Run Learning Like A … Startup?
By Andrea Elkin, vice president and head of enterprise learning and knowledge management at ADP. This article was originally published on April 13, 2022, by Chief Learning Officer.
Earn applause for your learning and development team by befriending risk and igniting your inner entrepreneurial spirit.
The Great Talent Show is coming soon to organizations everywhere. While many have pointed to a talent movement often termed "The Great Resignation," not all have reflected on the new priorities and needs of the talent that are at its root. This reflection presents an opportunity for L&D teams to enter the spotlight. If there was ever a time to shine as learning and development professionals, that time is now.
But how can organizations ensure their learning troupe doesn't simply get a ticket to the show, and is instead cast in a starring role?
In this article series, ADP learning experts illustrate the multifaceted ways learning organizations can influence real results that impact the business while also supporting talent in reaching their full potential.
I began my career as a financial analyst on Wall Street where the stakes were high and risk was a fundamental part of doing business. As I progressed through my career — and into my role as leader of enterprise learning at ADP — I realized that risk was a seminal thread that connected my experiences and powered my successes.
Risk was the elephant in the room, whether I was pitching a business case, restructuring a team or introducing a new learning innovation. Plus, risk played a big part in my career planning and decisions. During my career on Wall Street, I remember giving up a high-salary position to work on commission as a financial advisor. I did this knowing that sales experience would enhance my credibility and performance chops.
Embracing and managing risk taught me many valuable lessons, made my teams more engaged and effective and propelled my career trajectory. But risk isn't just a friend to me. It is also embraced by startups and forward-thinking organizations like ADP that adopt an entrepreneurial or innovative mindset.
Risk can be your partner as a learning and development leader, too. I'm confident that the outcome will help your team reach its full potential and become the stars of The Great Talent Show. But before you raise the curtain, let's dig into some ways you can choreograph an approach while fostering a startup-like appetite for experimentation within your team.
Build the culture you want
Fear prevents progress and innovation far more than failure. As a leader, the last thing you want to do is have a chilling effect on innovation because your employees are afraid to fail. Do your teams understand your leadership values around risk, experimentation and failure?
My leadership goal is to stretch people's worldview of what is possible and probable, while also creating an environment that challenges, empowers and develops them to achieve greatness. If you want great things to happen, reinforce and coach employees to accept, assess and manage risk. Empower them by giving them guardrails and guidelines to follow — this is not an oxymoron. You need to coach people to take risks and be empowered.
Not only can experimentation enhance your team's stage presence, but it can also promote employee development while keeping their work exciting and engaging. How's that for a retention play?
To encourage a laboratory mentality, consider the following actions:
- Share your lessons learned regularly. Recognize successes and lessons learned at each team meeting and make them all feel equally important.
- Encourage people to challenge their ideas and practices by asking "What else can we do?"
- Host competitions where associates are challenged to present their ideas to the team, and then recognize or award the winners.
Will there be a little chaos? Sure! But a little chaos behind the scenes is a natural part of putting on a great show.
Widen your definition of innovation
When you hear the word innovation, what appears in your mind? For many, this invokes visions of robotics, machine learning software and 3D printers. While there's no doubt that these innovations will change the world of learning and work, they represent only a portion of where innovation takes place.
Innovation is not limited to tangible inventions. It also includes retooling your processes to save time, effort or costs; or even rethinking your measurement strategy to bring more relevant, consistent insights to your stakeholders. It could also mean investing in your team's development. Even the best performers benefit from a workshop.
If it isn't broke — BREAK IT
If the phrase "but we've always done it this way," doesn't make you skeptical, you may want to reassess your reaction. It's in my nature and perhaps the nature of all entrepreneurs to feel a tad dissatisfied with the way things are. I spend at least a third of my day with stakeholders, employees and clients seeking out feedback. I've found that critical reviews, even more than applause, inspire me to drive change and find the next big opportunity.
Don't allow your team to not get cast! If the starring companies of today don't embrace risk and emerging technologies, they run the risk of becoming less relevant in meeting modern needs and challenges.
Think of what is currently happening in the space of virtual and digital learning. The past two years have totally disrupted the way people learn — though it wasn't without its share of difficulties. With people returning to schools and offices, there is a swell of energy to return to the comfort of the traditional classroom. Yet, there is so much more we can do, so many more people we can reach and so much more innovation that we need to champion to improve the value that learning organizations deliver. Let's not stop now. think what would have happened if the industry didn't keep pushing the envelope on what was possible with original streaming technologies.
This means creating a culture within teams that champions risk-taking. Rather than bracing for disruption in learning, plant a seed for it.
Invest in optimizing your own performance
Demonstrate your commitment by setting aside chunks of your budget for improving your processes, exploring new technologies and growing the skills of your learning team. For example, each year we hold an annual summit called PEAK where our learning teams spend their entire day developing their skills together.
I often ask my leaders if they had unlimited funds, what would they invest in to improve or innovate — it's an exercise that helps people think beyond potential limits. We additionally invested in a full-time head of learning innovation who works to find, evaluate and manage innovation projects to ensure that we are looking ahead for our next casting call.
Say no without stopping the show
In the spirit of empowering your team to wildly succeed, you also must empower your team to push back consultatively. Sure, it's risky to put up a stop sign when the expected answer is yes. But using valuable L&D resources when you don't believe it will solve the problem is even riskier.
It is hard to balance what businesses want with what might be most effective. Many may have taken a bow for getting the job done and receiving high survey scores, knowing though the long-term impact is minimal. Eventually the lack of impact will show through the curtain and your team might find themselves trying to answer the bigger question — "what exactly are we getting from the investment in learning?"
Investing in a team's performance consulting and client success skills while setting expectations on how to measure impact and value is a sound approach. Give them the tools to be true performance consultants, and they will be empowered to guide stakeholders to the right learning solutions. Setting consultative expectations early on with your stakeholders can also help ease the anxiety that comes with pushing back.
Think of requests for learning and performance support as a starting point. They are just the start of a conversation. As you dig deeper, you may discover that the right learning solution looks quite different than what you were asked to deliver.
Stay on your toes
The world is changing faster than ever, and so are learner expectations and business needs. By paying attention to emerging technologies and learning trends, you can help prevent your team from becoming reactionary.
Plus, the business will be more likely to give learning a boardroom seat if you're helping to solve tomorrow's learning needs with solutions that were not previously on the radar. For example, if you notice a correlation between employee confidence and attrition within a new hire's first 90 days, you might implement additional touchpoints and coaching to support those employees. This confidence-boosting supplementation helps to turn even more new hires into tenured employees.
Showcase your successes
Make sure the business knows about your success. Market, socialize and communicate with your stakeholders as if you were selling them front row seats to a new show — establishing that your team is in the constant pursuit of finding a better approach. If your solutions for one area of the business apply to other areas, take your work on tour. By presenting your findings to other stakeholders, you can widen the footprint for your innovative learning solutions.
Last, but certainly not least, be sure to recognize the employees who are identifying innovations, so they will be motivated to take more risks. This can also help motivate other team members to take risks, test the results and continually tweak their approach.
Work is personal. Your talent strategy should be, too. Visit ADP.com/ItsPersonal