Changing the Learning and Development DNA was a great theme for this year’s Learning and Development Unconference. I have been attending this event in Melbourne for the last few years. Hosted and coordinated by LearningCafe, a “community of forward thinking learning professionals interested in frank discussions about current issues and trends in learning, performance and knowledge management and its application at work.”
The conferences are usually based in Sydney and Melbourne, however, Learning Cafe runs regular professional development workshops and lunchtime webinars where we can hear and learn about the latest thinking as well as company projects related to capability and learning.
Yesterday’s conference was themed “Changing the Learning and Development DNA” and the theme of “personal change” resonated strongly.
So much more so than in previous years where presentations were mainly centred on learning strategy, learning technology and platforms and new and emerging technology.
This year, the presentations were mostly slanted towards how we can learn how to learn ourselves, how to inspire a growth mindset for learning in our employees and how to build capabilities in ourselves that would help us show our value to our business leaders.
One of the underlying “feelings” I had during this conference was this year there seemed to be a slow and ready realisation that there’s no excuses for delaying any more.
We are either in a position to get out or continue doing what we’re doing knowing that our days are numbered, or we can take action – even ANY action – to do something completely different and outside of our comfort zone to enable our business and company be ready for an uncertain future.
The day started out with a key presentation by Jeevan Joshi who talked about the theme and the need for change. He tied in elements of the practice of knowledge management (in itself, a relatively traditional field in organisations as well) and how there are similarities between that and Learning and Development. His session was then followed by quick one minute pitches by all the presenters who talked about what they were going to cover in their own sessions.
There were four discussion sessions of 40 minutes each and I attended the following:
(a) Discussion Session 1: Capability Management – Higher Duties for Learning and Development
The session was moderated by Mandy Sisson who is the Organisational Development Manager at Swinburne University of Technology and we talked about the term “capability management” and whether this is a new role for Learning and Development. Similarly, we discussed what these capabilities may be in organisations making reference to the softer skills that organisations are now looking for in their people.
There was some discussion and debate over the terms capability versus competency but overall in our discussion group, we decided to focus on ‘capabilities’ as these were more likely to determine the success of meeting business objectives.
The reason I decided to go to this session was to focus my attention on something completely different because, in another room at the same time, there was a discussion on Social Learning Through a Change Champion Network and this session would have been far more aligned to my own work. However, as I had gone to these in previous years, I wanted a change.
Besides, in my experience, some Australian companies – in particular, their Learning and Development teams – don’t understand social learning and to date, have not convinced business leaders on the case for it. Instead, they approach social learning as another event, a task, or an ‘add on’ to current training programs without realising that it’s more of a mindset and behaviour change. As a result, social learning is given lip service by Learning and Development simply because they don’t understand what it is, they can’t explain it in tangible business terms to senior leaders and they’re not role modelling the behaviours themselves.
So that’s why I decided to focus on the sessions that talked about personalised or lifelong learning.
(b) Discussion Session 2: Organisational Learning as a Connected Ecosystem
This session was hosted by John Butler who is the Senior Manager Learning and Organisational Development of the Transport Accident Commission.
He introduced his session with a personal story of how much time he spent creating courses for his clients and in the last moments, they change the scope or their minds and implement a quicker solution – one in which he may not have competed against time and budget.
Trust me, we’ve all been there. This was many years of frustration when I was working in the corporate world but it’s systemic in that as Learning and Development professionals, we don’t take a holistic view of the performance problem and use a consultative approach with our clients to understand not only their needs but the actual business performance problem. Instead, it’s easier to take the order, fill it out and run with it – with very mixed results.
This was many years of frustration when I was working in the corporate world but it’s systemic in that as Learning and Development professionals. Some of us don’t take a holistic view of the performance problem nor use a consultative approach with our clients to understand not only their needs but the actual business performance problem. Instead, it’s easier to take the order, fill it out and run with it – with very mixed results.
The theme of this session was how we can take a more systems based approach that looks at the entire ecosystem such as Technology, Resources, Budget, People, Culture and Business.
Once again, this wasn’t new to me. I started my career out as a Human Performance Improvement Consultant specialised in performance consulting trained and qualified in the military over 24 years ago. However, there was no equivalent role in organisations and was “slotted” into Learning and Development which focus was on building courses instead of improving business performance. It seems that we are still talking about the need for performance consulting but there’s very few who are actually doing this – let alone people who can provide this skill to Learning and Development people.
(c) Discussion Session 3: Learning and Knowledge Must Merge to Evolve
This practical and hands-on session was a lot of fun because we got to play a game that showed us the importance of tacit knowledge. Hosted by Brad Adriaanse, Founder of Schmiq Learning Solutions, Brad talked to us about how learning and knowledge are converging and how L&D need to become more sophisticated incorporating both Learning and Knowledge Management to keep our workforce ready and sharing their own unique stories, experiences and learning with each other.
(d) Discussion Session 4: L&D’s Role in Architecting Lifelong Learning
Now this is something I am starting to move into slowly because I don’t believe social learning is making any traction in organisations by Learning and Development teams.
The more I talk with people, the more I realise that they’re asking for help around how to manage their own professional and personal development in a time of constant change.
As organisations are automating jobs, there is more potential to help people build digital skills and capabilities to support them in their next role, next career or next phase of their life. Certainly, I’ve been doing a lot more one-to-one coaching work with professionals outside of Learning and Development who feel that they are getting behind in their field because they lack the digital skills or personal networks to help them stay in their job or find a new one – or even go out on their own. In this session, we explored what is L&D’s role in helping guide, enable and support people to learn continually through their work lives.
After lunch, we had the Immersion Labs where we explore some of the newer tools available in learning. I attended The Low Down of DIY Videos because I wanted something a little bit more light hearted. I’m a huge fan of video and love the entire creative process of creating these using different tools and platforms. Although much of the content that was shared in this session, I had known about, I liked hearing the questions that people asked because it gave me an indication of their approach…and fears.
Overall, however, this session was quite enthusiastic so I think there may be some budding video creators in the group! (If you want to see my attempt at creating a video, then watch the 2016 Learning and Development Unconference video I made).
(d) Learning Lab Case Studies: Salesforce for the Future – Siemens
The last session was a case study by Siemens and the reason I decided to go to this one was because it was a German company which was bound to be interesting from the point of view that they would be ahead in many ways. Presented by Susan Carter, Leadership and Development Head of Learning, she talked about how they created the Digital Business Lab for their employees which comprised of a range of immersive learning experiences to help them showcase and promote new and emerging technology and build digital skills and capability.
Late in the afternoon, we had the unconference hackathon where we worked in groups to come up with some ideas around the issue of “How do we measure and evaluate learning?” I sat in a group where we discussed and debated the various things to measure and I piped up that I don’t understand that we still talk of “measuring learning and not performance?”
So the discussion was diverted to how we can measure performance and one member of our team (who’s not in the L&D field at all – but in the business) talked about a Balanced Scorecard approach. Taking the marker from the presenter’s hand, he drew a quadrant on the flip chart and in each quadrant, titled CUSTOMER, EMPLOYEE, FINANCIAL, PROCESS and then we came up tangible measures within each.
Once again this was nothing new. Kaplan and Norton wrote their book The Balanced Scorecard Translating Strategy into Action in 1996 and much of it is still relevant today especially if you want to align individual, departmental or organisational initiatives to business strategy however it was new to many L&D people there.
So overall an educational day for me and one in which for the first time, I didn’t tweet out so much instead – or take video. It was an opportunity to be present, stay engaged and just be a sponge.
Big thank you to Jeevan for putting on the conference once again!