Thinking

Five lessons we can learn from other professions

3 December 2018 |

hpc’s Kevin Hannigan explores why Learning and Development Professionals should look to other professions for insights into how they might transform their practice.

Last year’s IITD conference looked at the future world of work, the rise of AI, and the rapid disruption of industries. We now largely accept that to survive in “the new normal” we need to prepare people to learn and to change at an extraordinary rate.

These circumstances provide L&D professionals with an extraordinary opportunity to take their ‘seat at the table’ and support organisational transformation. Unfortunately, many L&D functions are struggling to justify their worth to the business.

Is this a failure of senior leadership to grasp our worth and impact on the organisation or should we bear some of the blame? In our rush to push out training, have we inadvertently focused on events rather than
performance.

If we do want to take our seat at the table, what will it take to shift from designing ‘learning events’ to creating ecosystems and experiences that increase performance? We think that the answer may lie in taking inspiration from other professions to craft new ways of thinking about our work.

These 5 ideas won’t solve all our woes, but they will play an important part in enabling this change and, in the process, future-proofing your career:

BUILD LIKE AN ARCHITECT

The Roman architect Vitruvius in his treatise on architecture, De Architectura, asserted that there were three principles of good architecture:

• Firmatis (Durability) – it should stand up robustly and remain in good condition.

• Utilitas (Utility) – it should be useful and function well for the people using it.

• Venustatis (Beauty) – it should delight people and raise their spirits.

These three principles could equally be applied to Learning and Development.

Durability – are our programmes based on robust evidence and sound research?

Utility – Just as architects believe that “form follows function”, we too should choose the most appropriate tools, inputs and supports to create a learning environment that influences behaviour, experience and performance.

Beauty – Great architecture is influenced by its surroundings - would the Eiffel Tower work as well in a high-rise city like New York? In a similar way, our learning and development strategy and each intervention should reflect the environment in which they were created and our organisational strategy.

CREATE LIKE A DESIGNER

Great design makes us want to engage with a product or service. The iPhone changed the world not just because of its combination of technologies but also because its design made us want to engage with it. Many
businesses and social organisations now embed design thinking throughout entire organisational policies and practices to be more constructive and innovative. Stanford University’s D-School’s ‘5 stages of Design Thinking’ raise some interesting questions for us:

Stage 1 – Empathise – Have we spent time observing our audience in their environment (as opposed to focus groups)?

Stage 2 – Define – Have we segmented our audience properly; defining their pain points, challenges and understanding their incentives to change? (see marketing above)

Stage 3 – Ideate – Have we considered new approaches and tools or that a training programme isn’t the correct approach?

Stage 4 – Prototype – Designers build quickly, fail fast and learn from the process.

Stage 5 – Test – Sometimes, the only way to trial something is to build it and seek feedback. Great designers build, test and learn from feedback.

ENGAGE LIKE A MARKETEER

If you build it, they won’t necessarily come. Marketeers understand that people engage with brands and that brands convey meaning, emotion and purpose. If you think about your function as a brand, how would people describe it? Is it a brand that they want to engage with? Do they trust your brand in the same way that Irish people voted the Credit Union as the most trusted brand in the country?

Marketeers also understand their audience and continually segment their customers to understand their needs. This segmentation extends beyond needs analysis to include:

• Communicating with different stakeholders through different channels and with different messages;

• Developing new offerings based on both horizontal and vertical segments;

• Differentiated investment in different segments; and

• Analysing data based on segments.

SOLVE LIKE A HACKER

Hacking can have negative connotations particularly as it relates to criminally “hacking” databases and secure servers. However, the original meaning of the term referred to ‘a desire to solve a problem using playful cleverness and creativity’. Indeed, people like Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux identify themselves as hackers. Hacking is about being outcome driven and using anything and everything around you to achieve your goal. Rather than seeing every problem as a nail and smashing it with the ‘hammer’ of formal training, hacking implies that we expand our toolkit and consider all available options to achieve the results we require.

Even better, if like a marketeer you understand your audience, you’ll recognise their current tools, processes and practice, so you can build a solution into and aligned with their workflow.

MEASURE LIKE A SCIENTIST

Sixty years on, Kirkpatrick’s four levels of evaluation has cornered the market on evaluation in L&D. That’s unfortunate because it’s largely tied to the event-based model of training we’re trying to relegate to history. Worse, it’s ‘reaction’ level runs counter to the reality of learning whereby learner happiness after training has little correlation to actual learning.

We need to develop an evidence-based approach to decision making, leveraging data to justify targeted investment in L&D. We need to be curious about our impact and look across the organisation for potential evidence of impact. This means us becoming more comfortable with data and measurement and engaging with data from other functions.

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