Developing a Learning Culture

From ATD 2019: Kickstarting New Initiatives Is Daunting for L&Ds


View our video from ATD and Pat’s takeaways from the conference. 

After being at the Association for Talent Development (ATD) conference last week and speaking with hundreds of people in learning and development (L&D), we noted that kickstarting new initiatives is daunting for L&Ds. Given the increased corporate investment in L&D programs, our industry is undergoing some significant growing pains and is being galvanized by it. Here are some questions we asked L&D leaders along with the most common responses.

Question: “What area in L&D do you focus on?”

Answer: “Everything.”

L&D teams are being held responsible for every part of the learning and development process, whether it’s onboarding, compliance training, training, or sales training. Frankly, L&Ds aren’t omniscient. Still, they are expected to be experts in all of these different areas of the company. Some people mentioned consulting with a Subject Matter Expert (SME), but the struggle with that approach is communication: SMEs speak in very concise, technical jargon, which requires more follow up for clarification; time that nobody really has (more on why below).

Question: “How is your team?”

Answer: “Woefully small.”

Across the board, we saw that organizations with thousands of employees, often ten thousand or more, had L&D teams of only one-to-three people spearheading the learning for all of those employees. This leads to massive project backlogs and the quality of work drops because they have so much going on and are being rushed to do it rapidly.

We asked them how they managed and most said they used off-the-shelf training, mass bundles that users log into or other very generic training. This causes two problems, which we will go into next.

Question: “What’s your biggest pain point?”

Answer: “Motivating learners.”

The biggest problem stems from the above solution. Off-the-shelf, generic content is undoubtedly dull and typically lack insight into the unique organizational environment. This, in turn, negatively impacts retention. Outside of a ‘check-the-box’ compliance or training, most employees are not actively participating in the training. After all, what’s in it for them?

Even when L&D teams spend months creating a beautiful custom training, getting employees to take time out of their daily routine to complete it (with no instant reward) is very difficult.

Final Question: “How do you kickstart a new initiative?”

Answer: “We often don’t even know where to start.”

When we put all of these pain points together, we saw a domino effect:

  1.   How could anyone know where to start when facing thousands of pages of outdated, scattered content?
  2.   To ask L&D teams to spend time wrangling updated content from their subject matter experts usually leads to long meetings trying to make sense of technical jargon, and translating it into a learner-friendly format.
  3.   Not to mention, the L&D team then has to distill down the most important points for learners to understand.
  4.   The crazy part is, this is often just the beginning of a project. Once the content is broken down into a learner-friendly format, the development starts and is often facilitated by the same person, given the size of the L&D teams; this is a recipe for L&D burnout and poorly constructed training. This might seem somewhat straightforward, but when you have requests coming in from all the units, the L&D team is quickly overwhelmed.
  5.   Once the team does complete a project and delivers it, the journey is often just beginning, they still have to convince their employees to engage with it, which is a task in its own.

So, where do L&Ds start? The consensus, in spite of these growing pains, was overwhelmingly hopeful: we’re in this together and we’ll find the right solutions. If you find yourself overwhelmed and unsure where to start with your own company’s L&D programs, you aren’t alone.

If we can offer some suggestions: We have seen some of the most successful teams take a step back to analyze their learning strategy and goals. One of the most important things is to tie every L&D program to a larger objective. This helps create executive buy-in, a sense of urgency and justifies the budget for more support.

Check out this list of links and resources if you’re interested in learning more about these solutions:

Neurolearning Design Interactive eBook

Consulting: From Beast to Bunny with ELM’s Easy Approach

The Secret to Engaging Learners is Appeal

Pat McManus is an Enterprise Account Executive here at ELM.