learning champions
Training & Learning

How to Use Interpersonal Skills to Identify Your Learning Champions

Creating a workplace learning culture can be an uphill battle full of wins and shortcomings along the way. It all relates back to what seems to be two blended schools of thought, that sit at opposite ends of a fluid scale.  This scale is walked by employees across all industries and business sectors. Have you ever heard someone say that their employer doesn’t provide enough training? What about someone saying that their company’s training team is constantly sending out training and that it’s too much for them? Well, there are the two schools of thought right there- to train or not to train, that is the question.  

While this article isn’t an homage to famous lines spoken by a Shakespearean character- it does pose one question. A question that is constantly asked but rarely asked out loud. So, let’s do it, let’s ask the burning question: How can Learning and Development Leaders identify learning champions and use that support to create a workplace learning culture? 

Creating a learning culture is a delicate balance that involves creativity, tenacity, marketing know-how, psychology, and interpersonal skill. These skills will all assist, but there is one that will help you identify your learning champions. Do you know which it is? Interpersonal skills for one-thousand, Alex! All these skills will solidify your thought leadership in the workplace, but interpersonal skill is the gold standard. Keep reading to learn how to identify your learning champions like a pro!

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1. Laying the foundation: Meet with department heads

First thing first: you need to consider brand building. Whether you are new to an organization or moving into an L&D leadership role with your current employer, you will need to build your department’s brand. If you haven’t already done so, you’ll also need to build your own workplace brand as well.  You will use this brand to demonstrate to employees (and your stakeholders alike) what you are made of. 

This is where the marketing know-how comes into play. Of course, that includes using brand guidelines, i.e. adhering to the font, color, format, and logo standards of your organization. But this also goes beyond brand pallets. Use short-form video content to introduce yourself and invite your organization on the learning journey. If you aren’t new to the company, re-introduce yourself.  This will go a long way getting your foot in the door, and leave no confusion about what your current role and responsibilities are now. Use trending text and yes, stay on brand.

Next, schedule meetings with all department heads and verbally reiterate to them what you communicated in your short form video. Be sure to show a genuine interest in who they are, what they want to accomplish as it pertains to their department’s training needs, and ask questions that align with the department and company’s vision and goals.  The two should be aligned; If they are not, make note of that, this department is rowing in the wrong direction and further analysis may be needed. No need to raise any red flags to anyone else.  This is a new relationship, and you don’t want to burn any bridges. 

Crucially, while in these meetings, ask for suggestions about subject matter experts (SMEs) and front-line managers (FLMs) that support the vision and who can help you develop content. You are supporting them, but they are helping you produce work as well. Reiterate that you are there to support them.  You don’t want to come in guns blazing. Next, you will want to meet with those SMEs and FLMs to discuss plans derived from your meetings with the department heads; They may very well want to be included in those meetings.  Invite them. The transparency, equity, and inclusion will build trust amongst the group.

You don’t want to come in guns blazing.

2. Create your Minimal Viable Product (MVP)

An MVP is sales verbiage that can be used in any industry for internal and external customers.  At your organization, you should create an MVP for your internal customers. It is a product with enough features to attract early adoption and validate a product idea early in the product development cycle.  Guess what the product is? Yes, you guessed right—it is the work that your department will be doing, whether it be onboarding, functional training, vocational training, a leadership program etc. So, send out an e-newsletter or some other short-form content series. Establish a playlist, or curated topics. You could also curate other materials for a manager-led workshop. 

Be sure to celebrate your first round of success.  Some people will buy in to your training program right away.  These people are diamonds because they are likely innovators.  Make sure they are in your mental Rolodex, and you might even want to set up some type of outlook rule to make sure their emails and messages are treated with the utmost urgency, regardless of where they fall in your company’s organizational hierarchy.

Be sure to celebrate your first round of success.

3. Build a taskforce

It sounds pretty marvel-like doesn’t it. Well, you don’t have to put on a Captain America costume, but do put those interpersonal skills to use and craft a thoughtful and engaging email and send it out to the entire organization.  

If you work at a company with more than 500 employees or one that has an internal communications team, be sure to let them in on your initiative.  This communication should be an invitation to get involved with testing out new training before it is released.  So, it’s like a beta-testing group. It’s up to you to name it what you want, but be sure not to volunteer people in their place; let them choose to be a part of this on their own.

Be sure not to volunteer people in their place; let them choose to be a part of this on their own.

4. Identify your core champions

So, by now you’ve had strategic interactions with department heads, subject matter experts, and front-line managers. You have also cast a wide net across the organization via email, and you may have received some messages from innovative early adopters.  This is your bench of champions.  

This bench’s size depends largely on the size of the business. Assess your bench strength and engage them often, shout them out when you can. Ask them to share the news of training that is in the pipeline and get people excited about it.  These people are a walking advertisement. So, be sure they are the first to test training for their respective teams or business units. Ask them to give you feedback and implement their feedback where appropriate, and if you choose not to, let them know why you won’t be implementing it. Share with them instructional design best practices via short form content no longer than a few paragraphs in an email or a lunch and learn. If you should expand your team in the future, they may also be your talent pipeline.

Wrapping up

Creating a learning culture isn’t as hard as one might think. If you are strategic and use what has been outlined in this article, you will build support through relationships, peer learning, and ultimately…championship! And you’ll have the answer to the burning question of whether to train, or not to train. So, what are you waiting for?