One question to save learning programs

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Let’s talk frankly about learning and development for a few minutes.

Oftentimes, that department — called L&D at many places — suffers from the same problem as HR, namely that no one cares. In fact, learning and development is periodically housed within HR at some companies! Double whammy.

Learning and development is thus chasing the same seat at the table that HR is chasing. Neither has really gotten it. I started my Tuesday (after feeding my dog, naitch) by looking at this article from the co-founder of Fast Company called “5 Questions To Ask About Company Culture.” It’s a pretty good article in that it’s not full of shit (as most “culture” articles are), but still, no one would ever ask these questions. In fact, the writer concludes with this:

For all of the noble talk about talent and values, I can honestly say that I haven’t met many leaders who think as creatively or as rigorously about their company’s culture as they do about R&D and finance.

Of course, and that’s pretty logical. None of these guys get bonus’ed off culture. They get bonus’ed off R&D, not learning and development. So that’s where they focus their attention. The problem with incentive structures is the first brick in the “employees not engaged” clubhouse you’re building.

But maybe we can make learning and development more relevant.

The power of simplicity in business motivation

Most workplaces love to over-complicate everything and absolutely drown it in process, but simplicity is fairly powerful too.

For example: 88 percent of projects (across multiple industries) begin with the same question.

Ditto: if you want a more effective onboarding process, you just need to ask one new question.

Simple questions, bigger impacts.

And for learning and development, that question is: “When’s the last time you did something for the first time?”

Think on it

Work is confusing to people right now. It’s pretty VUCA, and many are worried about stagnant earnings/automation. Lots of us are nervous wrecks.

Over time, organizations have spent less on learning and development, even though doing it effectively is crucial to becoming a great workplace.

This has led to a lot of employees clamoring for more career training, especially as bosses seem to become increasingly distant on their role in someone’s career arc.

Problem is: business training ain’t been great for a while now. Most leadership training is a train wreck. It teaches 1983 skills to a 2017 world. Hell, some managerial training programs are based on a legitimate 1911 playbook. Very few training programs take context into account, even though that’s what most managers desperately need to learn.

How learning and development can get better

Start with that question: “When’s the last time you did something for the first time?”

Aim to have most employees say “Within the last 60 days.”

This creates a culture where new roles and contexts are — at least potentially — being explored. People end up liking those jobs. While they can have a lot of fire drills (“I need this now!”), dead end jobs with all repetitive work are admittedly worse.

For the last few months, as a side note, I’ve been doing some freelance work for Jhana. One of my friends over there, Robin, also wrote up a guide to improving learning and development. It ties 2007 B2B marketing to 2017 L&D. Check it out. It’s good.

And of course, for learning and development to get that coveted seat at the table, everything needs to be tied to the bottom line. That’s how executives care. Scroll up and find that pull quote. Finance is where guys want to get creative. L&D is like a third child: “Seen but not heard.”

It’s hard out there for a pimp

It’s a time of much career uncertainty — for many.

But yet, LinkedIn is garbage. It’s a Facebook clone people barely check. So there’s one less resource.

Assigned mentorship is mostly dead. Another issue.

Let’s make work better through context and research. That’s what my newsletter is about.

Platforms are everywhere, but managers are hiding behind them and avoiding real conversations. A third problem.

Employee evaluations and performance reviews advance nothing about your career. We all secretly know this, even if we won’t discuss it.

It’s a hard time to know where you stand or learn more to rise up, unless you’re willing to incur the costs (MBA, classes, seminars, trade shows, etc.) And honestly, even a lot of that won’t help you. MBAs are guaranteed nothing outside the top 10 percent of good programs, and most seminars are someone up-selling something.

When companies have learning and development, the department needs to be doing something. In the modern climate, it’s literally imperative.

Maybe we can get closer by thinking along the lines of a simple question.

What would you say? Can learning and development can become more relevant through a path of simplicity?

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