Reflections on #Chat2lrn: New Skills for Changing Times

This past week’s #Chat2lrn topic was New Skills for Changing Times. It was a very interesting chat that asked a number of good questions about the future of the Learning and Performance field. Chat2lrn usually shares a blog post that sets up the discussion; you can find the pre-chat posting here.

When reflecting on what I learned during a Twitter chat, I usually like to reexamine the questions that were asked to lead the discussion.

Q1) Do you think L&D, is as @Cliveshepherd suggests, at a crossroads and why?
Q2) Has your role changed and if so how?
Q3) What new skills have you had to develop?
Q4) Do you now see these as being key skills or are they just ‘nice to have’?
Q5) What new approaches should we be taking with what are regarded as the more ‘traditional’ skills?
Q6) How do you think the #LPICapMap will support you in your role?
Q7) We know that L&D has to change, how do we create a sense of urgency in others?

I find the concept of being at a ‘crossroads’ very interesting. During the chat, I shared this tweet:

In hindsight, I’m not sure that’s it, because “keep making the wrong turn” implies we’re altering the course. The truth is, in many ways we just keep going in the same direction, often oblivious to potential changes in the road.

Despite advances in technology (elearning, social media, etc) much of what is produced by learning and development professionals is still lecture driven learning that is pushed to learners and tracked not in terms of learning or performance, but in terms of completions. The technology may be changing, but we’re still implementing the same ‘old school’ approaches.

What’s somewhat different is there’s a growing realization that traditional L&D approaches do not move at the speed of business. We build courses and workshops to address learning and performance needs. The problem is, those take time to develop, and businesses are increasingly realizing that they don’t have time to wait for training to be developed. We live in a world of ‘NOW’, and traditional L&D approaches are not set up to respond to organizational performance needs quickly.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying “Training is bad” or that it isn’t needed. In some cases, it most certainly is. It’s just that there are new options on the table that may more effectively satisfy a performance improvement need, and do so with a faster turnaround. Training is disruptive to business, and as such should be used only when removing people from their work is absolutely necessary. It’s almost a last resort for when all other minimally invasive approaches have been exhausted.

I think that’s the critical crossroads we’re approaching. Technological advances have reached a point where minimally disruptive approaches to performance support are becoming increasingly accessible. More and more ways are being found to build support into the work itself and to provide resources to workers that want to control their own learning. If L&D professionals do not focus on these areas – and build the skill sets needed to support them – we run the risk of other areas of an organization doing it for us.

From there the chat moved on to exploring how roles have changed, what new skills professionals have had to develop, and whether these new skills are actually required or just ‘nice-to-haves’. In many ways, I think these questions are at the heart of why learning professionals are at risk of losing influence, if not becoming completely irrelevant.

The vast majority of people working in organizational settings are working in roles that have been assigned to them. They are not working in roles that they personally created; they are working in existing roles that organizations needed to fill, roles with existing job descriptions and existing expectations.

Most organizational roles will not change until there is some level of awareness that there may be a better way. That awareness doesn’t happen naturally. Most organizations and individuals fear change, so they’re not likely to actively seek it out. What you’re left with is a training function that does what it does because it’s what has always been done.

The fact that most training looks a lot like what we were conditioned to expect ‘learning’ to look like after 16+ years of academia only reinforces this.

As such, your organization isn’t likely to change your role on it’s own. If it does change the role on it’s own, your employment may actually be at risk; Organizations that redefine job descriptions for roles that are currently filled are usually doing so because the current worker is lacking skills that are now needed.

That’s why it’s critical for learning professionals (and really, all professionals) to continuously develop their skills. You can’t wait for your organization to change your role; you probably need to change the way you do it to redefine it.

The job description for my current role is pretty standard in it’s expectations, but my approach and resources I use to achieve my business objectives reach far outside those expectations. There may come a time that I reach out to organizational leadership to formally redefine my role, but it’s really not a priority for me. However, what I can say with certainty is that the work we are doing here is changing expectations for what learning and development is, and what it can contribute to an organization. Should I decide to move on in the future, I have no doubt the job description for my replacement would be updated to reflect the skills required for the new approaches we have brought into the organization.

And what are those skills? To be honest, I think the skills are almost secondary. There are a number of future skills we are going to need to add to our tool belts; so many that it warrants a separate post that I’ll be writing in the near future (more on that in a minute).

I think it all starts with a very simple question: “What’s the least intrusive way to address the performance issue?”. That’s very different from the usual approach of trainers. Tomorrow’s learning and performance professionals, more than anything, need to approach their work with a new mindset. We need to shift organizations’ perceptions from ‘what we do’ towards ‘what is possible’ as it applies to performance support.

If we approach the future with this type of mindset, we will naturally seek out and discover the skill sets we need to develop to build the future. We’ll also discover that many of these ‘new’ skills are not new at all; they’re existing skills being applied in the learning and development space for the first time.

Many of these new skills are addressed in the Capability Map recently released by the Learning and Performance Institute. The Capability Map is a great tool for seeing what some of these future skills look like, as well as assessing your readiness to apply them. I plan on writing a dedicated post about the map in the near future.

The chat closed by asking what we can do to create a sense of urgency related to the changes needed in learning and development. To me that’s the scary question. No one has to change. Many individuals fear change, so they continue doing what they’ve always done, rarely looking outside the walls of their organization for new ideas. Organizations aren’t going to push for a change if they aren’t aware that there’s a better way.

The fact is, no one feels urgency to change until they truly understand the risks associated with NOT changing. I think that’s the point we are at within Learning and Development. There’s risk of our role actually becoming irrelevant if we don’t adapt to the changes going on around us. Other areas of organizations are finding ways to support work that do not require traditional ‘training’ interventions. And as Jane Hart pointed out during the chat, more and more people are bypassing L&D to solve their own problems, because they CAN and because it’s easier and quicker.

Creating a sense of urgency in others to change can be accomplished if you help them understand the risks of not changing. The best way to accomplish this is by showing the benefits of doing things a different way. So… DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT. Ask yourself if there’s a better way to solve a problem rather than just plugging it into your standard template or outline.

There are new skills that learning professionals need to develop to better support performance in today’s workplace. The Capability Map provided by LPI provides a nice glimpse into these skills. I’ll be exploring the capability map in greater detail in an upcoming post.

NOTE: For another reflection related to this chat, check out this post by Jane Hart.

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