Training & Learning

How Harry’s Decentralize L&D with Self-Directed and Collaborative Learning

One of the most common questions we hear from L&D leaders is how to generate enthusiasm for teams to commit to training activities. But what about companies with the opposite problem: what do you do when the demand for learning exceeds supply?

Recently, I sat down with Rachel Peck, Director of L&D at Harry’s, to talk about how she supports her most eager learners and measures their learning impact. She had a lot of great tips for keeping even the most enthusiastic self-directed learners engaged and stimulated.

We started off by discussing one of the major L&D strategies at Harry’s: hiring people who are dedicated to life-long learning.

‘Improve always’: proactively hire lifelong learners

As Rachel explains, the demand for learning at Harry’s is higher than the supply of activities and courses the company offers. She has a good idea of why that’s the case.

“We screen for values during the interview process, and one of our values is ‘improve always’. This has implications for the way people solve problems, but it also tells you when people have an appetite for learning, growing, and knowing more today than they did before.”

“That way, we self-select for people who have an inclination to be lifelong learners,” says Rachel. “As a result, our people crave learning and development, growth, resources, and training. This is a great asset for us, but it can be a challenge sometimes.”

As the L&D Director for Harry’s, Rachel experiences this challenge in different ways.

"We self-select for people who have an inclination to be lifelong learners. As a result, our people crave learning and development, growth, resources, and training."

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What are the challenges of having a strong demand for L&D?

For L&D leaders in growing businesses, having a strong demand for learning resources can pose a challenge in terms of time and budget.

“Obviously, we don’t have unlimited budgets,” says Rachel. “Right now, we have a small but mighty L&D team. We do a great job with what we’ve got, but there’s a limit to the resources we can offer to our teams.”

As Rachel explains, catering L&D to an eager workforce isn’t just a question of resources: it’s also a matter of designing a curriculum to cater to all kinds of learners.

“Some of the challenges with self-directed learners can be unexpected,” says Rachel. “For example, when you have a lot of highly motivated and highly ambitious people, you need to develop a curriculum that is equally applicable and relevant for everyone on the team.” 

“Take our diversity, equity, and inclusion curriculum, which is about addressing bias and promoting allyship. This was surprisingly challenging to develop because our folks are doing a lot of self-directed learning and introspection as well. We needed to bring everyone up to baseline so we were all speaking the same language, but we also didn’t want the training to be boring for folks with a higher level of knowledge and awareness.”

According to Rachel, there are a few useful techniques to meet these challenges and keep everyone engaged and motivated, including collaborative learning.

"When you have a lot of highly motivated and highly ambitious people, you need to develop a curriculum that is equally applicable and relevant for everyone on the team.” 

Maximize L&D impact with self-directed learning and collaborative learning

“When you have a team of folks taking charge of their learning and seeking out opportunities to develop their skills, it’s even more important to offer customized and personalized options,” says Rachel. “They may not be mandatory, but they should be available to people.”

For Rachel, this means supporting self-directed learning. “We have a whole bucket of programs we’ve created to cater to the need for self-service learning. They’re totally optional, but they’re available for people who want to direct their learning and growth on their own terms.”

“For example, we have a stipend for learning expense reimbursement. Everyone has $1,000 USD over the course of the year to invest in their own courses, books, or subscriptions, and all they have to do is make the case that the opportunity will drive their career at Harry’s.”

This commitment to self-directed learning also extends to collaborative learning between teams. “We offer a bunch of courses taught by folks internally on a range of topics. We call this Harry’s Business School, or HBS. These can be anything from how to build a great PowerPoint presentation, through to foundational courses on our brand and our company values.”

“We also curate a newsletter, as well as Slack channels for self-directed learning,” says Rachel. “We have a book club and a podcast club. We’re trying to decentralize our approach in serving these individual learning needs, in addition to the core central programs we run.”

Another key strategy when catering for self-directed learners? Measuring L&D impact.

Related read: 4 Benefits Of Collaborative Learning, Backed By Science & Psychology

3 different dimensions to measure your L&D impact

For Rachel, supporting highly motivated learners doesn’t just stop at offering the right mix of resources and incentives: it also requires active impact measurement. 

“Measuring the effectiveness of L&D programs is a really meaty topic,” says Rachel. “At Harry’s, we think of it across a couple of different dimensions.” 

1. Annual engagement surveys

“At the highest level, we ask people during our annual engagement survey, ‘to what extent do you believe you have access to the learning and development you need?’ I came into this role in October of 2018, and since we’ve built an L&D program, the answer to that question has jumped 26 points. It’s been the biggest jump of any of our engagement survey results.” 

2. Quantitative data on engagement and participation

But making such a big leap forward isn’t enough. For Rachel, it’s important to dig into the deeper questions. “We try to drill into these results to understand exactly what’s working. First, we look at participation - who is clicking ahead, what are our read-through rates, who is actually attending our courses, and how many people are claiming our ‘improve always’ stipends.” 

3. Qualitative feedback

“Then, at the end of every L&D program we run, we ask people three questions: to what extent was this engaging? To what extent was it useful to your job or role? And how knowledgeable was the presenter or facilitator? We want to gather honest feedback and improve over time.”

L&D teams need to be continuously learning, too 

For Rachel, her approach to serving eager learners with great programs and resources is something that is always growing and improving. 

“We’re always looking for ways to improve our programs, and make our impact measurement more accurate,” she says. “We’re trying to move the needle, and we know there are still areas we can improve.”

“This is especially the case when it comes to visibility around career growth and opportunity, internal roles and internal mobility. Our first goal was to offer access to great learning and development, and we feel like we can measure our progress relatively well.”

Many thanks to Rachel for sharing her tips and suggestions for how to keep self-directed learners engaged and on-track! 

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