Training & Learning

How to Create an Agile Learning Culture that maximizes L&D impact

Things are always changing in L&D. There are always new business demands to respond to, and new skills and expertise your staff need to develop to better serve your customers.

This change is a good thing, but it creates a real challenge for L&D leaders: how can you stay ahead of the curve and anticipate new training needs? How can you respond quickly to these developments and give your teams the tools and resources they need to keep up? 

Last week, I sat down with Dave Peckens, Director of Learning, Development & Culture at global consulting firm RGP, to chat about how the company uses its agile learning culture to face these challenges and keep up with the pace of change in L&D.

First, we chatted about the importance of putting L&D at the top of people's minds.

Agile learning starts with making L&D a priority

A common challenge many L&D leaders face is coming late into the process of launching a new product, process, or tool. Often, learning impacts are one of the last things people consider, and this can be frustrating. 

As Dave explains, the solution is to find a way to put L&D front and centre. “Some companies have a strong culture of L&D, and a strong L&D presence within each of their business functions,” he says. “That’s ideal. If someone is developing a new product, or a new way to do something within a system, their first thought should be, ‘hey, we should tell L&D about this’.”

“It starts with identifying a problem, or a learning need,” says Dave. “Then, we communicate a solution and make sure everyone is aware of what the solution is. That’s our goal at RGP, and it’s something we’re working on all the time. We want to put learning first.”

One of the most important steps? Getting people to realize the L&D implications of internal changes. “Even if a change is internal and doesn’t affect our clients, people still need to consider how this is going to affect our teams on a day-to-day basis.”

"If someone is developing a new product, or a new way to do something within a system, their first thought should be, ‘hey, we should tell L&D about this.'"

Build a culture of agile learning within company leadership

To put this ‘learning first’ culture in place, RGP have made a number of changes to their L&D approach. As Dave explains, the most important thing was to focus on leadership.

“We used to have something called the ‘academy’,” says Dave.  “It was run by HR and involved a mixture of off-the-shelf content and internal recordings, all self-directed. When I started at RGP, the goal was to refresh our culture and to focus on leadership training. We wanted our leaders to understand the importance of learning, and to build this into their thinking.”

“Our goal was to teach our leadership about proper learning,” says Dave. “We started by partnering with people from different business groups, like marketing and HR. We wanted to create rapport with specific individuals and find out where their L&D pain points were.” 

This refreshed approach allowed RGP’s L&D approach to become a lot more responsive and agile. Now, the L&D team could focus on anticipating specific L&D needs.

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Anticipate specific L&D needs with intake forms

“Our different business units have a lot of different learning needs,” says Dave. “For example, our finance team wanted their people to be better at Excel, and to get more CPE credits. For sales, it’s about ramping-up new hires quickly. Our teams are focusing on a bunch of different things, and cultivating relationships with these teams helped us to identify these priorities.”

Another great technique to anticipate these needs? Use dedicated intake forms. “In the past, when someone came to us with a training need, it was usually last-minute. We’d have just a few days to try and develop some material ahead of a launch the following week. Now, we use intake forms to encourage people to think about their learning needs a lot earlier.” 

Using these forms allows the L&D team to ask the right questions. “We ask who the executive sponsor is, who the other stakeholders are, how large the audience is, and what would happen if the training didn’t take place,” says Dave. “This helps us prioritize different demands and match them with a menu of content options.” 

This intake form process also teaches the company to think in advance and ahead of time when it comes to training, and drastically lower the number of last minute requests over time.

“For example, if we don’t have the capacity to develop a full training program, we can work with the team to develop a more basic learning strategy that would still offer people what they needed,” says Dave. “This could be a set of simple FAQs or a slide deck, rather than a dedicated program developed by a learning designer.” This also educates the team on the different options available.

As Dave explains, applying design thinking has helped them find the flexibility they need.

Apply design thinking to every step of the L&D process

As Director of Learning, Development & Culture, Dave is guiding a change in RGP’s learning culture. By staying ahead of the curve and anticipating learning needs, Dave has brought design thinking and agile methodology into the company’s L&D approach. 

“In the past, because a lot of our training requests were last-minute, there wasn’t time to focus on design thinking, or to even define the problem fully,” says Dave. “If you don’t define the learning need in full, you’ll end up with problems with your adoption rate later on.”

“Now, we’re adapting our training content and delivery to match exactly how and when different people learn. This flexibility has been a big challenge for RGP, but it’s worth it.”

As Dave explains, this design thinking applies to every step of the L&D process. “It’s a combination of L&D, marketing, and communication. For example, right now I’m working on a set of email announcements catered to different learning groups. We want to make sure people find out about the training, and that they follow it up by actually completing it.”

At RGP, design thinking applies to every step of the L&D process. “It’s a combination of L&D, marketing, and communication."

Support agile learning with executive sponsorship 

For Dave, shaping RGP’s learning culture isn’t just a one-off project. Instead, it’s an ongoing commitment involving relationship-building, communication, and perseverance. 

“It’s a daily challenge to drive behavior change and mold culture without losing anyone along the way,” says Dave. “We’re encouraging people to think of their training needs first. We have to keep iterating, and make this an agile process that improves through feedback loops.”

Another crucial factor in making this change a success? Securing executive support.

“You need to get executive leadership behind you,” says Dave. “In my division, we have a new Chief People Officer who is very strong on shaping our approach to fit learner needs. She really helps us to stick with it.”

Dave had one last reminder for L&D leaders driving culture change: play the long game. 

“You have to remember that internal relationships take time to build and cultivate. As an L&D leader, set aside the time to have conversations with the right people, and build trust and relationships. It’s a long curve, so don’t give up.”

Related: How to get training budget and exec buy-in for L&D projects

Many thanks again to Dave for sharing his insights and observations!

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