Amusingly, about the same time as the Serious eLearning Manifesto was promoted.
Although I haven’t fully explored the latter as I need to view the YouTube Google Hangout, Andrew’s blog post really hit the spot for me. He asked us to choose one to comment on although I could easily have written about all of them. The one that resonated for me this week was:
29. Stop asking so much of your trainers and instructional designers
This week we had an OzLearn tweet chat. The topic was on “L&D and Business Alignment” and we wrote how we must align ourselves to the business needs in order to remain relevant. But the group all had different jobs. Some were instructional designers, others consultants and coaches but we were all thinking about our the question from our own perspectives. What was clear was that we all work differently – and our organisation has different expectations of what services we deliver.
I believe that within learning, we all have different roles to play and each one brings it own knowledge, skills and abilities. I also believe that we get wrapped up in the language, the medium or the technology that we’re even confusing ourselves and others.
In the tweet chat, Jane said:
Maybe that’s why there’s been a bit of banter online recently about the Serious eLearning Manifesto. Once again, we focus on one medium – one role – and not learning as a whole. There are many roles and media in learning – eLearning is just one of them.
In an effort to try to understand why there is so much confusion in our own profession around roles, I revisited Jane Hart’s blog post “Emerging New Roles for Learning and Development Professionals” and in this she outlines the myriad of roles we all play within the profession. She says,
“Clearly not all learning professionals will need to have all the skills in all the roles, and some may well not have any desire to get involved in some of the new activities, so I think that it may well now be time for people to think about specializing in areas of interest. This means that those who want to remain as classroom trainers or instructional designers, for instance, can continue to do so; but those who see their future in other areas can begin to focus on developing their skills for these new roles.”
In a world that is rapidly changing, I have lost count the number of organisational restructures that have impacted my role; I have been redundant four times in my working life and had countless role title changes from “Facilitator”, “Trainer”, “Instructional Designer” ,”Performance Consultant” and now “Capability Consultant”.
Sometimes, to amuse myself I go through my old business cards and look at my career progression. Years back my roles were specific. “Electrical Fundamentals Trainer” and “Leadership Instructor” or “Training Needs Analyst” or “Training Evaluator” but as the years went by and the workplace changed with cost reduction programs, streamlined processes, new technologies, automation, outsourced services, reduced team numbers, my job titles started to become generic and ‘all encompassing’ words such as “Analyst”, “Consultant” or “Manager”.
Similarly, my early job descriptions years ago were specific, detailed and bullet pointed. I knew my exact tasks, responsibilities and scope of my work but reading my recent job descriptions, they’re all vague and open for interpretation (so let’s not talk about remuneration here).
Sometimes even team members have different interpretations of what they think they should be doing in their role. A few times I was even told that being a specialist in your field in the corporate world meant that you were close-minded and wouldn’t want to learn anything new. “We want generalists!”, they exclaimed.
(Don’t get me started on that – yes, I know that a generalist does have advantages but in many instances I have seen definitions explain specialist as people who are “single minded and cannot predict variables” and that’s where I take issue with the definition. I have come across specialists who spend years questioning, learning, creating, experimenting, practicing and perfecting. Don’t mix up definitions of specialist and generalist with people open to learning and those who are not).
Some argue that these new open job descriptions are a great way to “create the job into something that you can mould, own and decide”.
I am not of that opinion.
I don’t believe there is any organisation out there where its own people determine their own roles and how they work together – yet.
If there’s a hierarchy and you’re not involved in the decision making process to design the structure of work – you do not have the flexibility in your role.
You just have to do what you have to do to survive the day. I get that. I’m sad that it has to be like this but I’m hopeful that this will change in the future.
For me, it all comes down to managing everyone’s expectations. In my current role these are the jobs that I do in no particular order:
- Learning & Development Consultant
- Instructional Designer & Developer
- Program Designer
- Program Manager
- Project Manager
- Change Manager
- Yammer Champ
- Sharepoint Website Administrator
- Subject Matter Expert
- IT & Sharepoint Help Support
- Team Coach
- Yammer Support
- Graphic Designer
So basically, I do what is required to get the job done for my internal clients.
I’m one of the lucky ones who has been in L&D for many years and have broad knowledge and skills across all areas. I have had many different roles within the learning field so I can put together a blended program for the client and work across from the consultation to the actual design and development. I also like to tinker around with various systems, apps and tools and experiment when I can. I cannot claim to be an expert in each and every learning software program, LMS or application we have at our disposal but I like to learn about them, try them out and see how they can be applied for different learning contexts.
However there are many others who have not had this opportunity. Others are starting out in the field and may feel overwhelmed at the choice of different roles. Many have the high expectations of their management on their shoulders who want to be experts in everything and anything – all at minimal cost and resources.
Also the skills in corporate communications and marketing that came from my Navy days as a Public Affairs Officer are now increasingly used as I see that more often than not, there is a blurring between the communications function and the learning function. The distinction is clear in my head but it’s not to others. If there is no communications person or team for assistance – guess who gets stuck with it…
And if you don’t have strong leadership, clear role expectations, you are measured against key performance indicators and there is one person to do the work when there used to be five specialists, no wonder people are disengaged, demotivated and stressed out in their workplaces.
So what am I saying?
I’m saying that our workplace has changed and there’s an expectation that we are everything to everyone.
They want generalists but what is the true cost to the organisation in the long term?
If Learning People Are Confused, Imagine Others!
I have lost count how many job interviews I have sat through but a few stick out in my mind.
Some years back I applied for a Learning and Development consultant role for a well-known company that sells major financial software and accounting packages.
The interview started well and she explained her company, its values and she talked about the learning team. In turn, I asked her some open ended questions and outlined my experience to date.
Then the formal part of the interview started.
She asked rapid fire questions honing in on specific skills and experience with the level of aggression rising as I didn’t respond to the manner that she was expecting.
She asked questions about:
- eLearning instructional design skills and expertise
- Learning and development consultancy skills
- Graphic design skills
- Multimedia web development (She wanted someone with programming experience)
- eLearning software design (she wanted advanced levels of all the eLearning packages in the market back then)
She was also asking questions about my business acumen and repeated this question a few times, “how have you made money for your organisation?” “Tell me what you have done to bring in revenue with your program” and finally, “you just haven’t demonstrated to me how you can make money for us.”
It was obvious that she was agitated and I became uncomfortable. I didn’t mention at the time that the current company I was employed with had started off as an eLearning courseware development team at a bank and through an entrepreneurial manager, turned it into a profit centre. By that stage, I had made up my mind that I didn’t want her as my manager.
To try and calm her down, I asked if I could ask some questions about the type of person she is looking for. I said that based on her questions, she may be looking to build an internal content development team. I asked if she had explored outsourcing the projects to an external content developer. I then explained that it’s unlikely to find someone who had all these skills in the one role for that one job she was advertising especially with the job ad title as “Learning and Development Consultant”.
I think I pushed a button at that point.
She stood up and exasperated manner put up her hands, shook her head repeatedly as if she didn’t want to hear what I was saying.
She walked to the door and opened it and said I “simply did not have all the skills of someone she is looking for” and that she “had been looking for someone to fit this role for a very long time” and that she wanted someone who “could make us some money” and that I “wasn’t obviously THAT person”.
I was dumbfounded. It was the first time I had been asked to leave a job interview mid way.
I stood up, remained calm and said that I hope that she would find what she was looking for and thanked her for not wasting each of our time but it was obvious that I wasn’t the right fit for her team.
I thought about this interview a lot this week. If Learning people are confused about their roles, just think of the confusion of the wider business all brought about from not doing a proper performance analysis in the first place to identify exactly what right skill sets they need to solve their own business problems.
Like Jane Hart, I also believe that it’s time for us to start honing two specific skill sets: our specialist or our ‘craft’ skills but also our networking skills. Remaining generalists will mean competing for fewer jobs in organisations filled by other generalists – we don’t stand out of the crowd in any way and it really ends up costing the organisation in the long term.
As organisations are become flatter, it will be the people with specialist skills who will offer true value of their knowledge, expertise and networks because they’ll get the work done in a shorter time possible.
Corollary to my story:
Some time afterwards I kept seeing the same job ad online. It was obvious that she hadn’t found the right person for that role. I deliberated whether I should tell our Business Development Manager at the company I was working for that there was a potential new client and business lead but I kept quiet as I didn’t want people to know I had been looking for other jobs. A few months later after my interview, this company had become a client of ours anyway and we ended up designing and developing their online courseware anyway. I politely declined to work for this client. To this day, she doesn’t know that her coursework was developed by us (and made money) for her company.