Monthly publication/newsletter giving you insights on the latest things that happen in the Learning & Development Space.

Nifty Learning SRL
Bd. Carol I, nr. 23
700507 Iasi, Romania

In this episode, we tackle some of the most important aspects of L&D work, answering questions about:

* L&D’s internal customers

* how to improve L&D’s understanding of the business

* the access to the company’s strategy and how L&D can contribute

* the multidisciplinary aspect of L&D work

* whether the function should be rebranded

* how to work together with the other People functions

* personal development for L&D professionals

* Impact is the goal of L&D. Content creation and delivery are tools to reach this goal.
* As L&D professionals and teams, you should clearly understand why you choose a specific technology and learning design approach. You need to be intentional and purposeful in creating your learning ecosystem.
* Spending the learning budget on solving the right problem is more important than your first-order layer of issues. If you’re looking for faster ways to create content, but you still don’t know if your current content is measurably effective, then solve that problem first.
* Data literacy is a crucial skill for L&D professionals – not to the extent of becoming an expert, but to at least grasp how to measure and evaluate effectiveness.

* What happens on the job after the learning is completed is the end goal of a learning intervention. This is the most important thing to focus on, and you should work back from that to build your L&D strategy, ecosystem, and, ultimately, your learning tech stack.
* The first thing to do is understand the jobs to be done and where people have difficulties executing the work.
* If you discover that a learning intervention is the needed solution, the minimum you can do in designing that learning experience (especially taking LTEM into account) is to implement productive breaks from learning.
* Allow learners to pause learning and practice, “do the task and come back,” or at least build in knowledge checklists or quizzes throughout the content delivery.
* The more you give a learner opportunities to put the information into practice, the higher the learning effectiveness.
* Your learning tech stack should support the possibility of creating and delivering learning experiences, as well as the ability to capture data during both learning and practicing.
* Once you can capture this information (aka these data points), you can interpret the data obtained and use it to measure the effectiveness of learning and its impact on the business – essentially, you can measure the learning ROI.

* For example, to start implementing LTEM, you first need to understand the underlying data-related work:

– How do you define effectiveness?

– What data do you plan to gather and measure?

– What are the data sources?

– How can you build data-measuring points in your learning design strategy?

* Perform discovery interviews to learn as much as possible about the new company you are joining or to look at your current company without past biases influencing you.
* L&D is a support function, so the L&D person must improve their business acumen; this is a key factor in your future effectiveness in supporting this company.
* It’s easier to start fresh, in a new organization, as opposed to growing internally into an L&D Management role because you don’t have the same blindspots about the business. Another benefit is that outsiders tend to be perceived as having higher expertise in their domain, which makes it easier later to position L&D as a strategic partner to the business.
* Don’t dive into the needs analysis first; it’s far more important to understand the organization and what kind of strategic learning direction it can take.
* Map out your outcomes from the discovery interviews; you will start noticing patterns that will later inform your L&D strategy.
* Focus on your stakeholders’ current workflows, tasks, challenges, and behaviors instead of telling them what L&D can help with. This way, you’ll avoid biasing your conversation partners towards offering you L&D-focused answers (avoid the “I need training on time management” type of requests).
* Start defining your future L&D strategy and validate with the business if you are going in the right direction.
* Identify quick wins and take action in the first 100 days to show that you are not just asking questions but also providing results.
* Avoid creating expectations and over-promising early on. Don’t take it personally if some of your ideas won’t come to life or certain business stakeholders don’t want L&D’s help at this early stage; there will be opportunities to collaborate later.

A phrasing suggestion to avoid creating expectations during your discovery interviews:

*Disclaimer – this is not yet a need analysis – let’s get to know each other and see where we can cooperate.
My job is to create the underlying fundaments for learning and knowledge exchange to happen organically and support and drive any formalized learning initiatives with evidence-based solutions.

Questions to ask your organization during the first “reconnaissance mission”:

1. 1-sentence description – what’s your job:

2. 1-sentence description – what does your product/service do:

3. Daily tasks:

4. Difficulties:

5. Intersection with other depts.:

6. Which skills are crucial for your job/your team’s job?

7. One thing to change about the way the company operates that would improve the area?

8. What does organizational learning mean for you?

9. How do you learn?

10. What do you think my role can help you with? (props to Donald Taylor for flipping this question around in a way that prevents creating expectations)

A breakdown of the episode’s topics has been graciously created by Bülent, and you can find it by following the link below:

* Learning experience design should consider that humans are driven by emotion rather than logical reasoning and incorporate ways to be impactful and effective (aka “sticky”). Reading recommendation: Motivational Design for Learning and Performance.
* To make learning meaningful, L&D needs to create a relatable story around a specific piece of organizational knowledge (a procedure, process, business rule, tool/functionality). This is the core of Dr. Quinn’s latest book: Make it meaningful.
* L&D should design impactful learning experiences regardless of company culture. Reading recommendation: Drive by Daniel Pink on purpose as a component of relatedness.
* L&D must internally practice the appropriate mechanisms that create a learning culture to improve its credibility in the business.
* L&D is crucial in an organization’s ability to tackle future innovation and competitiveness. Reading recommendation: Revolutionize Learning & Development.

Data sources to support L&D business cases:
– in-house experiments, run with the support of sponsors/champions
– anecdotal data or examples from other industries that show converging results
– academic research and books (for example, for the value of social media, you can read The New Social Learning)

Quick wins that L&D can start working on today:
A. Switch the approach of designing new learning experiences: instead of teaching the audience through a series of presentations, L&Ds could try other methods: problem investigation, collaboration, answering questions, and solving tasks that require the participant to apply the knowledge learned.
B. Change the indicators that L&D measures: instead of attendance rates, time spent learning, course reviews, and time to course delivery, L&D should focus on the business metrics it supports.
C. Find an enthusiastic adopter willing to work with L&D on designing a learning experience; present to management the improved business metrics.
D. A learning experience should offer ample practice context – currently, only 80% of the content is theoretical, and 20% is practical; L&D should switch the proportion.

* Discipline in the context of leadership doesn’t refer to authority. Quite the opposite, a person or team displaying discipline can self-assess while doing the work and bring themselves back on track.
* The discipline components are autonomy, ability to focus on the goal, no procrastination, self-determination, good time management, avoidance of distractions, and healthy work habits.
* Discipline doesn’t require the leader to oversee the team constantly; a disciplined group or individual has the ability to self-manage and maintains course without outside intervention.
* The leader explains the team’s goal by describing the key behaviors, objectives, and expected results and checks for understanding.
* The leader’s example is crucial when a challenging situation puts the shared values of the team to the test. The team will follow suit, whether the leader shows self-discipline or not.
* Trust is a vital component of a self-disciplined team. Team members can rely on each other to fulfill their tasks and call each other out constructively when someone missteps.
* Micromanagement is what happens when people don’t trust each other.
* Learning programs can be good tools to help teams become more disciplined and understand how to adopt new behaviors. But no amount of formal learning will create a self-disciplined team if the team members can’t apply the newly acquired knowledge in the proper work context.
* The leader plays a critical role in creating the right environment where the team can effectively put those learnings into practice.
* People can get both leadership and discipline fatigue.
* When an employee doesn’t want to continue being in a leadership role, they must self-assess and potentially make difficult decisions about their next career step. Staying in the same role is detrimental to both the company and themselves.
The Peter Principle: everyone gets promoted until they reach their position of incompetence. Companies that promote specialists into managerial roles suffer twofold: they lose a good specialist and gain a mediocre manager.
* Companies should create career opportunities that allow people to grow professionally without necessarily becoming a manager; this prevents people from arriving in leadership roles without the right motivation to be there.
* To create a healthy leadership culture, companies must properly assess the skills of their people. They need to make sure that employees arrive in leadership roles for the right reasons and have or can acquire the right skill set for the job.
* The “Up Or Out” policy is a poor example of a promotion strategy: due to the frequent role changes, the model creates a risk-averse culture, and roles are fulfilled by perpetual beginners.

How to establish and maintain discipline within a team:
1. The leader clarifies the team’s goal and makes sure the team understands and accepts it.
2. The leader must embody the spirit of what was agreed prior and showcase discipline while doing the work.
3. The team must be self-accountable: the leader’s presence shouldn’t be necessary for the bad behaviors to be called out and everyone to continue working effectively towards the agreed-upon goal.

* How leaders behave during tough conversations has a more substantial impact than CEO speeches or publicly announced company values.
* Knowing how to have a difficult conversation is a skill people can acquire through specific learning activities.
* Team trust and fostering a culture where people share feedback proactively, frequently, and respectfully are the best set-up for success and effectiveness.
* Asking questions instead of making assumptions about why someone made a mistake builds trust; this ensures that your advice will be appreciated and considered.
* Mistakes made due to lack of interest in doing a good job (for whatever reason) must be dealt with accordingly. People who consistently refuse to improve can’t be allowed to keep the same position.
* Team members giving each other feedback can use the same approach as their team leader. Asking questions to understand why a mistake occurs and then offering suggestions, ideally in private and quickly after observing the error, are effective methods to provide feedback.
* Building team trust might feel awkward at first, especially if there is no prior culture of honest feedback, but consistency is vital in creating an open feedback culture once the ice is broken.
* Advice that offers just a solution is incomplete. Complex situations also require the “how”, not just the “what”.
* Leaders are working both on the person’s motivation and skills at the same time while having a difficult conversation. Leaders mustn’t recognize just why a mistake happened but also what tools they can offer the employee to prevent the error from happening again.
* While providing feedback, the leader doesn’t just offer information on mistake prevention but also conveys the organization’s values.
* More often than not, it’s not worth investing energy in someone becoming mediocre at a skill they will never truly improve. It’s more beneficial to the organization for leaders to help improve their team members’ strong points.

How to have a difficult conversation and provide feedback:
1. ask what happened with the intent to understand why the person behaved like that
2. ask the person you are talking to why they think the mistake happened
3. recognize that there might be valid points that drove the person towards making that mistake
4. explain the correct approach if this happens in the future
5. offer specific advice and tools for how to prevent future mistakes

Mistake scenarios:
A. Mistake & Improvement
Honest mistakes made due to a lack of knowledge can happen. Leaders should observe and encourage progress.
B. Mistake & Ill Intent
When employees make mistakes due to lack of interest and show no improvement, leaders should remove them from the role and potentially the company.
C. Mistake & Lack of Improvement
In some situations, mistakes are made due to a lack of knowledge, but there is no realistic expectation that the person will improve. Leaders should either accept and compensate for this skill-set through the other team members’ profiles or move the person into a role where they will thrive.


* Most work contexts are well served by teams with a balanced skillset due to the company’s mission, which is often ambiguously defined: grow the business, create new products.

* The likeliness to have at least some team members that can deal with this level of ambiguity is very high in a team with multiple types of personalities and skillsets.

* Regardless of team composition, the most crucial goal is to reach a level of maturity that allows everybody’s skillset to shine in the right moment.

* This requires effective communication and a healthy dose of constructive conflict.

* But skill balance in a team isn’t always the goal: there are situations when you need a spike in a particular skillset to resolve more complex challenges, crises, critical problems.

* It’s essential for leaders to invest energy early on to help teams reach that level of compatibility and effectiveness that makes them perform.

* If something isn’t broken, you don’t fix it – this is applicable in most high-performing team situations, even if there is no skill balance. This stable approach is helpful in the short or mid-term to maintain the same level of productivity and predictability of results.

* In the long-term, however, it helps stir the pot and create off-balance teams with a broader context in focus. They might bring the proper insight and ability to observe significant changes that could impact the company (market changes, new technologies, new competing products).

* Leaders can prevent business plateaus and consistently push for progress in day-to-day work by making small changes. Teams can try out new technologies, approaches, tools without exposing their project or the company to significant risks while still taking on something new.

* Incremental changes are the most effective way to de-risk innovation.

* A diversity of opinions, personalities, and skillsets is what leaders should look for when shaping teams. The task of navigating these and facilitating effective communication falls on the shoulders of the leader. The leader’s goal should be to foster constructive disagreement and reach a state of “the total is greater than the sum of the parts”.

* Conflict is information, and, in a team with a high level of maturity, disagreement is welcomed as an excellent method to reach the optimal solution for the task at hand.

* Leaders shouldn’t enter difficult conversations with their minds already made about what the solution to the problem is. They must listen to the team and enter the situation with a problem-focused approach instead of a solution-focused one.

* The immediate leader is the first person employees will look to when difficult situations arise; the leader must display the values that the company stands for and act accordingly.

Traits of excellent leadership:

– caring

– lifelong learner, deliberate learner

– entrepreneurial

– welcomes diversity of opinions

– has a growth mindset

– facilitates effective communication

– not ego-driven

– recognizes the skill and personality gaps on their team

* Soft skills address practical aspects of working in a team: asking questions, suggesting ideas, having a conversation with someone who doesn’t share your opinions, or presenting your work to other people.
* Communication is the central focus of soft skills development. Soft skills also encompass emotional intelligence development, empathy, negotiation, and others.
* The more responsibility a person has towards increasingly larger groups of people (for example, being in a managerial position or client-facing), the impact of having good soft skills becomes more important than having technical skills.
* Soft skills development is more often than not requested or necessary in a context where the company is trying to address a more complex organizational problem: lack of motivation or engagement among employees, attrition, low performance, lousy customer relationships.
* A standalone soft skills program or a one-off training, even if delivered by an exceptional speaker or provider, doesn’t resolve the source problem. Employees will go back to their original work context and will not apply the learnings; even worse, they might become more frustrated because of the discrepancy between what they just learned and what they see happening in practice, day-to-day.
* Soft skills development goes hand in hand with a consultative approach; L&D professionals (both in-house and independent consultants) must be aware of the broader context of that request or need and make holistic suggestions to address the problems they observe.
* It’s not uncommon for a company with a less organized talent development framework to come to L&D professionals asking for a specific training intervention (for example, presentation skills training) when the underlying issue is, in fact, more complex. The consultative aspect of L&D work comes into play here.
* If, however, an organization has a robust talent development framework that is consistently applied, specific L&D interventions are likely enough to address particular problems quickly and effectively.
* Large companies have year-long budgeting and planning processes, so it’s hard for them to offer just-in-time soft skills development.
* For small companies, time is the biggest issue, as everyone is essential to the business, and people can’t break away from their pressing day-to-day duties to dedicate time to learning.
* Developing your soft skills is never a finite journey – while learning how to communicate with people effectively, you can always expect a new situation to surprise you and become another opportunity to learn.
* The reason it’s difficult to measure progress in soft skills is because it’s a subjective human experience that always involves at least two people. That said, a company should still create a performance management process with levels of measurement, knowing that this is contextual and not an absolute measure of progress.
* As with any company-wide initiative, implementing a soft skills development program must start with the explicit buy-in of leadership. This happens successfully when leaders embody the new learnings and consistently support the development of soft skills in the organization.