When we practice learning and development, we’re participating in an ancient craft, helping others develop as professionals. Even as far back as 2100 B.C., Hammurabi’s Code — a Babylonian law code from ancient Mesopotamia — laid out rules for governing apprenticeship. However, when we are not thinking of our work as a craft, we start to become vulnerable to other people’s perceptions about what learning leaders do — the order takers, the producers of one-off materials that will disappear into a black hole, never to be seen or heard from again.
Learning leaders are at a systematic disadvantage compared to professionals in other fields. We’re often expected to teach by transferring information as opposed to encouraging practice. We don’t expect surgeons or athletes or musicians to learn what they need to know simply by memorizing information; they have to practice so they’re ready to perform. The same is true in the business world — learning must prepare us to do something. However — and here is the disconnect — when we talk about workforce development, we are usually starting and ending in the wrong place. Too often, we’re simply transferring information from point A to point B.
The learning function’s ultimate goal is to change people. Not only how people think, but also what people do. Effective learning changes our brains, and it transforms who we are as people.
Achieving change is not easy, but it is possible. Within this new understanding of learning leaders’ roles, here are three powerful tenets for change to help learning initiatives be successful.
- Learning professionals need to become strategic leaders. In every organization, learning plays a necessary role, but many executives traditionally view this role as just another part of operations. The importance of learning in organizations has evolved. A company’s ability to continually develop its talent and foster innovation has become one of the biggest competitive advantages in today’s fast-moving economy. As workplaces rapidly change, it’s up to learning leaders to teach employees the new habits, skills and behaviors they need to thrive personally and professionally. Successful learning professionals need to have a strong voice within their organization, linking today’s learning gains with tomorrow’s business performance.
- Link learning to organizational performance for business success. Too often, learning programs are viewed as a series of one-off exercises that employees look to complete as quickly and painlessly as possible. Letting a learning module run in the background on their computers, fast tracking through a training deck, or even using in-person training sessions as an opportunity to zone out are all tactics that employees use when learning is not engaging and is not perceived as valuable.
Perception starts at the top. Whatever attitude the C-suite takes toward professional development will trickle down throughout an organization. All too often, learning becomes a checklist, and learning leaders have to ensure that each employee receives the minimum amount of education to claim they’ve covered their bases. Diversity training completed. Check. Management training completed. Check.
Instead of focusing on mass educational sessions designed for information transfer, learning professionals need to work with the C-suite to outline program goals. Whether the goal is to spark innovation, improve cross-team collaboration or minimize onboarding times, programs will be taken more seriously if there is a key business message associated with it. The next step is to break down goals into a series of programs that are comprised of actionable behaviors to help people perform their best.
- Make learning continuous and relevant to the employee experience. How and when learning happens within an organization is critical to success. Transformation doesn’t happen overnight, and people only change when they have a reason to. Management training needs to surround the moment of need, when someone first becomes a manager and is most open and eager to learn. If we wait two to three months, because that’s when the biannual management training takes place, the new manager’s openness to learning has all but disappeared; they’ve had ample time to create their own methods and habits.
Putting the aforementioned ideas into practice can help learning leaders affect real change within their organizations. Today’s brains have changed. Look no further than Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook as platforms that have redefined how people consume and act with information — it’s time learning changed too.
To engage today’s workplace, learners we must present them with small, digestible, engaging bursts of content, when it’s most relevant for each employee. As the change-makers, it’s up to learning leaders to drive this transformation.
Alex Khurgin is director of learning for Grovo. Comment below or email editor@CLOmedia.com.