What does it take to be an effective leader in an evolving learning organisation? And how can Heads of L&D truly flourish through stakeholder support?
It has been over 30 years since I had a career change and entered the mesmerising world of L&D. Back then I was a VM Instructor for IBM, working in their education centre in London. Even though I say it myself, I was really good at telling people:
What they should know to be able to complete the tasks they needed to complete
How they should approach those tasks
How they would remember it well enough to apply it
I learned how to be an instructor from other instructors, who were also good at their jobs. When delegates (as we then called them) filled out their evaluation forms, we got high scores, particularly on the instructor questions. This was all we worried about, our average instructor score over the year. Questions we asked resembled the following:
Was the instructor knowledgeable? Approachable? Friendly?
To this day, I don’t know if anyone actually found out from the customers whether the training achieved what it had set out to do.
The world of L&D is quite different now. For a start more and more training functions have changed their names to ‘Learning and Development’. This was in response to the fact that learning was recognised as happening in places other than the training room. Learning has a broader remit and with this has come a change in the traditional trainer role.
As an IT instructor, when my manager sent me on a week-long facilitation skills course in a very lovely remote ex-stately home in Hampshire, I was fuming!
“Facilitation has no place in IT training”
I told her in no uncertain terms. Yet it was on this course that I had the biggest lightbulb moment of my career. If you asked a question, more people engaged than if I spent all my time carefully crafting how I would explain, tell, describe and instruct. Following on from this week long course my delivery style and my attitude has changed almost beyond recognition.
Where once I would have spent an age rehearsing what I might say, I now consider how to help the participants vocalise and understand it. Where once I would have crafted a concisely written learners manual, I now craft activities, worksheets and an environment that inspires learning. But it is not just in delivery of learning that things have changed so dramatically.
The new learning organisation require a new type of leader
Over the past decade especially, L&D has been changing and morphing. Towards Maturity has outlined its position on the ‘New Learning Organisation’, which I commented on in my blog post ‘We don’t do train-the-trainer’. In this piece I spoke about the new ‘Learning Leader’ that is required to support this new Learning Organisation.
The diagram below outlines the attributes of the new learning leader.
Let us focus on ‘clarity of purpose’
L&D practitioners need to be business focused but also learner-centred, ensuring that they hone in on the aspects of individual performance that will improve how the organisation works.
They also need to be strategically focused to deliver what the organisation needs, gathering data to understand where the organisation is and speaking to the right stakeholders to find out the direction of travel required.
Finally, L&D professionals must engage stakeholders to leverage essential resources and achieve the results required. This requires building up those relationships that make the biggest difference and saying no to those stakeholders who neither have impact nor support L&D.
How do we manage our stakeholders?
I have been curious to know how L&D leaders manage stakeholder relationships. Sometimes it can be hit and miss and so below I have shared my understanding of the Stakeholder Analysis grid (I believe this was adapted from Mendelows’ Power-Interest grid).
This grid not only gives a simple approach to categorising the stakeholders but also reveals which ones we should spend the most/least of our time with.
In brief, you can categorise your stakeholders according to the grid above:
Undead (low support and low impact) – not of much use and you should spend as little time as possible with this group
Snipers (low support but high impact) – if you can win these over, they will become the evangelists who will not only support you but will get things done for you. You win them over by demonstrating the value you bring and speaking to them on their terms about what you can do for them
Networkers (High support but low impact) – boost morale when you need it but have little influence to get things moving in the organisation. Keep them on board and watch out, they may grow in their influence
Evangelists (high support and high impact) – boost morale as well as being a mover and shaker in your organisation. Spend most of your time on these and keep them sweet. Use them to exert influence where you cannot
Keeping pace with change
For me the role of L&D will keep changing and morphing as we get a grip of how to align ourselves with the organisations we work with/for. It will keep changing as we gain confidence in applying only those technologies which are appropriate for the changes that need to be made.
It will also keep changing as we become more skilled in using data to inform our decision making and to evaluate the effectiveness of the solutions we craft.
We professionals in L&D need to keep up with the changes demanded of us and what we demand from ourselves to create our new identity. How do we do this?
By keeping our fingers on the pulse by exploring sites like this
By sharing great news on social media especially when we can celebrate measurable success and a shift in culture
By joining the ‘L&D Revolution’ LinkedIn group to contribute and listen to current thinking on how we could spark a revolution not watch the evolution
Some of the content within this article is taken from my soon-to-be-published book ’How not To Waste Your Money on Training’.
With 30 years experience in L&D, Krystyna has been training trainers, facilitators and subject matter experts as well as line managers since 2008. Noticing a lack of experience and skill in the area of needs analysis drove her to write her book 'How to Not...