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Training & Learning

A Performance-First Mindset: Making the Pivot With Fredrik Peterson Herfindal and Teemu Lilja

L&D leaders worldwide are pivoting their practices to focus on performance impact and workflow learning. While the idea of following in their footsteps may be daunting for some, our guests this week are here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be!

In this L&D podcast recap (check out the full episode here), I speak with Telia’s Fredrik Peterson Herfindal, Head of Learning & Performance, and Teemu Lilja, Learning & Performance Lead for Sales, as we explore their pivot from a learning orientation to a performance-orientation L&D approach.

Fredrik and Teemu are recognized both within their organization and in Sweden for having started their transformation of their L&D practice to focus on a performance-first mindset and are truly making an impact.

Read on to hear why Fredrik and Teemu set out to radically change an L&D practice which was already highly rated by learners and stakeholders and their four steps for pivoting to performance. 

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L&D at Telia before the pivot to performance

About three and a half years ago at Telia, Fredrik and Teemu’s team was formed by merging a team of trainers and coaches with a team of eLearning producers.

As Fredrik explains, they began as a traditional L&D department: event-focused. “Everything was a two-day classroom training or a standalone eLearning,” he says. “We were very proud of our three-day leadership camp that we ran every year with a five-star rating.”

The team focused on coming up with ideas that would be fun and engaging, and they could efficiently work on PowerPoint decks for months. Once they felt that the content was right, the team would put all of their efforts into marketing the training and trying to fill their classrooms with people. 

“The craziest part of it is that we were so off,” Fredrik explains. “Everyone loved it, both our learners and our stakeholders, so no one asked us to change anything. Back then, we were a total of 14 people doing things that everyone loved. But something wasn’t right.”

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The tipping point

As Teemu explains, his eye-opening moment came in the summer of 2019, a couple of months into his role as a strategic learning business partner in a newly formed team. 

“I remember during the summer holiday, I searched for some resources or inspiration to build this new learning strategy for my stakeholders or for new topics to include in my fancy new leadership program,” he explains.

Then, Teemu found my podcast, and he listened to my conversations with guests. “It just clicked that this was exactly what we are supposed to do. Fredrik and I felt early on that we were doing a lot of stuff, but we didn't do anything that mattered to anyone. We were lost,” says Teemu.

“So, I started to think about why L&D even exists. What kind of strategic business partner am I? What are we impacting here? If it’s not performance on KPIs that matter to the business, who cares?” he explains, “We were working on nice-to-have stuff, and even though we were liked, we had nothing of real value to show anyone.”

After introducing Fredrik to the podcast, he and Teemu began collaborating on how they would pivot L&D at Telia to a performance-orientated approach.

Related: The One Question Driving Our Expert Panel's Pivot to Performance-Driven L&D

We were working on nice-to-have stuff, and even though we were liked, we had nothing of real value to show anyone.

4 steps for implementing a performance-first L&D mindset

As Teemu explains, transforming their L&D practice from a learning orientation to a performance-orientation approach was an iterative process.

So, how did they get the snowball rolling? First up, they defined their team’s new mindset.

1. Define your team’s mindset shift

Step one, as Teemu explains, all starts with a performance mindset.

“The first thing we did was to define the mindset shifts we need to make as a team,” explains Teemu. “We needed to move from this fluffy learning to focus on helping the company and our people perform in their current or future jobs.”

2. Design to your employees’ every day

Next, Teemu knew they needed to focus on learners’ workflows to make a true impact.

“But to do that,” he says, “we needed to move from event-based learning experiences that stop learners from working to attend a course or do an eLearning, and move to designing for every day–when and where people work.”

“If we wanted to improve performance, we needed to understand our learners’ workflows and what tasks and processes impact the performance we are trying to improve,” Teemu explains.

3. Be data-driven

Next, you need to be data-driven to impact the right workflows when learners need you to.

“You will see that there are many processes and tasks in those workflows,” Teemu explains. “So, we can't work on all of those at the same time. We must ensure that we put our time, money, and efforts into the right challenges and opportunities.”

“We have to rely on data instead of what a stakeholder thinks is needed. So, being data-driven was also one of these elements in the move to activities,” he says.

“You will see that there are many processes and tasks in those workflows—we can't work on all of those at the same time. We must ensure that we put our time, money, and efforts into the right challenges and opportunities.

4. Work agile

Finally, Teemu and the team knew that their learners’ environments were changing, as were business operations.

“So, we needed to move from designing these big perfect programs that become irrelevant quickly to work agile. We needed to sit down with our stakeholders, look at the backlog, and prioritize from there. We needed to understand the problems we're trying to solve and work cross-functionally with subject-matter experts and top performers,” he says.

As Teemu notes, L&D teams need to test and create value, and we need to fail fast and try to iterate from what we learn. Why? Well, because it is all about solving business problems and impacting business KPIs.”

“Ultimately,” he says, “we need to stop thinking of learning as knowledge or training and focus on changing key behaviors, processes, or tasks influencing the KPIs. That requires a lot more because we want people to actually do things differently and not just know something or have fun.”

Related: Is Agile L&D Right for You? A Discussion with Tracey Waters

We need to stop thinking of learning as knowledge or training and focus on changing key behaviors, processes, or tasks influencing the KPIs. That requires a lot more because we want people to actually do things differently and not just know something or have fun.

The new L&D focus and approach

As Fredrik explains, they built the team and functions to support and implement Bob Mosher and Conrad Gottfredson’s ‘Five Moments of Need.’ 

“On top of that, we have one full-time colleague working purely with SharePoint to identify what people are googling internally when trying to find information or solve a problem,” Fredrik says. “We also have one full-time colleague working with our business and go-to-market units creating engagement and awareness when things change.”

“We also hired a colleague working full-time as an impact and insight manager,” he adds. “She challenges us at the beginning of every initiative and knows where to find all the business data. She helps us measure our efforts and build end reports on all of our initiatives. She is the backbone of our team.”

The team has found a mix of methodologies that serves their purpose. For example, for design and development, the team looks at it from a five-moments-of-need lens to understand the design's purpose. If they are designing an experience with resources, they use Brinkerhoff’s high-performance learning journeys methodology.

“If it's only resources,” says Fredrik, “we usually design and develop it with the subject-matter experts and, in many cases, together with IT to get the resources as close to the point of need as possible.”

Related: What Is Workflow Learning, Really? Insights From Conrad Gottfredson

Taking your L&D team on a pivot journey

When leading the team toward a performance mindset, Teemu understood that for some team members, it felt like the change was happening to them because they weren’t driving the change themselves. 

“That comes with concerns, and sometimes you have fears,” he says. “So, in the beginning, there were questions like, why are we doing this? Or what's in it for me? Or are you trying to make us jobless because if we don't do training, then what will we do?”

Teemu discovered that people didn’t buy into the pivot simultaneously; even now, some still don’t want to go all the way. “But that's okay,” he says, “as long as we take one step forward in the right direction.”

Teemu and colleagues in the same role have been guiding others, involving them in stakeholder conversations when they steer to performance outcomes, being involved in the discovery phase, and helping out in the design and development phase.

“I think that the point of no return for our team members was when they got to see the impact that their new initiatives made or when the KPIs they set out to improve with our new ways of working yielded results,” he says. “After that, I think it just clicked for people.”

Related: 3 Steps to Solving Evergreen Problems: A Framework From Expert Gabe Gloege

I think that the point of no return for our team members was when they got to see the impact that their new initiatives made or when the KPIs they set out to improve with our new ways of working yielded results. After that, I think it just clicked for people.

3 tips for transforming from fluffy to impactful L&D

Fredrik and Teemu’s experience during their performance mindset shift has revealed three crucial tips for L&D leaders wanting to make the same switch.

1. Talk about performance, not learning: Fredrik explains that this all comes down to the mindset shift to performance. “Stop talking about learning and start talking about performance with a learning team and the stakeholders. Drop the fluffy stuff and discuss how business is going and what's coming your way.”

2. Understand the everyday workflow: If you want to impact performance, you need to understand the everyday and the workflow, which is what you want to influence. 

“There, you find the processes and tasks that directly impact the performance outcomes,” says Fredrik. “Our job is to help people through these processes and tasks in the workflow by designing resources or experiences.”

3. Get involved in a significant transformation project: Teemu’s big tip is that if you have the chance to involve yourself in a transformation, then you should go for it because it becomes so clear that training just doesn’t cut it.

“Working closely with change management has been one of the greatest and most important experiences for me in my L&D career for understanding the business and what we are supposed to do. Change management follows the same process that L&D should.” he says.

Thanks to Fredrik and Teemu for sharing their pivot to performance journey and their four steps to help you make the shift yourself! Keen to learn more from L&D experts? Check out my conversation with Aimee Young about what running a department solo looks like and how to make standalone L&D a successful career move of choice.

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