face has no place as a standalone piece in modern learning and development, but for a lot of organisations it is still the go-to option. Face-to-face still has validity, but it cannot be the only option for busy working people who need to solve business problems as they arise, not in accordance with a catalogue of courses.

Just because that’s the way we have done it in the past shouldn’t mean that we have to keep on doing it this way, otherwise we are trying to solve 21st century problems with an approach that dates back to the 1800s. It was in the 1800s that face-to-face learning was established as the methodo­logy for workplace learning (as opposed to formal education, which had been using face-to-face for years). At the time, face-to-face would have been new and innovative, given the limited resources of books and people. But times have moved on significantly since then. Consider the shift in the meaning of an apprenticeship and the role they have played across the ages – once an apprentice swept the floor for a couple of years to ‘learn the job’, now apprentices are doing degrees, holding high levels of responsibility early in their careers and are on fast upward trajectories.

Essentially, the problems that we are trying to solve have shifted fundamentally, which means that the learning needs to shift as well. It’s no good trying to solve new problems with old technology. We need to use new technology with new methodologies to solve our new problems. Never more has this been shown to be true than during the 2020 global pandemic.

I want to help practitioners move away from offering face-to-face learning as the default option. Let’s be clear, this is not about discarding face-to-face altogether, rather about embracing the best of social and digital learning. I am writing this book in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, when individuals and organisations are having to do things differently and face-to-face is not an option right now. These are unprecedented times that I hope will prompt the sea change in learning that needs to happen, not because of a global pandemic, rather because that shift needs to happen to make learning more effective, efficient, engaging and enjoyable for people needing to learn at work, and because that shift is happening without L&D’s involvement. Let’s all skip to the part where we are fundamentally involved, rather than left on the sidelines.

Trying to solve new problems using old technology

The historical approach to learning and development is the sage on the stage, the teacher with a book and a brain full of knowledge that they kindly transfer to their captive audience. I say ‘historical’ because that approach is a thing of the past. At least, it should be, as it is outdated and ineffective in our modern reality. Unfortunately, the sage on the stage still holds strong for a lot of people. Even though we know from successive Towards Maturity benchmark reports and Top Deck case studies that this approach to L&D doesn’t work that well, and there are new technologies which serve learner and business needs much better, the draw towards in-person learning is persistent.

A perpetuating problem is that trainers and learners like face-to-face, whether it works or not. They like the ‘trainer-tainment’, the day out of the office, the networking, the lunch and biscuits. Of course, I am being extreme, but for some ‘going on a course’ is a welcome relief from a relentless sea of work. The learning element is secondary to many other aspects of the event.

Now, it’s important to repeat at this point that face-to-face learning has a place, and I am not saying kick it out altogether. It has huge value in certain scenarios – imagine first aid training without breathing into ‘Resusci-Annie’. But face-to-face is no longer the only solution and no-one should be promoting in-person learning events without considering all the other options first. Due to Covid-19, organisations have had to adapt. As an example of the art of the possible, Girlguiding have taken 80 per cent of their refresher First Response (first aid) programme online, leaving just the face-to-plastic face Annie meeting to the physical world1.

What we need is for people to understand the options and to keep an open mind about what the best solutions are. It may well be that you have a problem that appears to require a face-to-face solution, but most likely the more effective solution to that problem is face-to-face and digital. It might even just require a simple printed job aid, such as a checklist or instruction sheet; it doesn’t need to be sophisticated. As learning professionals, we simply have to think about the business problem we are trying to solve and what the best way is to solve that problem, whilst not being tempted to serve up what we have always served up because that is the easiest choice. We need to stay innovative. For example, providing training on software in an IT lab then expecting people to go back to their day jobs and apply the learning is serving up new technology with old training methods in a less than effective way. Did those people not just need guidance on how to use the online help function in the first place?

Something else you need to think about is the information stored in the sage’s head or in a book – is that the only way you can access that information? We have smartphones in our pockets which are wonderful repositories of information, and it’s all there, instantly available at your fingertips whenever needed. We don’t have one version of truth stored in a person’s brain: there are lots of truths (and lies) stored on the Internet. We will discuss this more in Chapters 6 and 7.

There are so many ways we can all access information now; so much so that the problem can be one of information overload, or misinformation. L&D can really add value here by sorting through what is useful or valuable, and what is not. As a profession, we need to get better at curating – sorting through the noise so that our learners are able to access the best learning available without getting sidetracked by a lot of irrelevant stuff.

We also need to help learners learn how to use some of the technologies that are on offer, such as Twurly and Anders Pink2, and how to curate effectively using tools such as Twitter3. As I’ve already mentioned, as learning professionals we are here to facilitate learning, as much as teach or train. We need to help people find the knowledge they need. Sometimes that know­ledge comes from tech and sometimes it comes from another person. With another person, I don’t mean the sage on the stage, more likely it will come from people within your organisation, people with skills and knowledge to share. I will come back to this later.

Who are your learners?

Having established your why, to get to the right learning you now have to understand your audience. Who are your learners? What do they want and need? Why do you call them learners? That is not really a term that I like, but it is in common parlance and everyone understands it, so I’ll stick with it for this book, simply to describe people who need or are undertaking some kind of learning experience.

You need to identify your learners and really focus on them in the context of their work. Go to where they are to find out what it is that they need help with. It might be that they already have the skills to help themselves, but are time poor and thus aren’t doing so. Or the culture of the organisation may be such that it prevents them from reaching out for help. Find out what is holding learners back and why.

Look at how people seek out bits of learning every day as they go about their daily tasks. Think about what you do too. When you have a question that needs answering, it is very normal and natural behaviour to search the Internet, to ask the person sitting next to you, or to ask your wider network of family and friends. Good Practice research reports (Ferguson & Scott, 2016) indicate that this is how people learn every day in their working lives. And why wouldn’t they? It is, after all, what we do all the time in our private lives. We don’t just go on a course when we want to know something – we find other ways to get to the information we need.

Let’s look at the example of a young person, who we will call Lucy, who wants to buy a car through the lens of the 3Rs framework discussed in Chapter 114. Before she makes her car choice, Lucy goes and speaks to people who sell cars (the required experts). She also reads trade magazines about cars (the resources). She speaks to family and friends about the cars that they have (the references). Lucy then thinks long and hard about everything she has gathered, discussed and learnt (the reflections). These are all skills that she has honed in her private life. Would we stop learners from using these same skills in their work life? Why do we assume that learners need a course when the answers they need to do their jobs could be all around them? Learning is everywhere. And people are good at it.

Based on my experience, I would suggest that we need to stop pushing out three-day courses to people, particularly if those people are massively tech savvy. If we always offer ‘the course’ to people, they won’t engage with the learning that is potentially all around them. That is why it is so critically important that you identify who your audience is and that you meet them in a place that suits them. Isn’t it our job in L&D to help learners make sense of all their learning opportunities?

Subject matter experts

When you have identified your audience and their needs, then it is time to identify who can help you in helping them. Look for the subject matter experts in your organisation with a view to harnessing their knowledge. These people are a fantastic resource, but in many organisations they go untapped. L&D can support the release of their knowledge into the wider community, but think about how it’s going to happen. Don’t just assume that all you need to do is find the subject matter experts, connect them with your learners, and leave them to it, because that is unlikely to work. Even setting up informal lunchtime learning get-togethers or ‘lunch and learns’, for example, needs facilitation. Those experts could be absolutely brilliant at what they do, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be good teachers. Think about professors at university or teachers at school; I bet you can think of at least one who really knew their subject but whose lectures were as dull as could be. Why? Because they couldn’t relate what they knew to the real world, they couldn’t relate it to the exam or, more importantly, make relevant sense of their knowledge to the learners in front of them. It could be the same for your subject matter expert.

Being technically brilliant at a job doesn’t mean you are skilled in helping other people to learn. This is where we can help our experts. We can bring all that we know about Adult Learning Theory, the neuroscience of learning, what lands well in learning and the different methodologies for learning. We can use all of that to help release the flow of information from the heads of subject matter experts to the people that need it. This makes us facilitators of learning, conduits of knowledge transfer.

Line managers

Never underestimate the importance of line managers – they are our allies when it comes to helping people learn, so we need them on board with us. They hold people to account. They are people’s cheerleaders, including ours. They can help us understand need and context. They are accountable for their team. Yet so many line managers often defer to L&D regarding employee learning because they don’t think that people development is part of their job. Organisations need to change that mentality because people development most definitely is part of a manager’s job – how else can they be an ally, a cheerleader, or know true context? Do they want their teams to stay static, never learning and growing? Of course not, but line managers don’t necessarily see that sitting within their remit.

One of the things we can do to address development is to have good conversations with senior teams to ensure they are encouraging line managers to take responsibility for developing staff. Do we need key performance indicators (KPIs) for people development? Quite possibly. Even if just 5 per cent of a manager’s time is given over to people development, that could make a difference. And, of course, we need to be talking to line managers too, encouraging them to get on board and take responsibility for learning. This will be easier in some organisations than others, as a lot depends on attitudes to learning. In some organisations, a fundamental shift in company culture might be required in order to get line manager buy in (we talk more about this in Chapter 10). Remember, this deferment of development to an L&D department is not a fault of line managers themselves, rather a cultural norm hangover from many years of learning culture in organisations, in much the same way as default face-to-face.

There are practical things we can do to win line managers over to a modern learning way of thinking and doing. The main thing is to solve their pain points. If we can solve their business sticking points, solve the things that stop them being successful, the things which have them waking up in the middle of the night, they are going to be way more engaged with us. More about this in Chapter 3, Stakeholder Engagement.

Personal learning network

Who else can help us? We can turn to our personal learning network, also known as our PLN. These are the people in our network who perhaps perform the same role as us in our organisation or, most often, elsewhere. These are the people we have connections with and follow on spaces such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. They might give TED talks that we like or we might see them at conferences or networking events. These are the people who help inform our thinking, who may challenge our learning philosophies, and who will also encourage and support us to offer better L&D.

A lot of people in my PLN first connected with me during my #NoPlasters campaign in 20155, when I tweeted a tip every working day of the year on how to stop plastering over the challenges of modern workplace learning, encouraging and offering new ways of embracing L&D. The lesson here is that when you give out content on social channels it can attract the attention of people in your professional sphere. They will both agree and disagree with you, as well as encourage and challenge you. There is a lot of value in this. I talk more about this in Chapter 6, the chapter on social learning, which is what learning with a PLN is all about.

With regard to your PLN, I would encourage you to think about what your PLN currently looks like and whether you need to invigorate it. Your PLN can help you to think about things differently and get new ideas, but that may not happen if it’s comprised of people who think like you and work like you. Then it’s just an echo chamber. Your PLN sometimes needs to help you step out of your comfort zone. Find your tribe, but also get out of your bubble to ensure a variety of voices.

How useful and robust is your network? If you are a face-to-face trainer, for example, and that is all you’ve ever done, plus you only interact with other face-to-face trainers who also only do the same, you are only going to get influence around face-to-face training. This means that you are unlikely to get any fresh thinking, which is not the route to positive growth and successful change. If you are trying to move to a social space, or you are trying to facilitate online for the first time, then open up your network to people who can help and support you. Hang around with people who do what you are looking to do, ask them for tips and ideas, dive into conversations about what to do and what not to do.

It may seem out of place to mention PLNs in a chapter on setting the scene for L&D; why care about wider networks outside your organisation? I do so simply to make the point that it is not just L&Ders who have networks. Everyone has networks – some internal, some external, some mixed. All the learners you are working for have their own go-to people. You are in a sea of competing information and sources of information. If you are not part of their network, you are irrelevant. They won’t think to ask you to help them, they will go to their network. We need to be of value to our organisations and the people within it, just as our PLN needs to be of value to us.

Demonstrating value

L&D needs to get a lot better at demonstrating value. This is partly because we don’t do it enough, but mostly because we can be seen as a nice-to-have, not a business critical function. Given the situation at the time of writing this book, when we are almost certainly facing a global recession, it has never been more important to demonstrate the value of what we bring, because during times of economic downturn, L&D is usually one of the first things to go out of a business. However, we know that organisations that continue to invest in L&D during difficult times are likely to perform better and reap the benefits in the long term (Towards Maturity, 2019). Investing in your people and their development helps with engagement, it helps with employee retention, with people feeling valued, and it helps increase productivity. These are all very important byproducts of what we do.

When it comes to L&D demonstrating value, we need to get a lot more explicit. We need to make it easy for all of our stakeholders to see what we bring to the table and how that will benefit them. It is up to us to convince them of our worth, our value.

But how do we do that? We begin with evaluation; establishing where our function is currently. Start with your own team, or, if you are a sole L&D practitioner, with yourself. Do a skills audit, perhaps run a 360 degree review so that you get a more holistic, rounded view of where you are at and identify any gaps. You have to get the data, because it will show you and others what the situation is.

There are some really good benchmarking tools available which enable us to run health checks against the wider organisation, such as the Emerald Works Health Check (formerly known as the Towards Maturity Benchmark)6. You can also take part in surveys such as the CIPD annual Learning and Skills survey to get some generic results about where the L&D industry is and, again, you can benchmark yourself against that data. There may also be industry-specific benchmarks to get involved with, which can help you understand your own industry’s view of people development. One L&D industry-specific survey is the Global Sentiment Survey run by Donald H Taylor. It is a survey comprising one question about what is ‘hot’ in L&D. Participants working in L&D are invited to speculate using their experience and insight. It offers a good pulse on our industry.

Look inwards as well as outwards. Step out into your organisation and have conversations with people about what their perception is of L&D, what their expectations are, and, importantly, what their desires are – what is their L&D wish list? When you do this, keep in mind that people will have their own frame of reference when talking to you about how much they respect L&D and what their values and expectations are. Some people will have had a negative experience of education at school and so might not value learning generally. Other people may have left school with little in the way of qualifications and have worked their way up, so again may not see much value in formal L&D, but may see on-the-job training as really valuable. Others might have had a lacklustre experience of L&D at a previous organisation. You need to speak to all these people and understand where they are coming from and why. Do people only see you as the formal course offering, or do they see you as adding value in informal learning spaces as well? It’s your job to find this out – don’t expect it to come to you – so you can take the data and the stories together to show L&D’s value in your organisation. Chapter 5 will support you more with this data-driven approach.

You need to get a really strong sense of where your business departments sit in relation to learning, including where your L&D department is too. Are you on the supplier side in your organisation, selling courses in what Andrew Jacobs, former L&D Transformation Lead at HM Revenue & Customs, refers to as a shopkeeper role?7 Or are you on the other side – a facilitator, an engineer of learning solutions? Of course, many organisations are neither one side nor the other, but somewhere in between. Having conversations with people in your organisation will help you decide where you are on this continuum of learning.

Traditionally, L&D has demonstrated (or tried to demonstrate) the value of interventions by counting: the number of courses run, the number of people in chairs, training hours in a classroom or on a Learning Manage­ment System (LMS), learning spend per employee, etc. What reporting do you put out for L&D? Do you show value around what you are offering in a way that speaks to the rest of the organisation? Or are you counting and sharing numbers that have no meaning or value for anyone other than the L&D department? If all you are doing is counting learning hours, course numbers, professional spend, then you are likely not counting the right stuff, as these are not the things that will demonstrate true learning value.

Instead, you need to be counting things your business counts – such as increased turnover, increased sales, increased productivity, increased employee engagement, employee retention – and clearly link these business measures back to being the result of learning interventions. These more formal and more business-like KPIs and metrics are what people in business care about. They are the metrics that can help you have more valid, constructive conversations in your business to raise your profile and leverage for L&D, because only then are you talking the language of your organisation. They don’t care about the number of training hours, because it’s not a tangible value that they can equate to bringing in more revenue or pleasing more customers or making more products. How we measure our value needs to reflect how organisations also measure business value.

What’s the work?

The work you need to do once you have analysed where learning sits in your organisation – by identifying your audience, talking with your audience, understanding why and how you need to demonstrate value – is about getting yourself ready to do some of the other things I talk about in this book.

And it all starts with you. You need to identify what you need to do personally. To do this you need to be very honest with yourself; honest about the skills that you offer and the skills that you need to offer but don’t currently have. Don’t be embarrassed to identify that you are on a journey; we are all on a journey. Nobody should ever stop trying to learn, particularly L&Ders, because we are the voice of learning! If we aren’t demonstrating and modelling good learning behaviour, why should anyone in our organisation take us seriously, and why should we expect them to demonstrate good learning behaviour?

So start your ‘what’s the work’ journey with yourself. Identify where you are on the continuum from ‘shopkeeper’ to ‘engineer’8 and where your organisation needs to be for success. If you work in an organisation that needs to push out a lot of mandated training because you operate in a highly regulated sector, then you will need to gain an understanding of how you can do that without getting in the way of the work. When learning gets in the way of people’s engagement and productivity you will find yourself very unpopular.

As discussed earlier in terms of value, you also need to establish what the L&D department needs to do to be successful. Perhaps a 360 review across the department to identify what skills you have and don’t have. Consider the whole gamut of skills, knowledge and behaviours, particularly to do with digital and social learning – how to design a virtual live class, how to run a webinar, how to use an LMS, how to develop learning content, how to engage in and manage a social community. These are all useful elements in moving towards modern L&D. Know yourself, know your audience, and know the organisation. Only then will you understand the scene which is set for you for modern practice in L&D.

The case study in this chapter supports the view that people can change and grow, that people can be influenced, supported and challenged positively by others, and, finally, that building your personal network across the miles really can pay off. In setting the scene for your L&D in modern practice, this case study relates to one person’s journey to become better. He started with himself and that resulted in a Learning Technologies Award for his organisation. My sincere thanks to Kevin Maye for sharing his story, for his kind words about me, and for engaging with the Twitter campaign I ran to help the lone L&Der to feel less alone by way of a daily practical L&D tip.

GOOD THINGS FOUNDATION

by Kevin Maye

Once upon a time (2015), in a land far, far away (Sheffield), a new learning professional was struggling to develop the team he worked with.

Our hero had puzzled for many months, looking for ways to get his team to challenge their existing thinking and ways of working.

Luckily for our hero, at around that time a wiser learning professional was sharing insightful tips to help others.

#NoPlasters was a series of tips shared on Twitter. Each tip was based on experience or evidence.

Getting tips like these is great for stretching your own knowledge and understanding. But encouraging others to do the same isn’t exactly straightforward. It wasn’t one of the tips, but ‘you can’t make people think’ is a truism.

But having a source of ideas and tips was a great way to start a conversation. It took ownership of the idea away from any individual in the team so that people could be honest.

Consider the difference

As your manager, I want us to discuss ‘learning styles’. Does the latest research change our view? Is there any value in considering learning styles in our work? Should we change anything we do?

I read this thing on the Internet that says learning styles aren’t valid. What’s our view, does it still have any value for our work, should we change anything we do?

Which of these questions is more likely to get an honest response? And even if we don’t agree with our colleagues’ views, it’s got to be better to know about them.

#NoPlasters helped me establish my position with the team. Not just as someone who knew about things to do with learning, but as someone who was open to discussion. Someone who looked for evidence of what worked. Crucially, as someone who would change what he did if needed.

That did a lot for my confidence. Enough that when Michelle was taking a holiday and asked if anyone else would keep #NoPlasters going, I was one of those people who stepped forward. Feeling the pressure of having to share something each day made me appreciate the effort to do this for a year way more.

Getting a positive response from the tips I shared was also a great encouragement that I was on the right lines. That fed back into those discussions with my team. Over the next two years, we discussed lots of different learning theories and ideas.

The learning team at Good Things Foundation were already using e-learning, downloadable print materials and online classes to support people teaching and learning basic digital skills. But could we deliver better quality? Had we lost track of our audience’s needs?

Our discussions about learning theories led to changes in what we do, or to recognising the positives in our existing practice. All those discussions made it easier for my team to talk about and find ways to deliver great learning.

So where did the hero of our story get to? Well, today I’m Head of Learning at Good Things Foundation, where I’m working with some of the biggest companies and smallest communities to deliver great learning opportunities to people in the UK, Kenya and Australia. In 2018, the team won the Learning Technology Award for Best Learning Team, so I’ll be forever glad I joined in with #NoPlasters.

The Case Study Reflections

As with any of the case studies in this book, I encourage you to pause and draw your own conclusions. However, in the spirit of a good PLN, given you are now in mine, I offer you my reflections to consider after you have paused for your own:

Kevin didn’t go into his work looking to build his confidence; that came from open and honest discourse with his colleagues.

Kevin started from a position of curiosity. This is a really strong place to begin. He created curiosity in his team too, not by suggesting he had the answers, rather by stretching and challenging his own knowledge and understanding alongside them.

This is quite a vulnerable position for a manager to take – indeed, potentially a gamble when leading a team. However, curiosity and honesty seem to always prevail. I have seen this play out time and time again with my clients.

Looking for evidence takes the vulnerability away, as did the willingness to change if something wasn’t working. It is easy to stick to our direction, but it is harder to say ‘I was wrong, we need to change direction’. The example of learning styles, as Kevin mentions, is typical of an L&D u-turn which seems easier to stick to rather than facing the evidence and ditching them. Debunked for years, they don’t seem to want to go away! (Wheeler, 2019)

The fact that simple conversations between Kevin and his team around suggestions made in tweets morphed into a behaviour to question and discuss what they were doing across broader aspects of their work, particularly in meeting their audience, reminds me that we never know where the next good idea will come from and how you can influence people. Working in L&D is quite a gift, as you can literally change people’s lives. With great power should come great humbleness; this is the first case study for this reason. Use your power in L&D wisely.

Figure details The factors are as follows:

Mindset: open-minded, willing to try new ideas, can-do attitude, clarity on your organization’s goals in L and D, space to be creative

Skillset: self-awareness, learning management strategy, business acumen, interpersonal skills

Toolset: company strategy, benchmark reports, continued professional development process, resources in this book’s library lists

Dataset: organizational goals, K P I s, learner’s data, benchmark data, L and D data.

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Tweet

Tips checklist

09-Jan-15 Grow your personal learning network #PLN in real life & online for support, ideas, chats. Try #LDinsight Fridays at 8am #NoPlasters

Grow a PLN

16-Jan-15 Start small. Try little improvements to assess results. Focus on what can evolve. Try a ‘kaizen’ approach #NoPlasters

Try tiny trials

25-Feb-15 Don’t forget to look locally to network. Get great ideas from people you live amongst rather than work with #NoPlasters

Network everywhere

23-Mar-15 Training is a part of learning, but don’t get hung up on the words; use language your company can understand #NoPlasters

Mind your language

27-Apr-15 Seek to be better every day. Use your network, the internet, inspiration from a walk. Believe in a better way #NoPlasters

Have better self-belief

08-May-15 Making use of networks can be inspiring. Don’t be afraid to use Twitter to find like-minded people to chat to #NoPlasters

Find your tribe

09-Jun-15 Don’t use jargon or acronyms. Use the language of your org to demonstrate how you can solve org’s issues #NoPlasters

Avoid L&D jargon

25-Jun-15 Relive Open University TV progs from years ago by being equally as pioneering in L&D. Do things differently #NoPlasters

Be a pioneer

14-Jul-15 Bandwagons or the fear of missing out are wrong reasons to change your workplace learning. Find your own needs #NoPlasters

Know your whys

04-Sep-15 #LnDcowork meets today from noon @ziferblat. It’s energising to spend time with like-minded people. Try it. #NoPlasters

Co-work with your tribe

22-Oct-15 @DebbieEJones tip in #LSGwebinar get out there, it really is a useful way to influence & get messages across #NoPlasters

Get out of your bubble

Are you trying to use old technology to solve new problems?

What more do you need? What more does your organisation need?

Are you personally ready with the right set list to get started with modern, practical L&D?

Is your organisation interested in moving to a more modern approach to learning? If not, read on for more ways to prepare.

Start with you.

Join social channels to find your PLN, both digitally and in person.

Read more on helping adults learn.

Start asking ‘why?’ more often.

Start solving business problems with the right technology.

Consider how you can use smartphones for learning.

Help people make sense of things with curation.

Get to know your learners.

Get to know your line managers and make them L&D allies.

Uncover the tacit knowledge in your organisation.

Understand the language of your business.

Be better at demonstrating the value of L&D by counting the right stuff.

Invest time in benchmarking.

CIPD (2020) Learning Theories for the Workplace, CIPD [online] www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/strategy/development/learning-theories-factsheet (archived at https://perma.cc/S95A-CJQ5)

CIPD (2020) Learning Methods, CIPD [online] www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/fundamentals/people/development/learning-methods-factsheet (archived at https://perma.cc/54LD-WUVX)

Daly, J (2020) Back to the Future: Why tomorrow’s workforce needs a learning culture, Emerald Works, London

Ferguson, O and Scott, S (2016) Google It: The secret online lives of UK managers, Good Practice, Edinburgh

Ferguson, O, Scott, S and Towersey, G (2017) Learning Technologies: What managers really think, Good Practice, Edinburgh

Ferguson, O, Scott, S and Towersey, G (2018) The Evolution of 70:20:10: Will L&D survive or thrive, Good Practice, Edinburgh

Good Practice (2019) The Good Practice Podcast, Show 146, Good Practice [online] podcast.goodpractice.com/146-how-do-people-learn (archived at https://perma.cc/SVV2-5LTT)

Taylor, D H (n.d.) Global Sentiment Survey, donaldhtaylor.co.uk [online] www.donaldhtaylor.co.uk/survey/ (archived at https://perma.cc/2Z9M-XPCB)

Towards Maturity (2015) Embracing Change: 2015-16 Industry Benchmark Report, Towards Maturity, London

Towards Maturity (2016) Unlocking Potential: 2016-17 Learning Benchmark Report, Towards Maturity, London

Towards Maturity (2018) The Transformation Curve: Learning Benchmark Report, Towards Maturity, London

Towards Maturity (2019) The Transformation Journey: Today’s learning strategy for tomorrow’s business success, Towards Maturity, London

Velez, A S (2020) A Critical Analysis Of Learning Styles and Pedagogy In Post-16 Learning, Elearning Industry [online] https://elearningindustry.com/critical-analysis-of-learning-styles-pedagogy-post-16-learning (archived at https://perma.cc/N5LN-2E7U)

Wheeler, S (2019) Digital Learning in Organizations, Kogan Page, London

Notes

1 Girlguiding First response training information, www.girlguiding.org.uk/making-guiding-happen/learning-and-development/information-for-trainers/training-resources/1st-response-training-resources/ (archived at https://perma.cc/2N55-KDWD)

2 Content curation for learning, https://anderspink.com/ (archived at https://perma.cc/8JBH-FVXW)

3 Micro-blogging site, https://twitter.com/home (archived at https://perma.cc/6AZW-6NS4)

4 A video of Lucy’s story is at www.kairosmodernlearning.co.uk/ (archived at https://perma.cc/3S6E-5ZFH)

5 www.kairosmodernlearning.co.uk/2015/01/05/2015-the-how-of-doing/ (archived at https://perma.cc/3S6E-5ZFH)

6 www.emeraldworks.com/research/learning-health-check (archived at https://perma.cc/Y6LJ-WKZN)

7 Andrew Jacobs’ blog www.lostanddesperate.com/2018/08/31/shopkeeper-to-engineer/ (archived at https://perma.cc/NTE6-EFAT)

8 Andrew Jacobs’ blog, www.lostanddesperate.com/2018/08/31/shopkeeper-to-engineer/ (archived at https://perma.cc/NTE6-EFAT)

02

Strategy for L&D

Looking taller and wider – building L&D from a business strategy

We L&D professionals are brilliant solutioneers. We are great ideas people and we love coming up with ways to help people learn better. It’s our happy place really, and it’s easy to see why; who doesn’t like coming up with solutions to problems? It’s very tempting to jump straight in when a learning need arises. But L&D professionals need to learn to take a step back (or several steps back really) and take a more considered, questioning approach to create sustainable solutions with longevity of impact. If we don’t, what we get is a temporary fix, a patch-up job, a plaster over a problem; coming up with the ideas is actually the easy bit, but ultimately they are just plasters, not sustainable long-term learning. This is why I called my tweet campaign #NoPlasters. Doing the hard graft of establishing the basis for solutions is much harder and, let’s face it, you don’t get the instant gratification that you get when you take a solutioneering approach.

In order for learning solutions to be effective, in the short and the long term, they have to be grounded in reality. They need to be explicitly designed and implemented to meet organisational needs. This means, as I am sure you have already guessed from the title of the chapter, that they have to be aligned to your company strategy.

Let me say that again, just to be clear. Learning solutions have to be aligned to your company strategy. They also need to be aligned to your learning strategy, but what is your learning strategy aligned to if not your company strategy? The evidence offered in the CIPD’s 2020 Learning and Skills at Work report suggests that L&D do not always have a strategy, let alone one linked to their organisational strategy.

‘Align your learning and development strategy with organisational need: If learning is to positively impact business performance, it has to get much closer to the business and there needs to be greater clarity in the learning team about business drivers.’ (CIPD, 2020)

Everything you do has to hang off your company strategy, which has the bonus of gaining line manager buy-in. I know I have just repeated the same thing several times, but actually it cannot be said frequently enough because it is so important. So many L&D professionals still plough on creating learning interventions that are not aligned to anything; they are reactive solutions to solve immediately presented problems. They look great and they sound great, but perhaps they don’t land because they are not rooted in the business reality.

What L&D needs to do is step out of the L&D space and step into the wider organisation. I would suggest that L&D put a business-focused, strategic hat on. We should actually be wearing that hat all the time, but never more so than when thinking about our learning strategy. The CIPD’s 2019 report Professionalising Learning and Development1 reminds us that our L&D skills sit within a wider professional framework, just as our L&D strategy sits within a wider strategy.

If you haven’t thought about your company strategy in any detail before, now is definitely the time to start doing it. Do you even know what the company strategy means in real terms? You might be able to reel off the obvious stuff – the company mission, vision and values, for example – but have you thought about what that means on the ground, what that means for employees, and what that means for you as an L&D professional? There are several things to consider here. How and why is your company strategy formulated? Who is involved in formulating the strategy? Are you close to them? Can you get in front of them and really understand their intent? What are the drivers, the objectives, the ideas behind the thinking? Take a deep dive into all of this and give your brain cells a good workout getting the bigger picture clear in your mind.

Whatever profession you are in, whether it’s L&D, finance, sales, marketing or something else, it is easy to get stuck in the day-to-day and lose sight of the bigger picture. If you feel there is a disconnect between what you are doing and what the business is doing, then it’s up to you to address that. This is why we need to look taller and wider, specifically beyond our L&D work, to see what our organisation is up to, indeed, what the market and our industry is up to.

Talk to people around the business about how they view the company strategy. Talk to senior leaders and key players, and be sure to talk to a variety of employees as well. What do they all think is important? What is important to them? What are the obstacles to knowledge, skills, development? Where do they need to be more agile? You need to establish your view of the company strategy, the company’s view of it, and the view of people in the organisation to get a well-rounded, holistic approach. This kind of data will be really useful to you going forward, and not just in terms of company strategy, but also in how top-down or bottom-up your organisation is. This can help you see who has influence and how much. Remember that the closer you are to the business, the more successful the solutions you can provide.

Take an evidence-based approach to all of this. You need to be really thorough and objective in your evidence gathering, asking lots of good questions – probing questions and open-ended questions. Listen well and ask more questions, based on what you get back. By asking your stakeholders good questions and gathering lots of data, you will get to those more successful solutions. When I started at one company, I spent three months on the front line to gather insights into the real work. Doing the job, I was later to deliver learning solutions that, without doubt, matched the strategic needs of the company and made the learning more impactful for those frontline stakeholders.

Get your metaphorical deerstalker hat on, just like Sherlock Holmes, and start doing detective work around your organisation. Arets et al (2015) recommend detective work in learning in their book 70:20:10 Towards 100% Performance. Sherlock Holmes is a brilliant example of someone who went beneath the surface, who asked the right questions, and was able to find out what was really going on. How can L&D be better detectives? At all costs, avoid being a solutioneer. Be a critical friend instead.

Becoming strategic

If L&D is to make the move away from being a course provider and an order taker, then we have to get a lot more strategic in both our thinking and our operating. We cannot operate in a vacuum, which means we need to think and to talk in business terms. We need to gain support in particular from middle leaders, as they are crucial to the successful embedding of learning. All this starts with understanding company strategy: what it means from an organisational perspective, from an operational perspective, and from an L&D perspective. And we need to ensure those perspectives are aligned. This is unfamiliar territory for some L&D people, but if they can get to grips with company strategy and how it relates to learning strategy, then they are building very good foundations for learning success going forward. And if they don’t? They are not going to get to the learning solutions that solve their organisation’s problems. This is not to say they are bad at L&D solutions; they are likely to provide excellent point-of-need learning offers. However, they are less likely to be adding strategic value and could be seen as a ‘nice to have’ in times of trouble or downturn.

What is the company strategy and what do we do with it?

Let’s start with the basics. What is the purpose of a company strategy, and why is it important? A company strategy outlines why a company is in existence, what it is trying to achieve, and the direction of travel. It is essentially the company’s purpose for being. L&D needs to be tuned into and on board with this purpose. We have to align what we do – and this means everything that we do – to the organisational strategy. An integrated and successful L&D strategy is determined by the organisational strategy. It’s not the same strategy, but the governing drivers, objectives and principles need to be aligned.

EXAMPLE

Girlguiding is a membership organisation, existing to serve girls and young women. This is done via adult volunteers, including myself as a local unit Guide Leader and national Lead Volunteer for L&D. Girlguiding’s 2020+ strategic vision highlights a framework which focuses first on the young members, then on the volunteers, and next on wider society in terms of removing barriers so that girls and women can thrive. For volunteer L&D to be successful in Girlguiding, it must link directly back to these beneficiaries and aims in Girlguiding’s L&D strategy.

One tangible example of Girlguiding’s strategy in action is ramping up the use of webinars during the 2020 pandemic. The Girlguiding Volunteer L&D team’s approach is to reach more volunteer leaders through additional ways of learning. The team increased its number of volunteer webinar trainers by more than 200 during 2020. Webinars were used to teach volunteers new skills on how to use Zoom effectively. This empowered the volunteers to deliver online Guiding whilst they could not deliver face-to-face. Using webinars as a methodology is both highly effective as a learning transfer tool, and also offers an opportunity for a meta learning experience by demonstrating good online practice that participants can see and feel themselves – being in the learning is the learning. The learning enabled Guiding Units to continue to be there for members, giving girls a voice, confidence, and a regular activity during lockdown, while supporting volunteers to make a positive difference and giving all the ability to thrive. In addition, this all helped to normalise the use of digital learning within Girlguiding. These outcomes all speak directly to the three elements of the organisational strategy, and also fulfilled the L&D strategy of adding to the learning provision with the introduction of webinars, plus helping the business case towards digital learning.

This example of L&D strategy tangibly linking from organisational strategy to L&D strategy shows exactly why L&D strategy cannot stand alone. There is a strong and symbiotic relationship between organisational strategy and departmental strategy. Girlguiding volunteer L&D needs were to use Zoom effectively to carry on Guiding. What better way to learn how to deliver live online than being live online, seeing how it is done, and reaching many people at once? The volunteer L&D team has long been keen to broaden the range of delivery methods for learning offered to volunteers from face-to-face to reach more volunteers. In 2017, the team had an image of this strategic intent drawn up to help us communicate strategy – strategy does not always need to be written down to be understood; a picture paints a thousand words.

Figure 2.1 Girlguiding L&D Strategy Map

Figure 2.1 details There are three people standing in various locations on the map route. An inset image shows a backpack and a stack of bundles. The upper left is labeled lake of informal learning. The map ends at a tent labeled 20 20 base camp with four flags labeled voice, capacity, excellence, and access. The labeled bundles are distributed along the map routes.

SOURCE: drawn by Simon Heath

This image has been shared internally with stakeholders to recognise the strong road well-travelled by face-to-face trainers and the desire to diversify to reach more volunteers with learning. The image helps presentations of the strategy to be envisioned, which is crucial in stakeholder comms, as images can act as better memory triggers than words.

You may think you know your company strategy already, but do you really know it? Just being able to list off the mission, vision and values from the posters around the office is not the same as knowing the strategic plan, even though they are all inextricably linked – or at least should be! Set aside some time to read any strategy documents (including all departments or subsections of your organisation) and then reflect back on what you have read. Do you understand everything? Does it all make sense for you? If not, don’t assume that’s because you lack the skills. It might be that the strategic plan is ambiguous or overly complicated or overloaded with technical jargon, so if you don’t understand it, don’t be embarrassed to ask for clarity. It’s better to ask and know you have understood everything than to leave your questions unanswered and hope for the best. The second approach could come back to bite you if you aren’t careful.

Examine strategy carefully

Once you have the strategy clear in your mind, interpret it through a variety of lenses – what does this mean for staff, customers, clients, volunteers, suppliers. (whoever is in your context)? Then, and only then, interpret it through an L&D lens. For example, if your organisation’s strategy is to expand into six countries, that is simple enough to understand. But what does that mean for learning? How will L&D support and facilitate that growth? How will you make good learning decisions? Think about the logistics, such as language, cultural differences, learning cultures, etc. How will learning help that strategy become reality? Interpret the strategy lens through the eyes of other functions as well – what does growing into six countries mean for sales, for IT, for internal comms? All of these functions will have learning needs based on the strategic growth plan.

It’s important to remember that L&D should never operate in isolation. We are an essential part of our organisation and what we do touches every part of that community. A lot hinges on people development being part of the bigger picture, and an L&D strategy needs to reflect that. It may sound easy, but a lot of learning teams still lack a strategic focus and act as if L&D is a separate entity, which is a reactive ‘order takers’ point of view. That has to change if L&D is to remain relevant in modern times.

When learning is a standalone piece and isn’t aligned to company strategy, it is unlikely to land successfully in the longer term. That is when learning teams become peripheral and when learning is a nice-to-have, rather than a business imperative. It is so important that the work we do is embedded in the strategic intent of the organisation because that is when it has meaning, value and impact. As mentioned earlier in the chapter, L&D departments should never be a ‘nice-to-have’ or we are doing it wrong.

EXAMPLE

Let’s consider a situation. Say the strategic intent of a company is to win more large corporate customers. What does that mean for people working in L&D and what does it mean for people around the organisation? You need to take that statement of intent – grow more large corporate customers – and consider how L&D can help convert that into reality. Who do you need to speak to in the organisation? Are there already pockets of activity that you can build on? Who has experience of large corporates? Who doesn’t? What else needs to be done? Think about Marketing, for example, as they are bound to be involved in a drive to increase customers. Do the people in Marketing have the right skills and mindset to make it happen? What are they trying to achieve and how? What are their obstacles and how can you help overcome them? What is their marketing strategy to fulfill the organisational goal? It is likely that growing more large corporate customers will not be directly achieved by going on a course for any staff in any department without context, reflection, sense-making and action-taking that goes beyond that learning course. Rather than a course, perhaps fulfillment of that strategic intent via L&D looks like a roundtable event of cross-department participants, creating a culture of questions and innovation, encouraging research into large corporate customer competitors, and learners identifying their gaps following this preparatory piece of work? Looking at the required knowledge, skills and behaviours of the teams to serve those new customers will be a better match of strategies than traditional reactive, course-booking L&D, who simply need to be in on the conversations much earlier than in the past.

Maintaining a strategic focus

Thinking strategically requires a change in mindset and focus for many L&D professionals. It requires us to look outwards and inwards at the same time, thinking about strategy and learning from the point of view of every part of the organisation. To do this, you need to get out there and spend time in the business, on the ground. You need to really understand your organisation from every perspective. It doesn’t matter what sector you work in – be it healthcare, finance, technology or something else – you have to understand your sector and your organisation inside out. Once you have that knowledge and understanding, only then can you start to know how to help the people in the organisation and how to help the organisation overall. Simply sitting in the canteen / open spaces / coffee area, or ‘going back to the floor’ and work shadowing for a day in different departments, all whilst wearing your strategy hat, can help you to see whether the organisation lives the strategy. Or are they caught up in the day job? Do they live the mission? Do they talk about the values? Or do they talk about something completely different?

If you don’t know your organisation in this way, it’s easy to slip up on both the big things and the small things. This may sound obvious, but you would be surprised how often learning interventions fail because they don’t take into account the obvious, such as working patterns and the basic requirements of learners; for example, offering digital learning for employees who do not have digital devices, or not knowing that some of the people in your organisation work across 24-hour shifts and designing an L&D strategy that works on a 9 to 5 basis, which is never going to work for everyone. As a consultant, I worked with a large UK airport who were proud of their onsite learning building, but they had a business challenge in getting some cohorts to attend learning programmes physically taking place there. 60 per cent of their staff worked outside of the building’s operating hours of 9 to 5, so they were invited on their off days in lieu of time off later on. The learning team never followed up with line managers about that additional time off and they had regularly poor attendance, especially of those coming off a night shift. The strategy of the learning team to have a building purpose-built to focus on the delivery of learning had good intent – it was a great building, really light and airy, a fabulous environment for learning in. However, having learning in a specific geographical location which had limited opening hours was simply not aligned to the strategy of a 24-hour operation. Instead, we designed a learning offer which was completed around the airport, in the flow of work. It is the obvious things which get lost in the micro work, and only become apparent in macro light when you step back and shine that light on all the elements of a business (more on macro / micro work later).

Talking the language of your business

Understanding the business means more than simply understanding the type of commercial operation you are in; rather, it is about how the company strategy is expressed in its company culture. The language you hear around the workplace can give you clues about the real language of your business. Talking to different colleagues across the business, what kinds of words do you hear repeated? Sit in the canteen, listen, and talk to people. Book meetings with people and go with an open, empty mind to absorb the way they describe strategy and culture. It is easy to make assumptions about what matters to people, especially employees, because ultimately you are likely to be one yourself too. Listen well and you may find that those assumptions are incorrect due to your own experiences and bias. Listen to what people are saying and how they are saying it. You will learn an awful lot by having your ear to the ground, hearing what people constantly refer back to, what their gripes are, and what the glue is that holds them together.

If you work in a customer-driven organisation, then everybody could be talking about net promoter scores – how do we improve our net promoter score? Where are the holes? What can we do better? What are the customers’ complaints? What are the opportunities to please more customers? These are all great places you can investigate to seek to support. Complaints, in particular, are a perfect source of real learning need.

If you work in a financial organisation, then the main topics of conversation are likely to be around profit, mark up, margins, EBITDA2, taxes, etc. What are people saying? What are they not saying? For finance-driven organisations, you need to interpret your strategy to support making money. Be curious about return on learning investment. Show your impact on profit and make sure learning value always has a number.

If you work in a people-centric organisation, you will hear about perks and holidays, about peer-to-peer learning, and supportive teams. Learning interventions need to be social, to be in the flow of work, to be non-competitive and supportive.

Whatever the burning issues are, that’s where your learning solutions need to be. That’s your business context. Let’s go back to net promoter score (NPS) in the context of strategic growth in a customer-driven organisation. As an L&D department, you need to make sure that strategic growth fits well with the customer journey and that all processes and interactions are as smooth and positive as they can be. There are likely to be some learning needs that we could guess at. I’m sure we’d make decent guesses: how to alleviate customer complaints, how to engage with customers, or how to grow your customer base. We will only know if these are the issues that matter to people if we are close to and engage with teams around the business. What does the department do around NPS? Are there KPIs around NPS? Is it largely a data gathering exercise without action? You will only know where to put your learning strategy if you know what people care most about within your corporate strategy, and how that manifests in reality.

L&D needs to be able to converse with and support all the different departments within an organisation in a way that is credible and effective. L&D needs to understand the business context and the cultural context and to be able to demonstrate that to different stakeholders. If you can demonstrate you are thinking strategically, you are going to find it much easier to get buy-in from people – more on this in Chapter 3 – and find it easier to prove value. David Hayden gives a great example of how other departments are better than L&D at linking their work to business success in his blog of November 2019. He suggests that Marketing willingly link their leaflet campaign to the success of opening new accounts, while L&D (who have taught the staff how to open those accounts) are not quite so quick to call out that they also contributed to success.

Understanding organisational needs and objectives gives you the foundations on which to build strategic learning solutions. This quote, attributed to the French novelist and journalist Antoine de Saint-Exupery, illustrates beautifully what I am saying here: ‘If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.’

Consider that quote within the context of L&D. What does it say to you? For me, it says don’t just build courses, don’t just put people on e-learning, don’t just give people point-of-need solutions. First, help people understand how they and their learning impacts on the bigger picture. Learners need to understand what the whole organisation is working towards, just as you need to understand it. They need to want to learn in order to play their part in fulfilling the company strategy. The motivation to learn is stronger if people understand why they are doing it, if people can ‘long for the endless immensity of’ company success.

Macro thinking versus micro thinking

This is the difference between micro and macro thinking. Micro thinking is when people are focused purely on what they are doing and what they see in front of them. It is most definitely not bigger picture thinking. It’s the here and now and it doesn’t relate to what other people and other departments in the organisation are up to now. Nor does it look forward beyond the now. The mentality is, ‘I can operate and control this bit of ground. I am doing my job here and now.’

Macro thinking is completely different. It’s not ‘me and this bit of ground and the things that I can control’. It’s about how my role, my efforts, and my focus fit in with and contribute to organisational goals now. While there is still focus on the present, and on what is within our direct control, people also have an eye to the future impact and to the wider issues. Understand your priorities and how they fit with the priorities of other parts of the organisation. A symbiotic approach means your ‘now tasks’ can ensure future tasks can also be completed. You and your piece of ground are just one piece of a much larger puzzle of overall success.

Traditional L&Ders, as transactional order takers, have a tendency to think micro. We see this in typical success measures: number of e-learning completions, number of learning hours, etc., rather than impact on the bottom line, increase in sales, or reduction in staff attrition measures (discussed further in Chapter 5).

My belief is that when L&D thinks macro, amazing things can happen. Reading, understanding and interpreting the company strategy pushes us into the macro zone. It gives the business context that has to inform what happens next. It means that we can get involved in conversations sooner, we can anticipate and be proactive. We can offer the right learning solution at the right time for the right people.

EXAMPLE

Your organisation produces goods in a factory and that factory’s mission is to produce more goods. To do that, the strategic intent is to switch the machines on 24/7. They have to hire more staff to make the switch to 24 hour production. L&D need to provide some learning as a result of new onboarding. The business context here is that L&D need to provide learning within the flow of work. We cannot pull people off the production line for extended training sessions, yet we need new hires up to speed as soon as possible. If you have a micro mindset, you design a learning intervention that involves people coming off the machines for a day of learning; it will simply never happen and you have just set yourself up for failure. I know that people always talk about learning from failure and I agree that it’s a good thing, but you need to avoid this kind of failure at all costs, particularly when it is so avoidable. Macro thinking means you will understand the major impact of pulling people off a line. You will know what times shifts change. You will know the shift managers. You will understand there are perhaps two better learning solutions than to pull people into the classroom: first, QR code videos on each machine for in flow, point of need support plus learning expert buddies on each shift to support machine understanding, and second, to pay the shift workers an additional half an hour to come in early on their shift for a run through on the machines.

Clearly, there could be other solutions, but that is not really the point here. The point is that macro thinking is massively important in terms of providing strategic value. To achieve it, you have to understand the direction, the flow, the mission, vision and values of the organisation, and how what you do is fundamentally woven into the activities and objectives of all the other organisational departments.

Starting from a position of strength

When you take yourself out of the minutiae and into thinking more strategically you are able to see what is missing and where the gaps are. You get a picture of the organisation from a cultural perspective, from a mission perspective, and from a reality perspective. This enables you to start your strategic learning interventions from a place of strength. You have the data that you need to go forward.

Some of this spills into the world of organisational development (OD). OD offers a holistic approach to developing organisations and is definitely in the realms of macro thinking. There is a fair bit of crossover between OD and L&D, and learning practitioners who can draw on OD principles and ideas more likely to be successful. I am not saying that L&D and OD are one and the same, because they are not. Fundamentally, OD is about developing an entire organisation, whereas L&D is about developing people and skills within an organisation. Those two things are different but have increasingly blurred boundaries as L&D evolves into a space which is looking taller and wider. Think about job roles, for example. If OD is busy creating or redefining job roles, then it is up to L&D to help those job roles come alive and for people to grow in their role, perhaps as a person starts that job or even earlier.

OD creates a working culture where the whole is more than the sum of its parts. It encompasses strategy, workplace design, workforce planning, company culture and purpose. OD exists to change activities and outputs, behaviours and outcomes. Historically, it can be said of training that the focus is on skills change and is nothing to do with behaviour change. How­ever, as an L&D practitioner I completely disagree with that approach. For me, this is one fundamental difference in the language of training and learning. People need to be able to take the skills they learn and to apply them in their business context. Very often this does require behaviour change. So, in the same way training has looked taller and wider to become L&D, now L&D is looking towards OD. If learning professionals understand OD principles, even on a basic level, it can help establish a more holistic approach to L&D, one that is firmly rooted within the wider business strategy. The disciplines are clearly different, but have interdependencies.

This approach of understanding the bigger picture to get results is replicated throughout organisations. Say L&D needs to focus on leadership development because the strategy says that the organisation needs to grow strong leaders, but L&D only focuses on the leaders and neglects to consider the people being led. Then you are only considering one part of the picture. There is a lot you can learn from the people being led – what their challenges and needs are, for example, and how this fits with what leaders need to learn.

String theory

String theory is a theoretical framework in physics around dimensions in space. It may seem odd to consider this in respect of learning strategy, yet I reason that using strategy as the foundation of the work for L&D practitioners is a kind of string theory. I can’t pretend to go into the actual science here, of course, as I work in L&D, not physics. I am certain this is not a direct analogy. However, there are metaphorical parallel correlations. The fundamentals of string theory are that dimensions operate on a string which weaves through space and interact with each other through gravitation, magnetism, strong force and weak force. The corporate and leadership dimensions are the space of an organisation – maybe not physically, especially with more people working from home now, but there are these forces in operation within these spaces. Thinking about the interaction of such forces helps us layer up strategy within an organisation. Who are the gravity-pulling people? Who are the magnetic people that go to other people? Who are the repelling magnetic people that pull away? Who are the strong pushing forces within an organisation, and who are the less strong ones?

All these forces are at work every day in your organisation. Add in bias, assumptions, interpretations and strategy and you have a mess of a space. We all need to navigate in that mess to be successful. Physical space is littered with old satellites, bits of space jun

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