Category: role

Not our job

Despite the prevailing rhetoric for the Learning & Development function to be “data driven”, data for the purposes of evaluating what we do is notoriously hard to come by.

Typically we collect feedback from happy sheets (which I prefer to call unhappy sheets) and confirm learning outcomes via some form of assessment.

In my experience, however, behavioural change is reported much less often, while anything to do with business metrics even less so. While I recognise multiple reasons for the latter in particular, one of them is simply the difficulty we mere mortals have in accessing the numbers.

Which has been a long-standing mystery to me. We’re all on the same team, so why am I denied the visibility of the information I need to do my job?

I’ve always suspected the root cause is a combination of human foibles (pride, fear, territoriality), substandard technology (exacerbated by policy) and a lack of skill or will to use the technology even when it is available.

Notwithstanding these ever-present problems, it’s been dawning on me that the biggest blocker to our ability to work with the numbers is the fact that, actually, it’s not our job.

Business woman presenting data to two colleagues

Consider a bank that discovers a major pain point among its customers is the long turnaround time on their home loan applications. To accelerate throughput and thus improve the customer experience, the C-suite makes a strategic decision to invest in an AI-assisted processing platform.

I contend the following:

  • It’s the job of the implementation team to ensure the platform is implemented properly.
  • It’s the job of the L&D team to build the employees’ capability to use it.
  • It’s the job of the service manager to report the turnaround times.
  • It’s the job of the CX researchers to measure the customer experience.
  • It’s the job of the C-suite to justify their strategy.

In this light, it’s clear why we L&D folks have so much trouble trying to do the other things on the list that don’t mention us. Not only are we not expected to do them, but those who are don’t want us to do them.

In short, we shouldn’t be doing them.

Caveat

At this juncture I wish to caution against conflating learning & development with performance consulting.

Yes, learning & development is a driver of performance, and an L&D specialist may be an integral member of a performance centre, but I urge anyone who’s endeavouring to rebrand their role as such to heed my caveat.

My point here is that if you are responsible for learning & development, be responsible for it; and let those who are responsible for performance be responsible for it.

Value

Having said that, there is plenty we should be doing within the bounds of our role to maximise the performance of the business. Ensuring our learning objectives are action oriented and their assessment authentic are two that spring to mind.

And I don’t wish to breathe air into the juvenile petulance that the phrase “not my job” can entail. On the contrary, we should be collaborating with our colleagues on activities related to our remit – for example training needs analysis, engineering the right environmental conditions for transfer, and even Level 4 evaluation – to achieve win-win outcomes.

But do it with them, not for them, and don’t let them offload their accountability for it being done. If they don’t wish to collaborate, so be it.

Essentially it boils down to Return on Expectation (ROE). In our quest to justify the Return on Investment (ROI) of our own service offering, we need to be mindful of what it is our financiers consider that service to be.

Anything beyond that is an inefficient use of our time and expertise.

The caveat of the performance centre

One of the more exciting ideas to emerge from the corporate learning space, which I hasten to add is yet to be realised, is to transform the Learning & Development department into a performance centre.

Rather than charging L&D Consultants with marketing the team’s lovingly crafted interventions, or reacting to random solution-first requests from the business – We need a team building workshop! – the Performance Consultant analyses the real needs of the business and identifies the relevant solutions.

This is not a novel idea. For example, I am aware of an Australian bank that established a performance centre over a decade ago, while Helen Blunden recently shared the following via an OzLearn chat:

 
On the face of it, this makes sense to me. I subscribe to the notion that the point of learning in the workplace is to improve performance, and the raison d’être of the performance centre is to shift our focus to its namesake.

Loose nails.

However, I do have a caveat: If the performance centre is populated with L&D types, then the solutions they devise are probably going to be L&D oriented.

This won’t appear to pose a problem unless you appreciate that not all performance ailments are due to an L&D deficiency. On the contrary, poor performance may be caused by myriad factors such as:

  • A flawed process
  • Obsolete technology
  • Inadequate resourcing
  • Noise or other disturbances
  • Office politics
  • Interpersonal conflict

…or any number of human conditions:

  • Stress
  • Sickness
  • Demotivation
  • Exhaustion
  • Laziness

…not to mention one of my favourites offered by Joyce Seitzinger in the aforementioned Ozlearn chat:

 
Of course! Recruiting the right person for the role in the first place!

My point is, while poor performance may well be due to a lack of capability, it might not be either. An effective Performance Consultant must determine the root causes of the problems – whatever they may be – and respond accordingly. Do former L&D Consultants have that skillset?

If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

How to become an eLearning Professional

That’s the title of a free e-book to which I was flattered to be invited to contribute a chapter.

The book is introduced by the editor, Christopher Pappas, as such:

This is not your average looking, cliché reproducing, metaphysical, theory-loving free eLearning eBook. Do not expect to read any speculations, rhetorical questions, and abstractions related to eLearning. This is merely a powerful weapon in the hands of those who are truly interested in becoming the field’s Top eLearning Professionals. Make no mistake however. It’s addressed only to those with a passion for eLearning, eagerness to evolve, desperate to reach their potential, hungry for uniqueness, and ambitious enough people that want to make a difference in someone else’s life.

Cover art for How to become an eLearning Professional

The free “How to Become an eLearning Professional” eBook is filled with the knowledge, wisdom, experience and inspiration of carefully selected eLearning professionals, with long-standing, successful eLearning careers, innovative projects up their sleeves, impressive eLearning portfolios and even more impressive CVs. All of them create a highly influential eLearning team of experts, but each one has his or her own distinctive path, skills and know-how, leading to the creation of a multidimensional, and highly helpful for those who want to advance their eLearning careers, professional mosaic.

This can only mean one thing. What you are about to read is not some generic eLearning advice you could easily find in any “eLearning for Dummies” manual. This free eLearning eBook contains hot eLearning tips, secret concepts, specific steps and insider information that will help you become a top-notch eLearning professional.

No pressure then!

But in all seriousness, I stand by the advice that I offer in the book, and I appreciate the insights shared by my eminent peers.

I recommend How to become an eLearning Professional for newbies and veterans alike.

What exactly does an E-Learning Manager do?

I read somewhere once that the best employees don’t take any notice of their job descriptions. In other words, they work out what needs to be done and they get on and do it.

This notion resonated with me when a fellow learning professional asked me what I do in my capacity as an E-Learning Manager.

Aerial view of a laptop and other devices.

The thing is, the role of “E-Learning Manager” (ELM) is a grey one. Like “Product Manager” or “Business Analyst”, the nuts & bolts of what you do can vary widely from organisation to organisation – from the code monkey who really should be a software engineer, to the strategic consultant who really should be a politician, to everything and anything in between.

Even within the one role at the one workplace, the breadth of what an ELM might do can be staggering. For example, these are some of the activities that I might do on any given day:

  • Client consulting
  • Training needs analysis
  • Content curation
  • Content mapping
  • Content sourcing
  • Content development
  • Content editing
  • Instructional design
  • Graphic design
  • Multimedia production
  • Courseware development
  • Courseware testing
  • LMS administration
  • Webinar administration
  • Discussion moderation
  • Community management
  • IT helpdesk
  • Training and coaching
  • Vendor management
  • Sales liaison
  • Reporting
  • Data analysis
  • Evaluation
  • Internal marketing
  • Intranet publishing
  • External research
  • Expert advice
  • Strategic planning
  • Irrelevant stuff that is other people’s jobs.

And I’m sure there’s plenty I’ve missed!

Of course, I don’t do all of this all the time. Ideally I will prioritise; but the reality of business is that the prevailing circumstances will dictate my priorities for me.

How does this stack up with what other e-learning pro’s do?

Are there any budding ELM’s out there who have different expectations of the role?

Learning vs Development

Is there a difference between learning and development?

I ruminated over this question for a number of years as a Learning & Development professional, but without much progress.

I could never draw a clear line between the two, so I considered the “D” in “L&D” to be a simple tautology.

That was until a colleague of mine recommended I read Making the Case for a Developmental Perspective by Dr Suzanne R Cook-Greuter.

Bidirectional POV

Cook-Greuter distinguishes between two directions of human development: horizontal growth and vertical transformation.

Horizontal growth refers to the gaining of new knowledge, skills and behaviours within a particular stage of development. In doing so, the learner becomes better equipped to perform in their environment.

Vertical transformation is much more sophisticated. Rather than expanding capability within the same stage of development, the learner promotes their intellect to a higher stage of development.

The Leadership Development Framework (LDF) models this transformation as an upward spiral from the preconventional Impulsive and Opportunist through to the transpersonal Ironist and beyond:

The spiral of development in the Leadership Development Framework

Each stage of development represents a level of wisdom that transcends the one before it.

The vast majority of people in modern society (and hence in the workplace) occupy the conventional stages of Diplomat, Expert and Achiever. Promotion to the postconventional stages of Individualist, Strategist and Alchemist is relatively rare, while I presume the transpersonal stages are the realm of the Zen Master.

(For profiles of the seven most common stages in the workplace, refer to Rooke & Torbert’s Seven Transformations of Leadership.)

The sound of a penny dropping

As I read Cook-Greuter’s paper, it dawned on me that her bidirectional model of development can represent the two sides of the L&D equation:

  1. Horizontal growth represents the “L” – improving your competence.
  2. Vertical transformation represents the “D” – maturing your mind.

I think it’s fair to say most L&D professionals focus their energy in the L space:

  • Classroom-based training
  • Online courses
  • System simulations
  • Job aids
  • Assessments
  • Performance appraisals
  • Coaching

But this might only be going half way.

Cook-Greuter maintains that to help people transform, “only specific long-term practices, self-reflection, action inquiry, and dialogue, as well as living in the company of others further along the development path has been shown to be effective” (pp. 3-4).

In other words, meaningful transformation requires deep intervention which is personally driven and fostered by peers. The role of the L&D professional is to facilitate it:

  • Communities of practice
  • Enterprise social networking
  • Disruptive content
  • Cross-departmental problems
  • Mentoring

In addition, reflection and deep thinking requires time, permission and support – so we need to secure managerial buy-in.

We can’t “do” development for others; they must do it for themselves. However we can cultivate the right environment and empower them to make the most of their opportunities.

Why bother?

That’s a question that has been on my mind since I wrote Shades of green last year. Does all this warm and fuzzy stuff really make a difference to the performance of the business? I’m convinced the answer is yes.

Of course horizontal growth remains important. Every employee has a job to do, and since nobody’s perfect, there will always be opportunities to increase knowledge, expand skillsets and change behaviours to do those jobs better.

Complementing that, I see the ROI in developing people vertically. When we refine our views of the corporate system and our roles in it, we think more strategically, work more efficiently, and collaborate with one another more effectively. In short, we perform better.

So it is clear to me now that the role of the L&D professional is two-fold: by definition, it’s to help people learn and develop.