Grassroots and start up Learning and Development

Today I thought I might give the world of Vocational Education a break and have a look at some issues that more focused around corporate learning and development and in particular early stage, or greenfields corporate learning and development. As many of you know apart from trying to run RTOs and navigate the VET sector for more than a decade, I have also been heavily involved in the world of L&D and in particular the world of shall we say grassroots L&D.  So I thought that I might share a few of the insights I have gained over that time.

Firstly what is grassroots L&D?  It’s that L&D role where in real terms you are starting from scratch.  Now this might be for a wide variety of reason, organisational restructure has centralised learning functions and created a new L&D department, L&D has been just in one part of the business and there is a need to make it organisational, the organisation is relatively young or has undergone rapid growth making L&D a focus,  or as happens in a lot of cases for some reason L&D has been badly neglected and everything has basically run down and virtually stopped.

This can be frightening place for an L&D professional to find themselves.  Usually we land in roles where there is already existing structures, where we have the foundations.  Training is being delivered, there is a team who are familiar with the business and its needs, a structure around budgets and finance, you know all of those things we expect to have in an L&D department.  Often at the grassroots level, even in a larger organisation you will find that the L&D team is a team of exactly one, You.  So on top of managing, you may also be developing and delivering training, doing the administration, implementing technologies, and on top of that trying to recruit new staff to take the load off.  The other pressure which is often present in these scenarios, is the pressure to get things up and running as soon as possible so to speak.

It is this expectation of creating something relatively quickly, which can cause heartburn for some L&D folk, primarily because we are often used to having data, strategies, platforms and frameworks already in place to allow us to move forward.  So what most people do is to dive into developing their strategy and framework, start doing TNAs, auditing compliance training and certifications, all those things that we know we have to have in order to deliver meaningful learning experiences to our staff.  This however could be a very costly mistake in terms of you longevity in the role.

Why?  Well because in most of these situations we are dealing with organisations,  managements teams and even boards who may not grasp the complexity of the L&D function.  This is of real concern when the L&D team has been created because the business has discovered a gap, or in some cases a gaping black hole which they need to address and address quickly. They often don’t have time to worry about how things are going to be evaluated for example, they just want them to work.  Getting some kind of training started in a particular area may be far more important than making sure that training is totally aligned with the business plan and strategic goals.  In these cases getting all of your ducks in a row before you start may well leave you in a situation where you find yourself having to justify your achievements. Often in these cases as well there can competing agendas across the business, particularly when L&D has become a more centralised function, instead of being within business units and under the control of Mangers or GM’s.

So what do we do, how can we get done what the business needs, or thinks it needs and still set ourselves up to be able to move forward strategically at the same time.  As many of you may already know I have been a fan of training impact maps for a very long time.  When I first saw one in Brinkerhoff’s book High Impact Learning, they struck a chord with me as a useful tool for ensuring what we are delivering meets the needs of the organisation.  They are incredibly useful in these greenfields style situations where the business wants a solution but is not sure what that solution could be.

How does this work, it’s really simple, get the business, or business unit or even the board to fill this out, with or without help from you and then use the information contained in it to create whatever intervention is necessary to meet the needs outlined.  Here is  hint though, if the business can’t fill out these sections, then training may not be the answer and you may need to have a longer conversation with people.  Another quick hint, and this is really important, resist the temptation to provide the business with ideas around measurement of success, if they don’t come up with it they won’t own it and if they don’t own it and they didn’t tell you that was what they wanted to measure, then you are potentially in for a world of hurt, when they come back and say we actually wanted to see an improvement in X why did you measure Y we don’t care about that.

Part of the trick here also is to get them to ask the right questions such as;

  • Who is the Target group for training,
  • Why are we doing this training, what result will it mean for the business
  • What are the tasks that the target group do that this training is seeking to improve
  • What are the skills and knowledge that staff need to perform these tasks
  • Which of the strategic goals of the business does this training relate to and how, and
  • How will you know if this training has been successful.

So if you can get them to fill this out properly you will have achieved a couple of quite important things, firstly as i said above you will have a nice base from which to look at what interventions you will need to develop to meet the need.  Secondly you will have started the process of the business thinking strategically about its learning and development needs, the value that training brings to the organisation and the need make sure that training that is being delivered or requested will actually meet the needs of the organisation and staff.

Now you should be up and running and can start to build and deliver things and then hopefully start work on some of the other areas which will need your attention.

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My favourite L&D Books

I thought as a start to the year I would begin building a list of my favourite Learning and Development books, these are all books that I have read and would recommend highly.  If you have any other suggestions then feel free to let me know.

The business of learning – David Vance

The success case method – Robert O Brinkerhoff

High Impact Learning – Robert O Brinkerhoff

Ten Steps to a Learning Organisation – Kline and Saunders

Building the Learning Organisation – Marguardt

The Fifth Discipline – Senge

The Training Measurement Book – Bersin

The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning – Wick, Pollock and Jefferson

How to measure training results – Phillips and Stone

 

So as I said if you have any other books that you like let me know.  I intend to build this list over the year.

 

Rapid Skill Acquisition and Instant Evaluation – The Evaluation of Interfaced Learning

Ask yourself this, if we think about just in time learning, utilising YouTube or videos to impart skills to staff, or even just staff reading a policy or procedure through an online portal, what result do we want this?  How can we tell if this skill acquisition through some form of interfaced learning has been successful?  How can we evaluate skills or knowledge, which as I have discussed in another post  may be disacquired as rapidly as we have acquired them.  The more I think about evaluation the more I feel that our traditional models aren’t designed to cope with a world in which just in time, rapid skill acquisition is becoming more prevalent.

If I think about the example I have used previously of me acquiring the skill to use a mitre box to cut ceiling trim and install it, I think this provides where my think sits on this.  So the question is how to evaluate whether or not the ‘learning’ was successful?  Well what was my (or to be truthful my wife’s) success criteria,  it was quite simply install ceiling trim.  So if that was the success criteria, then it would seem that I was successful.  I know I was successful because my wife was happy with the result.  The real question here for me is how long did that evaluation process take, well in reality it was almost instantaneous.  I completed the task and then got my wife to come in and evaluate it as soon as I was finished.

Now you might say that is a very simply example and that evaluating the  success or failure of a learning program at an organisational level is much more complex than that and while I think that is at leas to some extend correct I think there are also a range of learning interventions where trying to do something other than what I have outlined above simply overcomplicates the matter.

Certainly there are tasks, skills and knowledge that we want our staff to have learnt and integrated so that they can perform them independently, and without additional learning when they need to.  However there are a range of tasks within any organisation where what we want from the learning process is that when the person needs to undertake the task, they simply access the relevant information, perform the task and then move on.  It is the Interfaced Learning process that I have described elsewhere, where we don’t actually expect that the staff member will retain skills or knowledge for any longer than it is necessary for them to complete the task (Acquire, Utilise, Disacquire).  In these cases I would suggest that the best time and in really the only time we should be evaluating the effectiveness of the learning should be at the time, that is directly after they have completed the task in question.

Sure we can accumulate all of this data, from all of the Interfaced Learning activities across the organisation and then begin to analyse what worked better, what was successful and what wasn’t, but the success of the actual instances themselves is something that should be determined as soon as possible after the completion of the task in question.

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