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The Learning Leader Job is NOT Easy!


Five Things Great Learning Leaders Do

Holy smokes! When I started my career, you were considered a great learning leader if you could put on a darn good three-day workshop that had solid instructional design, conducted a pilot and train-the-trainer, provided great donuts, and ended with a little evaluation. This isn’t so any more. I see first-hand the challenges and complexities learning leaders face today, and it’s not easy!

So, how can you set yourself up for success and have impact at your organization (and get promoted!)?

As you start the New Year, ask yourself about the five things below that great learning leaders do:

  1. Learning Strategy: Do you have a robust plan? Like 30 pages, not three slides?
  2. Learning Experiences: Do you have learning journeys mapped out for your employees that engage them in rich formal and informal learning experiences?
  3. Learning Technology: Have you identified your requirements and built an infrastructure that aligns with learning and performance needs?
  4. Executing Learning: Are you getting learning out to employees or just talking about it?
  5. Marketing Learning: Are you getting the word out about all the great stuff your department is doing?

Learning Strategy

When I reference learning strategy, I mean the formal plan for how you are going to run your department or function. It’s the road map for organizational development that helps align learning and the learning function with the company’s long-term business goals.

A learning strategy documents a series of decisions you’ve made at the macro level, so your team can get on with providing great learning to your organization. A robust strategy should address things like: vision, macro learning needs, governance, delivery methods, procurement, evaluation, technology and infrastructure, organizational structure, and of course, include an implementation plan.

The IT department has a strategy. The marketing department has a strategy. Why wouldn’t your learning function have a strategy?!

Learning Experiences

When talking about learning experiences, I think about, “What path is the learner following?” “What are the chunks of learning and learning objectives covered in each?” “What is the length (if relevant)?” “Does the sequence matter?” “What is the appropriate delivery method for each solution?”

No one is sitting in a three-day workshop anymore. Plus, you don’t become an expert at something and learn an entire job in a three-day workshop. It takes a variety of learning experiences, and it takes thinking about learning as a process, not just an event. It’s tempting, but it’s also not enough simply to subscribe to a library of 5,000 off-the-shelf courses and expect learners to figure out what they need.

So, map out learning paths for everyone and include a creative mix of classroom training, e-learning, discussions with the manager, application exercises, assigned readings, podcasts, and more!

Learning Technology

Let’s be honest, very few learning leaders have the technology ‘chops’ needed to run today’s learning organizations. At ILG we ask our clients to answer an eight-page questionnaire before we can build a 15 minute digital solution that works around the world. So, clearly this aspect of the job is not easy.

But where do you start?

Your vision drives what the department will do. Your macro learning needs outline the major types of learning and what delivery methods should be used. The learning technology must support all this… and nothing more (nothing extra because it’s new and cool). So, look at the current state of learning technology at your company, compare it to the defined desired state, and determine the action steps needed to fill your learning technology gaps.

Executing Learning

It’s not enough to have a great learning strategy and learning paths. You have to execute! You have to get learning bought or built and out to your learners.

You have to do the strategic work, but then you have to build a factory for learning…or at least have a systematic way of working with vendors who will be your factory.

The key to execution is having processes, tools, and standards in place. You need to figure them out, write them down, and share them with your team. You don’t want each learning department employee figuring this out for each project!

Marketing the Learning Function

This is about getting the word out about the great things your department is doing! There’s no shortage of “ways” to do this. Send out a newsletter, post articles on the company intranet, have the learning leader write a blog, conduct a learning expo, publish an annual report, or go to various department meetings. You also need to think about “what” you’ll share such as results, learning department awards, learner testimonials, and speaking engagements and publications by your team members. I did a Pechakucha a few years back that I think explains it all nicely and gives you even more ideas! You can view it here.

So start your year right! Try a few new things to make your job as a learning leader easier … and more impactful!