Eric Duffy

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6 min read

How to Convince your Boss to Innovate L&D

Articles L&D Uncategorized

A year ago, when we were only months into the launch of Pathgather, much of our sales and marketing efforts revolved around ‘selling the vision’. We would identify a company, establish contact with a buyer, then spend a significant amount of time educating them on our mission:

Our mission is to provide a learning platform that employees value.In other words, we believe a learning program MUST be employee-driven; where all learning resources are unified into one delightful user interface and individuals are compelled to learn every day

Companies had a hard time wrapping their heads around this idea. Conceptually, they agreed, but in practice, they relied on a fuzzy combination of LMS-based required learning, day-long classroom sessions, and limited support from their exec team. These discussions had remained largely unchanged…

That is, until recently. Over the last quarter or so, we have noticed an intriguing trend with both inbound and outbound interest in Pathgather. ‘Selling the vision’ conversations have been replaced with lively discussions about enterprise-wide projects to re-imagine learning. There is a recognition that times are changing and that a successful learning organization empowers learners, unifies content, and provides valuable insights to business stakeholders.

A Motivated Population

This idea is picking up some serious speed. We think it’s because L&D professionals are so active in the HR community which enables the spread of new and innovative approaches to learning. The folks we speak to agree with the changing landscape of technology and methodologies but it wasn’t until recently that many of them have had the opportunity to apply these concepts to their own organizations.

We couldn’t be more excited about this trend because it demonstrates a fundamental shift in executive opinions toward learning policy and outcomes. We were built on the principle that the corporate education market is in need of significant innovation and we are pleased to see that companies are headed in that direction.

Convincing your boss to embrace change

This trend is all well and good; however, many learning professionals are still faced with the ‘business as usual’ mentality that has plagued this industry for many years. It’s fine to talk about the need for change at conferences or on LinkedIn groups, but when it comes down to fighting the good fight with your exec team, it can be hard to formulate a plan. So we thought we might try to help. We spend all day speaking with teams trying to accomplish just this task so we figured we could extract some best practices for building your case to innovate.

Below we have compiled some of the tactics our customers and partners have used to achieve their goals. Hopefully this helps, and feel free to leave additional tips in the comments below!

Business Priority Alignment

This is probably an obvious one but it’s also painfully overlooked. When building a case to innovate, L&D professionals should take a macro approach to why this shift is important. Most employees hear rumblings of new initiatives coming down the pipe but remain largely removed from them. Well, this presents an opportunity to demonstrate the need for better learning experiences.

Is your organization implementing a new ERP system? Sounds like people will need product, technology, and project training. Is the company expanding into a new industry? Sales, Marketing, and Recruiting are all going to be affected. Do you keep hearing whispers of a shadowy ‘Project X’? In that case, a clear learning strategy will be central to its success. Our point is that if you hear of an interesting initiative going on, find the person responsible and demonstrate the need for a better approach to learning.

What your execs don’t know should scare them

For entirely too long, learning professionals have had to justify their existence by producing the most perfunctory and mundane of reports: the LMS compliance report. We are consistently surprised by the lack of analytics being utilized to judge the knowledge of a workforce. Most L&D professionals are required to wade into their LMS and extract a report that outlines a baseline understanding of when employees were forced to train — X number of employees took Y compliance course and got an average score of Z. Woof.

Execs should be thinking about where they’re not training people. Understanding the emerging technologies people are searching for, identifying how valuable the training they provide really is, and locating independent learners out there who could be your next rockstar VP are all areas that should be regularly explored. If you could go to your management team telling that story, I guarantee you they would be chomping at the bit to innovate.

Communities of learning exist

Whether you want to admit it or not, a significant amount of learning is happening outside of L&D. When we implement with our customers, we often uncover vibrant communities of learning in pockets across the business. Rather than shun this type of behavior, we feel these communities are critical to building an innovative learning organization and you should work hard to engage those stakeholders in helping you build one.

If you are building a case to innovate your L&D program, start with these communities. Walk over to any engineering, design, or product team in your company and ask them how they learn about new technologies and where they share that with their coworkers. It’s been our experience that many of these teams have some informal way of sharing content – whether through email, Confluence pages, or a random corporate wiki. This idea can frustrate learning professionals but is absolutely an opportunity to demonstrate a new approach to delivering learning. If you can show your exec team that the appetite for learning is there, and secure direct support from business units, you are well on your way to proving a case for innovation.

Your competitors are your best spokesmen

What are your top competitors doing and how will it affect your organization? Our advice: become an expert in all things competitor related. Here are just a few examples of worthwhile competitive analysis activities:

Understand recent successes (failures) that have been publicized in the industry. Have they anticipated a new trend or explored a new market that your organization should be knowledgeable on?

If they’re publicly traded, review their investor material and see what large initiatives have been a priority.

Do your LinkedIn research and see how many people they have been hiring. Is there a theme among those hires? A new business sector, technology, product focus?

All of these activities will allow you to position a need for a better learning program across your organization.

Go International

As companies expand into new geographic areas, they must also migrate their learning program. Unfortunately, one of two things typically happens: either international markets go wildly underserved OR those programs have to start back in the Stone Age of learning delivery. Companies think ‘let’s start out small with the India team, get them set up with some instructor led training then maybe in a year or two we’ll migrate some of that work to the LMS’. This is completely the wrong approach. We’ve found that international teams are some of the best places to launch innovative learning solutions. These populations can leapfrog your current programs and be the pilot sites for ground-breaking learning programs.

If you are looking to make a case for innovation, then look to your international markets. We guarantee you your international business partners will be excited to be on the cutting edge of a new initiative and your exec team will be more willing to consider a phased rollout like this.

The First Step

To those of you who have the mandate to innovate, congratulations! We are excited to see where you take it. For those of you fighting that fight, we hope some of these tips will help you in your efforts. Each company has its own priorities and we sympathize with learning professionals that are lobbying daily to build great learning organizations. As we mentioned in the beginning, we speak with a lot of people every day, and if we can help share best practices with our colleagues in the field, we are thrilled to do so.

Categories: Articles L&D Uncategorized

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