New Voices in L&D – Candice Mitchell

As we continue our series in hearing new voices in L&D, I’m pleased to welcome Candice Mitchell to the blog. In this piece, really interrogates the new starter experience when you start a new role remotely. What’s the role of L&D during this important period?

I don’t edit or amend the pieces being written for me. I’m not an editor, and that’s not something that matters for the purposes of this series. Each piece is submitted in the author’s own writing style. I’m also not fact-checking, unless there’s something that needs to be fact-checked.

Having built up a lifelong career in developing talent, Candice is a self-professed learning nerd because nothing excites her more than supporting people throughout their careers and watching them thrive. She is particularly adept at standing up the L&D function from the ground up and building capabilities in the team so that L&D can deliver best-in-class solutions to our customers.

You can connect with Candice on LinkedIn and on Twitter.

No person will be left behind

Imagine this. It’s your first day in your first role. You make your way to work. You walk from your bedroom, grab a cup of coffee, and walk through to your workspace. The butterflies, the excitement, the unknown, you have arrived. You open your shiny new laptop and dial in to your first meeting with your incredible manager. 

During that meeting you discuss the basics, your manager tells you about the team and the projects you’ll start working on. You are eager to get started. In the weeks that follow, you attend a company induction, you meet your teammates and key stakeholders, and get access to the information you need.

You start working. Days go by and you don’t speak to people except for the transactional messages pinging in your work groups. Now what?

Many people, especially young people entering the job market, are feeling like strangers in their own teams. They feel forgotten and lost, and they are too afraid to ask for help because they’re supposed to know this stuff. That’s why they got hired right? This is not how its supposed to be so let’s dig deeper.

I felt like a stranger

One heartbreaking account was of a person starting in a new team and “willing the faces in the Zoom squares to become their friends.” But they didn’t. In fact, no one except the lead person got to speak. There were too many people in the meeting and the approach was information sharing rather than collaboration. We will lose our sense of belonging if we do not connect to our teammates. No one builds relationships over Slack. We know that people put more of themselves into a job if they feel like they are part of something, part of a team, part of the organization.

We will lose our company culture. New hires who start in remote roles do not get to live the culture. You and I know that interacting with people behind the screen is not the same as in person because most online meetings or chat groups are transactional.

Out of sight, out of mind

New hires don’t get to know their colleagues which resulted in 34% less peer recognition for them compared to in-office counterparts. People have reported being forgotten and therefore not being invited to important meetings. They are not part of vital conversations.

For more experienced professionals, Amy Sanchez said, “In all transparency, the work from home phenomena has had a higher negative impact on career progression because we don’t have the same ability to build relationships and management is not making a lot of changes to org structure (unless it’s to let people go) because there’s so much uncertainty about the future,”

I am supposed to know this

Most research points to people being more productive from home, but who are these people. If you dig a little deeper, it is those with more experience. They know the job, they know how to achieve results and so the time saved from commuting and the office distractions, all make for a ripe environment to be more productive.

But on the other side of this coin, you have the inexperienced youth. Most of what I have read and gathered through conversations, is that they are too afraid to ask for help. They believe they should know this. They got hired into a job and so they should be able to do that job. But they don’t, not yet. They don’t ask and so in some cases, weeks go by without them completing a task and without anyone helping because no one knows that this person doesn’t know what to do. It’s a vicious cycle. Where is the support, and how do we learn from each other?

To sum up the challenge, an article “remote work is failing young employees” reports that all (interviewees) were grateful to be employed, but many felt left behind, invisible and, in some cases, unsure about how to actually do their jobs. How do we actively support people coming into our organizations, so that they feel included, mesh into the culture, make friends, and become confident and capable at their jobs?

These are the 5 things we can do now:

Show them the way

Your policies written up in the beginning of 2020 are no longer relevant and people are desperate to know what the new normal will be. It’s 2022 but let’s face it, 2020 was about surviving and 2021 was trying to come up for air. Now we’re here. We’re here in a time where we need to guide people. Set the policies, even if they are a work in progress. People appreciate the progress over silence. They need communication and clear guidelines on what’s next.

Learn from one another

Cross-functional cohort learning, I beat on this drum a lot but it’s one of my favorite instruments. Build safe places for people to connect and learn from one another. Do you have a leadership program? Mix the teams from finance, sales, and logistics. Do you have an on-boarding program? Mix the groups with people who have been there 3 months, 2 months, 2 weeks and 1 day. Sales Excellence programs? Customer Service programs? Mix people from in-field sales to the call center to the back-office support people who process the orders. We need to break out of the echo chambers and start building capabilities cross-functionally.

Connections

Different to cohort learning, social groups have no agenda or outcome. These are just groups where people share interests and come together to talk about it. Suggestions range from video game groups to book or movie clubs, virtual pub quizzes or organizational initiatives like wellness workshops or social impact events. Create the space and let the creativity flow. Your people will come up with ideas that feel natural and effortless. 

Coaching

Connect your people to one another through coaching programs. All managers should be coaches so my point here is this should extend beyond the manager as coach. My suggestion is to have a variety of coaches. A coach to show you the ropes of your role. A coach to be your sounding board when you are not sure about something, even something as simple as reading an email before you send it, time ranges to call people, appropriate times to email or send messages, where to find what. A coach to guide in navigating team dynamics and building stakeholder relationships. The more coaches, the more that person will be able to live your culture.

Mentoring

If I had to choose only one solution, this would be it. There is a huge need for mentorships. From the newbie, through to the seasoned professional.

A mentorship program is a deliberate and formal pairing of mentors with mentees. I believe in a double mentorship program.

The one mentor is there for support with career growth as the primary goal. This person can assist and map out the mentee’s long terms career goals and guide on how to get there. The mentor is a seasoned person in the organization that has reached the top of their career and wants to help build a talented pipeline. They have had their successful career and have nothing to gain from the mentee except to give back and impart their wisdom. I think this is reason enough.

The second mentor provides more immediate support with the primary goal of networking and championing the mentee on current work tasks. This mentor, as an example, guides the mentee through the prep of a presentation or arranges opportunities for the mentee to present to prominent people in the organization. This mentor will be recognized for growing top talent and getting people upskilled quickly to move from project to project or team to team. The mentee will be viewed as someone who can quickly add value with the guidance of this mentor. This mentor wants to grow their career and be recognized as a formidable leader. This mentee wants to be connected and be capable.

People are social creatures. Employees are most interested in collaboration. We want to work with people and feel connected. We want to do the best we can. We want to earn respect and we inherently want to be fantastic in our roles. Let’s help people be the best they can be, and feel that sense of belonging we all crave.

Research resources:

The future of remote working. The good, the bad and the ugly: https://luminalearning.com/the-future-of-remote-working-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/

What employees are saying about the future of remote work: https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/people-and-organizational-performance/our-insights/what-employees-are-saying-about-the-future-of-remote-work

Why in-person workers may be more likely to get promoted: https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20210305-why-in-person-workers-may-be-more-likely-to-get-promoted

Remote Work Is Failing Young Employees: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/22/opinion/remote-work-gen-z.html

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New Voices in L&D – Laura Bullen

Next in the series of new voices in L&D, we hear from Laura Bullen. This piece is a really helpful bit of thinking out loud. I really enjoy pieces like this because Laura sets out her stall for the current reality in her organisation and then sets out her intention for where she’d like to get to. There’s no finished a-ha moment, it’s a work in progress.

I don’t edit or amend the pieces being written for me. I’m not an editor, and that’s not something that matters for the purposes of this series. Each piece is submitted in the author’s own writing style. I’m also not fact-checking, unless there’s something that needs to be fact-checked.

Laura is an open-minded learning and development practitioner and accredited coach with over ten years’ experience of leading multidisciplinary teams to develop capability and deliver transformational change across multiple sectors. Laura leads on the strategy, design and implementation of learning pathways at the Co-op, the UK’s largest consumer co-operative.

You can connect with Laura on LinkedIn.

When is an induction, not an induction?

Have you ever tried to buy a new car only to be told that the display colour was the only model available? Or perhaps you’ve been to a restaurant where you were informed that the set menu was the only option? I can’t imagine you’d be willing to part with thousands of pounds of your hard-earned cash for a car that wasn’t exactly what you wanted. And I’m also not sure that the restaurant with such limited options would be somewhere you’d choose to spend an evening of your precious free time. I’m sure there are a few fine dining restaurants which would prove the exception but, in the main, it’s not likely to be your first choice!

And yet… when people join us in a leadership role at the Co-op, the UK’s largest consumer co-operative, an employer of over 65,000 colleagues, we only offer them one fixed option for learning.

We currently offer a 5-day fixed programme for first-line managers or a 12-day fixed programme for mid-senior managers to the Co-op. There’s no choice.

You may be joining us from another organisation, or you may be a promotee but you’ll receive exactly the same programme.

So, what if you’d like to just sign up for certain elements of the programme? Sorry, no.

What if the demands of your job mean that you can’t spare that many days for learning? Sorry, we can’t help you.

And what about if you already work for us and want to take part? Also, sorry, no.

I’m being deliberately facetious, and I should say that the content of both programmes is described as excellent so it’s not the content which is an issue. It’s when you consider this fixed approach in the context of our modern lives, which are becoming increasingly led by choice, it doesn’t quite fit. Pair this with the economic climate, increasing costs, and the drive to ‘do less with more’, and I’m sure you’ll agree that we can’t afford to rest on our laurels.

That’s why, this year, at the Co-op, we want to transform our approach to inducting leaders. We want our induction to mirror our ambition to promote a continuous culture of learning at the Co-op. We want to break down the content of our fixed induction programmes and offer these in a modular way as part of an ‘always on’ learning offer which is available to everyone, not just newbies. We want to create a way of orientating new leaders to the Co-op which is likely to be 1-2 days at most, followed by the opportunity for individuals to develop their own learning plan from our portfolio.

This doesn’t mean we will wash our hands of new starters and ask them to self-serve i.e. all but the most engaged do nothing. This means that we want to invest in the tools and guidance for leaders to create their own learning plans which should evolve as they grow into their roles rather than ending in the way fixed induction programmes do. My ultimate dream would be to include a human element… people helping people to create learning plans which support their goals. There are likely to be more than a few reality checks along the way, not all our businesses may be able to manage such a flexible model, but we’ll work closely with them, take on board feedback from colleagues, and let’s see where we end up!

New Voices in L&D – Adam McDaniel

The second blogger in this series is Adam McDaniel. In this piece, Adam really articulates well the silo thinking we can easily fall into. Sharing his own experiences of the value of being closer to the reality of the work teams do, Adam provides some great thinking on what we can do differently.

I don’t edit or amend the pieces being written for me. I’m not an editor, and that’s not something that matters for the purposes of this series. Each piece is submitted in the author’s own writing style. I’m also not fact-checking, unless there’s something that needs to be fact-checked.

Adam has worked in L&D for over 13 years. During that time, Adam has worked in delivery, design, trainer development, training operations, learning technology, and training project management. 

During his time working in multiple roles, Adam has trained thousands of people in dozens of job roles all over the world. He has certified and developed dozens of trainers to be more effective, engaging and drive better results. He has found that the standard L&D processes aren’t doing a good enough job at driving performance and results.

Currently, Adam’s day job has him working as a Training Project Manager in the telecommunications industry. In addition, Adam is the host of the Apex Mind podcast and works with small and medium businesses to improve their training processes, documentation, and employee development.

You can connect with Adam on social or email:

Adam.mcdaniel82@gmail.com

https://www.linkedin.com/in/adam-mcdaniel/

https://twitter.com/ApexMindAdam

L&D Has a Silo Problem

For many years, I worked in a large L&D organization at a fortune 50 company. I occupied several roles and supported over a dozen workgroups. For most of that time, the L&D group that I was a part of reported into the company’s HR organization. Over ten years into my L&D career, I moved into a team that reported to our stakeholder group. Everything changed for me.

Being closer to the people that I supported allowed me to be more involved with the work that they did. I was on more of their meetings. I gained their trust and respect.

In this role, I focused less on delivering training, writing content, and planning releases. Instead, I was able to focus on the actual performance gaps that employees were experiencing and help to address them.

Sometimes the solutions had nothing to do with a traditional training deliverable. I fixed performance gaps by working with engineering to update the systems. I addressed knowledge gaps by working with the Knowledge Manager to update resources. I worked with front-line teams to improve coaching and development processes.

There was a vast contrast between working in a more traditional L&D team and a team that worked in this way.

For too long, the Learning & Development industry has been too insular and in their own silo.

Most L&D podcasts seem to only try to speak only to other L&D professionals. Most of the big L&D names on social platforms seem to only be speaking to other people from the L&D world. This is a problem.

In our world today, everybody must be good at teaching and learning. Gone are the days where the L&D department has to create and deliver training. And who are we kidding? Employees have learned from their peers and informal channels for a long time.

Front-line teams and subject matter experts create their own training. They document processes and create reference materials. Employees learn from Google and searching the internet outside of company resources. Some L&D teams frown upon this, but should they?

Employees are looking for answers in external sources because the internal ones aren’t hitting the mark. If what L&D was producing was providing value, people would use it.

Outside of work, a knowledge and learning revolution has occurred. You can learn anything you want to learn online for free or for cheap. Google, YouTube, social media, online course catalogs, and apps have made learning decentralized. This is amazing news for learning professionals.

L&D groups can now curate content from external sources as well as from the experts within the business. Instead of spending their time creating and delivering training, L&D can focus on making people better at what they do.

What is the L&D to do about this? How can the people that claim to champion improving people do more of it?

First, our focus should first be on helping people to perform better. Before proposing training, determine whether the gap in performance is because of a lack of knowledge or skill. If it is, the solution could be training. If the gap is due to systems, processes, policies, coaching gaps, or something besides training, then it should not. L&D should be partnering with the appropriate teams to address the gap.

Next, L&D groups should focus on content curation and on promoting social learning. It’s ok to provide training solutions that were not designed by the L&D team. Promoting curation and socialized learning saves the L&D team time. It expands the training content catalog. It also delivers training people want rather than have to complete.

Last, L&D folks need to get out of their bubble. Shadow other teams. Apply for roles outside of L&D. Consume content from marketers, copywriters, salespeople, tech people, and the like. Get out of your silo. Consider adjusting your teams structure to report into your stakeholder group rather than a larger L&D org. It will help you to better understand the people you serve. I’ll leave you with a quote from Benjamin Franklin: “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” Let’s all stop trying to tell and teach, and get focused on doing a better job involving.

New Voices in L&D – Judy Flaschmann

Welcome to the new series of blog posts highlighting new voices in L&D. It can be so easy to get wrapped in our bubbles, and hearing from the same people. That’s why I open my blog to new voices, because I don’t want us to become stale in our thinking.

This first post from Judy Flaschmann highlights the importance of reflective practice. Judy demonstrates how we learn from taking the time to think about what we are doing as individuals and the impact we might, or might not, be having on others. Importantly, Judy shares her reflections on what it means to have connection with others.

You can connect with Judy on LinkedIn.

Influence and L&D

I facilitate on a leadership programme that’s all about influence, helping our leaders understand the importance of shared social identities – how they could go about creating the conditions in which people will be more willing to be influenced by them.  And this causes me to turn to myself and wonder about what it is that makes someone more likely to be influenced by me?   In particular, when I’m peddling my version of best practice L&D, what is it that helps colleagues buy into me and my version as the solution to their challenges.

Its only occasionally my knowledge, perceived expertise, stories of what I’ve done before or my compelling vision of what I think will work and the transformation possible if only they could stop thinking about a training course as the answer to every problem.  If that works, it doesn’t last.  The next problem comes along and its back to the same old starting point…. Solutions before diagnosis, training as the answer to everything…you know the story.

And that leads me to the question, am I doing it for them, or for me?  Granted, I’m passionate about development and I want what I do to work. And its my job.  But is it for me or is it for them?  Does it matter if the results are good?  Isn’t everyone a winner then?   But maybe that’s why it can be such a struggle and feel like a battle, if people are perceiving that I’m here to serve my agenda, I’m here for me and not for them and there is no us.  The very fact that this expression is in my mind, me and them, means I’m not thinking about us.  I’m perceiving them – whoever them is as somehow different to me.   Maybe they are just complying.  Maybe I give them no real choice.  Maybe there’s no influence at all. Compliance isn’t influence.

What is it that that will cause someone be open to be influenced by me?  It’s got to be that they feel some kind of connection with me, some shared identity and that I’m acting in their interests – not because I tell them I am but because they feel it and I show it.   It’s for them, for their real challenges and the problems they are trying to solve, and it helps them to matter.  It’s open, its curious and its capacity building.  Leaving people stronger and more able.  If that’s what others feel I am all about, then magic is possible.

From a new, old and not very public voice in L&D.

A chronicle of the last two years

I read something the other day which said something like “two years ago in January 2020”, and it stumped me. Are we already two years later?

January 2020, I went up to see a friend in Edinburgh with narry a worry. February of 2020, I went with a friend for a ski trip to North Italy over a long weekend. It was the early moments of Covid, and at Milan airport people were having their temperature taken. Two days later we had guidance to suggest anyone returning from that region should self-isolate, which we dutifully did for 14 days. A week later we were all given the order to stay home.

It is genuinely astounding to me that we are now two years into this pandemic, and we’re still unsure what this means for the future.

I quickly learned that I hated everything about lockdown, even though I had a lot of privilege. I live with my parents, so I wasn’t alone and thankfully neither were they. I could work from home with relative ease, and our team were finding ways to come together virtually in good ways. I live in an English village with a lot of fields and forests around us. I wasn’t furloughed, so could continue to work.

By nature I am a people person. I have always enjoyed the hustle and bustle of life. People doing people things. Going to the shops. Meeting friends to hang out. Last minute plans. Getting on the tube. Being in an office. All of that and more like that energises me thoroughly. To not have any of that quickly depleted my levels of resilience. Even after restrictions started to be lifted in summer of 2020, I was so cautious of everything.

We were literally told we could not trust those closest to us for fear we could pass the virus to them. Covid-19 was running rampant and there were 1000s of deaths a day. A day. I read that back and I am floored.

I have innate trust in those I meet. To be told, repeatedly, that others were now dangerous to our health… I need a moment.

We knew so little about transmission of the virus and how to mitigate against it. Wearing of masks we were initially told would be ineffective, and eventually told they would be vital for going to shops, restaurants, etc. Social distancing was important, and then we had inane and hard to understand rules about how to respect that. Friends of mine refused to see their family members because they didn’t want to indirectly infect them.

In the height of all this, we also had news of the killing of George Floyd, and the outpouring of support and raising of awareness about anti-racism. We were learning that lockdown and the virus were hitting ethnic minorities and the poorest harder. Inequalities in society were heightened like never before. It genuinely felt like the fabric of civil society was now broken.

Then came the second wave and it hit us all hard. We went back into full lockdown in January 2021. One whole year had passed, and we were no closer to returning to any level of normal. Who even knew what normal meant anymore?

The early days of the vaccinations were so significant. Much was made of the speed at which the drugs were manufactured and the concern about testing of the vaccinations. And thankfully, the science was reliable and vaccinations have helped reduce the severity of illness.

For the best part of the last two years, my children have been faring far better than may be expected. They’re young enough to be resilient to most illnesses, but I think benefited from spending time with their mother some days of the week, and with me at other times. And when schools re-opened fully, they adjusted as well as they could. I rather think it’s parents who were more perturbed about the schooling than the kids. I’m not talking about those studying GCSEs, ‘A’ Levels, or other higher education. Clearly there were decisions made that affected education negatively in many ways.

In summer of 2021 we had a family holiday at Center Parcs for a week. It was a fab holiday break, and am grateful we had that planned. Ordinarily as a family we have regular breaks abroad, but with various global restrictions it just wasn’t feasible to do.

And later in 2021 we had the murders of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa due to male violence, and reminded once more about the ongoing problem of male violence itself and male violence against women in particular.

Over Christmas and New Year, I gave myself complete downtime. I was mentally and emotionally exhausted. And coming back to a regular routine of work is much needed to start to restart and refill those goal-setting and goal-achievement buckets. But I’m giving myself a wider berth and self-compassion for how this all goes in 2022.

This blog post is more of a reflective piece. A short chronicle of things that have remained with me in the last two years.

What should an L&Der do?

The role of an L&Der has advanced a lot in the last decade or so. And of course there are many roles that an L&D team is likely to have. Gone are the days it was mainly facilitation, mainly administration / coordination, mainly instructional design or mainly team leadership stuff.

This isn’t an exhaustive list – it’s written to provide insight.

Understand the tech landscape. Your LMS is one part of the tech landscape. People are using MS Teams, Outlook, MS Office, Slack, Zoom, Salesforce, and any other number of technologies. That’s the tech landscape. You’re not just focused on helping people access learning content, you’re helping people use their technology better. That doesn’t mean you have to be a tech whizz in all those technologies – you’re an L&Der so you know how to help people access good quality learning resources and content that helps them do their job well. Work with SMEs using those tech systems to develop resources and job aids that will help people use their tech better. Honestly, you’ll be enabling the business and that’s going to win a lot of brownie points.

Arrange regular talks with senior managers and leaders. We all want to talk with the executives, but executives focus is always more strategic and pan-organisation. Senior managers/leaders are in the weeds. Their teams are delivering the products and services of the business. Get in and understand the team ethos, ways of working, and their deliverables. The team will be developing workarounds and doing everything they can to achieve their objectives. Help teams figure out what they need.

Market and shout about your L&D products and services better. Just because L&D exists, doesn’t mean people will flock to the calendar, or access the content. I learned long ago that if you don’t tell people what you have to offer, they will make their own (often wrong) assumptions and then be surprised when they learn of what L&D can really offer. Use all the skills available. Posters, internal newsletters, course campaigns, advocacy from senior leaders, open sharing via HRBPs. It’s all good stuff. The more you can let people know what you’re doing, the more you’ll become a natural point of discussion in the minds of leaders.

Understand performance data and metrics. What products and services does the business deliver? What does the annual report say about financials? What is the CEO saying about performance? What is the COO wanting to focus on? What did the CFO say about budgets? Which products are selling incredibly well? Where is their potential growth? What products are likely to be put to bed? It’s not an option to not understand these things. You’re more than likely in a position of authority and power as an L&Der. That makes you a business leader, and as such you’re part of the businesses success. If you’re not talking the language of the business, the business won’t talk the language of L&D.

Develop yourself. We got so caught in the delivery of L&D solutions we forget to pay attention to other forms of solutions, or new ways of working, or developing our own skill set. L&D isn’t a linear path. You don’t go from being a facilitator to master facilitator to strategic facilitator. Or from an ID to a senior ID to L&D Lead. Pick your things where you have strength. Build on those. For the other things, reach a level of competence that means you can get stuck into varied work. If you only focus on one or two things, you’ve already made yourself redundant.

There is so much more I could talk about. Product management, performance consultancy, design thinking, tech stacks, and so much else. The key thing, I’m hoping you get from above, is that L&D is many things.