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Why L&D professionals should think like journalists

Why learning and development leaders should think like journalists

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A journalistic approach to learning and development can help organisations go beyond symptoms and uncover the deep-rooted causes of performance gaps, argues Headspring’s Gustaf Nordbäck.

18th May 2022
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People are a key component of a successful business. The people you choose to work with can not only shape outcomes, but transform your brand image and directly influence customer loyalty. 

The right people can bring innovation and dynamism. But also, the less intrusive but equally important facets of efficiency and cohesion. The difficulty for businesses is that shaping and growing as a team and as individuals is an ongoing and constant effort. There is always progress to be made and learning and development (L&D) is a lifelong pursuit.

Where learning and development (L&D) comes in 

L&D doesn’t just help to create top talent, but to retain it. With the right development programmes or learning journeys built into your core business, you can not only instil that much-vaunted growth mindset, but actually facilitate it and help it to grow. 

However, while the conventional annual training opportunities are a start, the best businesses do more. 

The journalistic approach to L&D is a challenger approach. It’s about reframing the problem and looking at it from a complete perspective.

 Many of our clients first approach us with the idea of creating a programme to address some obvious learning and performance gaps in their organisations. But the reality is that in most cases, the performance challenges that organisations face are simply symptoms, rather than root causes. 

L&D doesn’t just help to create top talent, but to retain it.

Uncovering these root causes is an essential step to drive real business transformation, but getting to them requires a solid methodology which focuses on asking the right questions and challenging assumptions.

Uncovering the root causes of performance gaps is the first step to designing the right learning solution. Equally, the journalistic approach can also be applied into the programme itself by equipping learners with the skills to ask the right questions and to challenge a given set of assumptions. 

With this approach, the most important element is the implementation of outside-in thinking, enabling employees to cut straight to the heart of any issue, for faster, more relevant results.

How can a journalistic approach be applied to learning?

A core principle of journalism is curiosity; the compulsion to learn, to find out more, to get to the truth of any piece of information, and to do that in a limited amount of time. It is this that drives the journalistic approach. 

It empowers learners to not just ask questions, but the right questions, to understand the situation quickly, and to distil what the key challenge may be. And it can be applied to any discipline and workplace scenario. 

So, rather than simply dealing with a problem at face value, employees are given the training to be able to question it.

What's the issue? What's at the heart of the story? Which questions should I be asking?

What's the issue? What's at the heart of the story? Which questions should I be asking? And what's the timing – what do I need to address NOW?

This not only enables employees to work more independently, but sets in place the core skills that can help individuals along the path to career development.

What are the benefits of the journalistic learning approach for both learners and businesses?

Curiosity has traditionally been the remit of the higher echelons of leadership, and it’s not always been a common theme to think outside the box in these roles. While the mid-level workers have been set to follow their allocated paths, CEOs have occasionally had the chance to wonder, and explore where the business might go.

However, with the journalistic approach, employees can acquire the ability to navigate processes quickly, through the art of critical thinking, storytelling, and questioning.

This provides them with the tools and responsibility to act without perpetual supervision – making creative and timely decisions that can save time, reduce managerial intervention, and enhance efficiency. 

How can the journalistic approach to L&D help leaders to overcome challenges?

L&D doesn’t just help businesses to create and develop the workforce their business needs – with the skills they need to scale, grow, and diversify – but, crucially, to retain the talent they have. 

The UK average employee turnover rate is approximately 15% a year. This costs businesses in the region of £30,614 per person for an employee paid £25,000 per annum, due to the expenses of recruitment, onboarding, training, and the associated loss of productivity while all of the above is taking place. 

Even if you only lose a single staff member every year, that’s a considerable loss to manage, with that £30k figure increasing in correlation with the value of the employee’s position. 

The UK average employee turnover rate is approximately 15% a year, costing businesses in the region of £30,614 per person for an employee paid £25,000 per annum.

Nurturing a culture of learning, and providing continuous opportunities for learners to develop is a powerful/effective way to improve employee retention, while at the same time, working to create the talent your business needs to thrive.  

Cultivating a culture of independent thought, employee empowerment, and good decision making starts with L&D and it is a continuous process.

Is a journalistic approach the future of L&D?

The journalistic approach challenges set assumptions and enables employees to ask the right questions, to think for themselves, and most importantly adopt an outside-in way of thinking, encompassing every situation with context surrounding the issue at hand. 

This way of approaching situations is vital in leadership and is necessary to be able to lead a team through times of uncertainty. 

L&D provides an essential backbone to contemporary business. It’s a lifelong pursuit which requires constant effort and focus. 

L&D shapes both the present and the future of every business model. And while there are numerous approaches to L&D, it’s more vital than ever before for companies to find the method most suited to the needs of their business and their employees. 

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