What does the future of learning and development look like? Is it about pivoting to a performance-driven L&D approach? Is it about leveraging new technology to create evidence-based learning? Or is it about focusing on where the data and insights come from?
Would you be shocked if we proposed it was all three, and more? In this podcast recap (check out the full episode here), I speak with Lloyd Dean, Principal Consultant at PA consulting and former Head of Digital and Innovative Learning at EDF Energy, about his vision for the future of the L&D industry.
Read on to hear how Lloyd envisions the future of L&D, how he implements digital marketing to promote the L&D function in his organization, and some practical steps for impactful L&D leadership including how to get stakeholders on board.
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After a career in teaching, Lloyd joined EDF Energy in a simulation instructor role and progressed into the Head of Digital and Innovative Learning.
“I was always open-minded to new ideas in learning and really grounded on delivering impact to the business,” he says.
“One of the highlights was when we built a virtual reality piece of training on a nuclear power station—the first of its kind globally,” he says. “And over a couple of years, we demonstrated a £200,000 return on investment. I'm super proud of the team and the journey we went on.”
In the day-to-day learning, Lloyd explains, his team were focused on the end-user and where the data and insights were coming from. Lloyd believes L&D teams have to go on that data journey with a sense of curiosity to prove that it will make an impact.
So, how do you make an impact? Lloyd finds it comes down to understanding where the business is going and helping stakeholders understand what’s best practice.
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The first key element for making an impact, in Lloyd’s experience, is understanding where the business is going.
“Challenging our stakeholders to say where the training request fits into the bigger picture is important.”
“Then trying to land it in the context of the business so we could make it more relatable. Strategy is one thing, but what else is going on? Are they trying to implement a certain piece of training or an idea in a specific business unit?”
Next, Lloyd focuses on giving stakeholders something to make them aware of what is going on outside the organization and what’s best practice.
“For example, in VR, what we found more often than not was when there was a real niche problem, the business couldn't solve on the innovation side of learning. They often called us in. We would keep them updated, share insights with them, and work with them to understand what they were trying to do,” he says.
Once they knew what they should be doing, Lloyd and the team implemented support for everyone in the department. “This approach meant they were supported and knew what to do and how to do it.”
The next big step for Lloyd and the team was to start introducing a digital marketing approach to their L&D strategy.
As Lloyd explains, he attended conferences where they spoke about digital marketing in L&D and content curation. So, he and the team started thinking if they could do something around this model to respond to the business need.
“We spent six months engaging a wide range of users in the organization across the country in various roles,” he says, “and some of the things they were telling us lent into ‘learning in the flow of work’ or ‘resources, not courses’, and that type of stuff.”
“I also feel digital marketing promotes the L&D function, because you have to know who your audience is,” Lloyd explains. “Go on that journey of who you’re marketing to and add specifics rather than overgeneralize.”
After deciding to go for it, Lloyd and the team assigned learning curators to the learning journey. They also hired a learning culture manager whose role is to lead the understanding of what is going on with the organization’s business.
I also feel digital marketing promotes the L&D function, because you have to know who your audience is,” Lloyd explains. “Go on that journey of who you’re marketing to and add specifics rather than overgeneralize.
“It worked really well for us, particularly because we brought in a real focus on data,” he says. “We started looking at the data so we could pivot and think about what we were doing. If we were doing an email campaign, we wanted to look at metrics–how many people were clicking through to the content.”
Once you have introduced digital marketing into your L&D strategy, Lloyd finds that before you look to future trends, you should understand where L&D sits today.
As Lloyd states, L&D departments have historically used frameworks to deliver work.
“We want pathways,” he says. “We want to overly simplify. We get excited about the how. So, whether it's gamification or eLearning, oversimplification is a risk. Well, it's not a risk–it's a reality.”
“Leadership is a great example, where everyone seems to measure leaders laterally and above. No one ever really talks to the teams. They don't go on that journey with them.”
Recently, Lloyd had the thought about L&D being subservient, while on the flip side of that spectrum is being overtly clinical.
Leadership is a great example, where everyone seems to measure leaders laterally and above. No one ever really talks to the teams. They don't go on that journey with them.
“I think it's important for us to reflect where we are and where we want to be because to be subservient, I don't think is to demonstrate both sides of the spectrum. I don't think we're enhancing the performance of the business or helping individuals on their journey.”
“The reason I mentioned clinical is that lots of organizations are going into agile learning. And I think, going to agile straight away with a capital ‘A’ is a risk because all of a sudden they're talking to a lot of folks saying, you need to give us ethics. And stakeholders respond that all they need is a problem solved.”
So, how do you go about solving those problems? Lloyd finds that starts with two foundational pillars of being an impactful L&D leader.
During his time at EDF, Lloyd found that great L&D leadership is about reflecting on why you are in L&D, and what you are to your organization.
“I think it's important to understand your purpose and why you're there. It took me a couple of years to come to peace with the fact that I was there to serve the organization,” he says.
First, Lloyd explains, impactful leadership starts with taking your team on a journey and supporting them all the while keeping them from slipping into business as usual.
“One of my challenges at EDF was that we solved niche problems. And so it was important to keep the team supported, but also away from their center point in a place of comfort, or whenever I felt we were going into the business as usual phase.”
Next, Lloyd finds that understanding what’s going on with the business and building those relationships with the business are key.
“And it's not to nag, and it's not to say you've been in meetings for the sake of it,” he says. “But I think long term, it's making sure when folks in the business do have a problem, they know why they're going to call you and how you're going to help.”
When it comes to understanding business and getting stakeholders ready, Lloyd has two key elements for ensuring you can make an impact.
You're not digging into the details to nag or say you've been to a meeting for the sake of it. You're doing it so that in the future when folks in the business do have a problem, they know why they're going to call you and how you're going to help.
When Lloyd engages, collaborates, and gets stakeholders ready, he says it comes down to two main elements: vision articulation and diagnosis of change.
Working with senior stakeholders, Lloyd explains, starts with really articulating the vision.
“Working with stakeholders to say, we need the line manager to talk about this,” he says. “We need middle managers to talk about it. We need to speak about this numerous times, rather than just one Microsoft Teams call or one Zoom call in particular. So, that vision articulation is key.”
Next, Lloyd finds that it is crucial to speak with the stakeholders and the end-user to diagnose change.
“Then, it’s about adopting a bespoke strategy to try and overcome all of the changes,” he says. “So, be prepared to go beyond a program architecture or the project plan. Getting into the nitty-gritty and understanding where people are at with that change is key.”
As Lloyd explains, he thinks the future of L&D lies with technology. “How we deal with tech, and how we manage and involve it within L&D function is going to be interesting over the coming years because if we don't do it, someone else is going to do it,” he says.
But for Lloyd, it goes further and comes down to practice–we need to be evidence-based. If the tech doesn’t work, we should be prepared to move on to try something new.
“I am still worried about the propensity of L&D departments to just deliver stuff,” he explains. “We'll be happy to roll out content and deliver learning, and maybe just do glorified eLearning through AI or stock characters in virtual reality.”
In addition, as Lloyd says, it will always be about delivering impact. “I think if we're not going to be prepared to demonstrate impact and go on that journey, we're in trouble.”
If you’re thinking you would like to achieve more with digital or shift your approach to L&D, Lloyd suggests it all starts with being open-minded.
“Even when we have the facts, when it touches a nerve, are we prepared to take a step back and be open-minded?” he says. “Are we prepared to hold that mirror up to the business and have that conversation with them?
“So, I think being open-minded, regardless of what you're doing, on top of everything else, is my response to where to start when approaching the shift to digital.”
Thanks to Lloyd for sharing his experience and future of L&D insights with us! Keen to learn from more L&D experts? Check out my conversation with Gabe Gloege on how to identify evergreen problems and make the transition to lean L&D.
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