In the final hours of CLO Fall Symposium 2014, the hot topic of the day was how to connect with different people in an organization — and by different, we mean opposite ends of the spectrum.
The first group in focus was non-learning leaders. Senior editor Ladan Nikravan moderated a panel with Tamar Elkeles, chief learning officer of Qualcomm, and Nate Fletcher, the tech company’s senior director of global strategic initiatives. Also on stage were Thermo Fisher Science’s global learning and development leader, Andrea McMullen, and director of global marketing, Maisha Cobb. The four discussed how learning executives have to connect with non-L&D management to make sure initiatives not only align with business but also remain at the forefront of organizational operations.
Elkeles talked specifically about the dual role learning leaders have to play, opening up the possibility of having two people in the job: one to head content management and the other to be a business liaison. Cobb agreed, saying from her angle as a marketer at Thermo Fisher Science, learning can greatly improve with the right promotion, with which people in her department can assist.
Above all, panel participants emphasized the importance of staying relevant, both in topic and delivery. Fletcher said delineating how learning applies to each department can get managers more on board with programs, just as staying current with delivery methods can make programs more attractive for leaders to promote.
Although these professionals spoke about connecting with other leaders in an organization, the keynote of the day looked at employees with far less clout but just as much impact on a business. David Zweig, author of “The Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion,” addressed the audience about people who shirk attention despite pressures to flaunt success.
David Epstein may have started day two of the symposium with sports, but Zweig ended it with rock ‘n’ roll. He used the example of Andy Johns, the recording engineer behind some of the greatest Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton and Van Halen albums. Johns was offered the bass player job for the Rolling Stones but turned it down because he didn’t want to be in the spotlight — and yet, his work was pivotal to making those music groups cultural phenomena.
Every organization has its “Andy Johns,” otherwise known by Zweig as “invisibles”: hard-working people who are experts at what they do but don’t seek attention. Like fact checkers and anesthesiologists — two professions that sparked Zweig’s research — if they do their job right, no one notices them. Many of these employees don’t want the spotlight, however, so it’s up to leaders to know how to reward them.
Hint: Talk to them. They may be invisible, but they’re not deaf.
Learning leaders should also take a look at the silent-but-effective employees at their organizations because their high performance could act as an example for others. Take Radiohead’s instrument technician, who Zweig described as having diagram upon diagram noting exactly which guitars are used in each song of a set list and how to pack equipment in each case to maximize efficiency. Chances are, people that good at their jobs know how to help others be just as good, and learning leaders could take a few tips from them on what skills to teach.
It’s also important to remember that “invisibles” is a mindset, not a personality, Zweig said. In fact, organizations with CEOs who don’t self-promote as much typically out-perform those with boastful executives. As far as lower-level employees, it’s simple: “The less time people spend promoting themselves, the more time they spend doing their job.”
By the end of the final keynote, the CLO Fall Symposium had lived up to its promise to explore new approaches to learning. Be it through the content, technology or ideologies leaders use in their programs, learning has to stay in step with what’s current, and sometimes that means going to the last people you would expect for help on exactly keep up with the times.