New year, new horizons: harnessing enthusiasm, managing expectations

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As 2018 gets up and running many people will have made resolutions and will be working on making this their ‘best year yet’ – this often means that attention is turned to career and personal development.

As learning and development professionals we regularly receive requests to attend workshops, professional courses and other learning programmes, some of which will be business-focused, whilst others will be more about the individual and less about their contribution to the organisation.

How do we harness the enthusiasm of the employees making such requests? How do we support line managers to have conversations about learning and development versus business need? How do we manage the expectations of employees around development opportunities? How do we make the best use of the resources available? How do we maintain focus on business priorities?

Hold your horses… it’s time to talk

When individuals approach us with a request to attend a workshop or to pose the question ‘can you find me a course on…?’, one of the first things we might be tempted to do is jump straight to the action – filling in the booking form or hopping onto our favourite search engine to find the options available.

It’s great to want to be of assistance and get things moving, but this is actually the moment when we should put the brakes on a little, use some coaching-style questions and find out what’s at the bottom of the request.

It is really important to keep the dialogue going.

In an ideal world, this conversation will take place between the line manager and the employee. On occasions the line manager will come to the L&D team who can then support him or her to have the conversation with the employee. And sometimes the employee will come direct to the person responsible for L&D, in which case, we can have the conversation.

(Just to be clear, I’m pretty sure that most people who are reading this know that this is just common sense… I’m also pretty sure that we don’t always do what we know we should!)

Questions, questions and more questions…

The following questions aren’t new, but hopefully they are useful reminders of the type of questions that can get people thinking about their requests for learning and development:

The learning needs

  • What has prompted this request?

  • What challenges might this learning help you to overcome?

  • What projects or objectives does this learning relate to?

The learning objectives

  • What specifically are you hoping to achieve from this learning?

  • What do you want to know or be able to do as a result of this learning?

The learning outcomes

  • How will you know if the learning has been useful?

  • What impact do you expect this learning to have on your own performance, that of the team and for the organisation?

  • What measures of success will you put in place?

  • As an organisation, how do you think we can measure the return on investment (time and money) from this learning?

  • What will happen if you don’t complete this learning? (For you, your team and your current projects)

The learning methods

  • To what extent is [chosen method] going to be the best way to achieve the outcomes that you’re looking for?

  • How have you learned best in the past? To what extent will this [chosen method] play to your strengths and enable you to learn as effectively as possible?

  • What other ways could you learn this?

Learning transfer

  • How quickly do you think that you’ll be able to put your learning into practice?

  • How could the learning that you achieve be shared with your colleagues?

  • How can we make sure that the learning has the widest possible impact?

Keep the conversation going. Keep the motivation going.

Sometimes the request from the employee will be denied – for a whole range of different reasons.

At this point it is really important to keep the dialogue going. Imagine that you’ve come back to work with your list of resolutions. You’ve built yourself up to have the conversation with your line manager or the L&D team only to be told ‘no’ or ‘not now’, with no discussion or conversation.

Let’s face it, what we need is something that can be sustained and implemented on a long-term basis.

This could have an immediate negative impact on your mood. In turn this has potential consequences for workplace performance – not only your own, but for all the other people with whom you share your disappointment. You can almost hear the conversations in the kitchen as colleagues wait for the coffee to brew… “All I was asking for was a half-day workshop – not a Harvard MBA. Last year Joe went on the same course. I don’t know why he got to go, especially as he uses that system less than me...”

And so the ripples of discontent could begin…

To prevent these negative consequences, keeping the dialogue going is crucial. Using a coaching-style to revisit with the employee the reasons for their request. Being truly interested in what they have to say. Explaining the reasons behind the decision as clearly and concisely as possible. Helping them to explore the alternatives and to consider what other options they have. Encouraging them to make concrete action plans based on one of the options that they can take action on.

Personally, I think it’s about helping the employee to take control of their own destiny and enabling them to maintain their self-confidence in the face of what could feel like a real knock-back.

Learning is for life, not just the new year

It’s great to come into the new year with fresh enthusiasm to make a new start. And the media is already jumping onto this bandwagon with all the programming about diet and exercise. But let’s face it, what we need is something that can be sustained and implemented on a long-term basis.

And what we, as L&D professionals and line managers, can do is maintain that ongoing dialogue with our team members to help them take the small steps and to acknowledge the learning and development that takes place every single day of the year.


About Jackie Clifford

Jackie Clifford

Jackie has been working in learning and development since 1990. She has worked in the following sectors and industries: Sales Recruitment Retail Voluntary sector Further education Port industry Training consultancy Prison Service Non-departmental public body Since 2000 Jackie has co-authored three books, all published by Kogan Page. She works on a freelance and interim basis providing support for organisations in all areas of learning and development, including needs analysis, programme development, business skills training, coaching and strategy development. Jackie is passionate about learning and about helping people to recognise the potential for learning to take place - in the training room, the workplace and beyond. Her experience, skills and knowledge enable her to work with individuals and groups in a facilitative and practical way, helping to define specific learning outcomes and achieve them using approaches that are appropriate to each situation and organisational culture. As an Ambassador for Girlguiding (the largest youth organisation for girls and young women in the UK, with half a million members aged 4-25 and more than 65,000 adult leaders) she was the lead volunteer on a project to review and develop their learning and development strategy in 2010 and supported the group that was working to update the strategy in 2016. Jackie works with a number of Associates and will be happy to put together a team to meet the specific needs of your organisation.


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