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Imagine all your L&D products were listed on pebbles.

Now take a balance scale and hang an empty bucket on either side. The bucket to the left is listed ‘popular’, the other bucket listed ‘effective’. Now place your pebbles into each bucket, depending on whether the learning product is popular, or effective.

I place a large wager that the bucket on the right-hand side feels queasy with altitude sickness.

When was the last time you carried out this exercise, as an L&D team or consultancy?

In an ever-demanding world, where change, competitiveness and delivering more with less is the norm, what does your business or client need, ‘popular’ or ‘effective’ learning?

What if every customer of your learning product measured the effectiveness after three months? What if they concluded it had no value? And to test the theory, each customer received a refund because the product did not do what it was sold to do? That’s an unsustainable business model.

“HR need to think more commercially” is a phrase often used. Here’s a simple starting point:

Is what we are producing effective?
Engage with me for six minutes and let’s think about a different way of delivering value.

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Take two commonly asked questions in the L&D industry:

  • How do we get a seat at the (exec) table?
  • How do we get better at evaluating, so we can demonstrate our worth?

These questions have been asked for many years yet have little value.

Let’s try three different questions:

  • Why is it critical to pull up a chair in the staff canteen and talk to people?
  • What’s preventing us from experimenting?
  • What would it take to measure everything, so we had actionable insight?

Pull up a chair: good learning is about good conversation.
Whether you’re an L&D consultant looking to understand what people are finding difficult, or you’re someone in the organisation chatting to a peer and requesting advice, conversation is priceless.

L&D have the greatest impact when they sit down with people and talk about what their day looks like.

It’s in this conversation you realise you need to remove the assumption that everyone needs to know the same thing. They’re all different; knowledge, experience, perceptions, belief systems. Sometimes small margins, sometimes large.

So how can L&D help people to lead themselves, rather than producing a one-size-fits-all lecture?

History often demonstrates that it involves a model or complex theory, but is that how people think?

Each time you find yourself gravitating towards a theory only people in HR understand, come back to the conversation with the individual(s) who needs help. Remind yourself about their problem that needs fixing.

Whatever you produce or recommend must be simple. There’s little point spending heaps of time designing stuff that the individual won’t engage with. You’ve spent three months designing it, they’ll spend ten minutes simplifying it, or worse, not using it at all.

People are time precious. They need to deliver more with less. You can no longer afford to sit in a room designing a product for three months, all the while the individual, team or organisation is suffering.

So, experiment and test… it’s mandatory.
Working at pace doesn’t mean cutting corners. To be effective, your product needs to address the root cause, and not just be enjoyable. Enjoyable will result in good initial feedback, which makes it popular, but if it doesn’t deliver sustained improvement, it’s not effective. In the context of L&D or performance consultancy, value goes far beyond the popularity bucket.

Let’s learn from the digital and tech world: test & learn. Produce a minimum viable product in two weeks, then publish, iterating for the ten weeks you’ve saved.

Drop perfectionism, replace it with humility. Get comfortable with minimum viable products, even pre-totypes. Get better at creating clear objectives, multiple measurement points, data collection, analysis and generating insight. Adopt a test and learn mentality.

Measure everything and use insight to improve, change or start again.
Invest your time analysing the impact and iterate. L&D should invest their time in continuous performance improvement, not taking the glory at the frontline.

Use your insight to have a good conversation, to engage with people about what’s not working. All the while you’re using it to improve your product, you’ll be building more. But you need measurement points.

“Excuse me, I’d like a refund for this product I purchased three months ago that was mis-sold to me?”

Suddenly you’re able to have an evidence-based conversation about why.

Line manager not engaged with it? Individual using it incorrectly? Measure it. Organisation or client articulating a different problem? Engage them in the insight, talk about where they need to focus.

Drop the traditional view that L&D evaluation happens on multiple levels; it happens with every individual, every time they’re trying to be better. And you need to be there.

If you’re a consultancy, this should be standard service, not an added extra or nice to have. You might not do the analysis, but as a minimum, the measurement must be designed in.

Over time you’ll build themes. If your insight demonstrates poor line manager engagement, the conversation becomes about visibility of this, and not endless requests for more resources.

The L&D mindset and skillset needs to change, and fast. Good conversation in the staff canteen, simple design, experimentation, big data & analytics.

The net result? Well my wager will decrease because your scales will start to tip in favour of effective products. You might even get invited to the exec table to share a few stories using the insight you’ve collected.

In summary:

  • The seat you should be focused on is in the staff canteen
  • Talk to people about their problems, stop guessing everything they need to know
  • Drop perfectionism, start experimenting; the test & learn mentality is highly rewarding
  • Measure everything and use the insight to improve, change or start again
  • Invest in your analytical and storytelling skills

Chris Furnell – Lead L&D Partner