For many L&D leaders, the concept of shifting focus from “providing learning” to “affecting performance” has become more prominent over the years. While this approach of focusing on performance generally makes it easier to align with the business, L&D leaders are still faced with the perceived challenge: How do you manage both learning for personal career advancement and management while also improving business performance?
It's important to note that a performance-first mindset is not separate from professional development but the balanced approach to more predictably, reliably, efficiently, and successfully achieve demonstrable results for employees and organizations.
In this L&D Podcast episode, Guy Wallace and I welcome back our expert panelists Mirjam Neelen, Carl Binder, Teemu Lilja, Fredrik Petersen Herfindal, and Judith Hale to discuss how they balance both performance-led initiatives and individual professional development and upskilling goals, including how they manage stakeholders.
Read on to hear advice from our experts on how to execute a pivot to performance whilst also focusing on employees professional development and upskilling.
First up, we hear from Judith Hale, CEO of the Institute for Performance Improvement, about the tension between L&D providing personal career advancement and business improvement solutions.
As Judith explains, there is often a tension between learning for personal career advancement versus improving business performance.
“But part of our job is to get out of that mindset,” she says. “We have to ask ourselves: ‘how agile are we? Do we have the ability to respond, to move around?’ If we want to succeed in helping employees develop while reaching company goals, we have to look at both career professional development and performance improvement.”
“Forbes came out with this new research that finds the workforce is expecting to be able to grow and learn, and they're looking for balance in their life,” says Judith. “So, the answer is yes, we do all of it, and we are capable of doing that.”
Our next panelist, Carl Binder, CEO of The Performance Thinking Network, explains why you shouldn’t look at the pivot to performance and the individual professional development of employees as secondary to each other.
Looking for more tips on driving performance while supporting employee's professional development? Download our learning in the flow of work playbook to help you strike the right balance every time.
In Carl’s experience, the pivot to performance and employees’ focus on personal development do overlap and cannot be separated.
First, as Carl explains, the question is about more than just learning and development. “I think you have to have an environment where managers, supervisors, leaders–everybody–is focused on continuous development. If it's just left to the learning and development department, it's probably not going to be engaging.”
And second, Carl finds that people do want to develop—the Great Resignation is proof of that. Still, he is not convinced that everybody just wants to develop their personal capabilities.
“I think what employees want to do is move forward,” he explains. “Get better at their job, have a career path, and have a supervisor or manager who raises issues they care about. The phrase servant leadership has been around for a long time, and the servant leader arranges conditions so that people will be both productive and engaged.”
“If you arrange the conditions in the organization, L&D can certainly lead. But it has to be driven through managers, coaches, and supervisors who are helping to develop their people,” says Carl.
If you arrange the conditions in the organization, L&D can certainly lead. But it has to be driven through managers, coaches, and supervisors who are helping to develop their people.
Our next expert, Mirjam Neelen, Head of Global Learning Design and Learning Sciences at Novartis, speaks about defining and identifying skills in a performance-oriented L&D approach.
In Mirjam’s experience, there are two elements to the challenge of reskilling and upskilling with a performance-oriented strategy:
“I was reading a report by McKinsey,” she explains. “They defined skills as capabilities, talent, mindset–the whole shebang–I thought, ‘Isn't this interesting?’ We create this bandwagon around skills and then realize we're not talking about skills. We're talking about something completely different.”
“So, let’s say skills are all these kinds of things people need to do their jobs; that’s not the right definition, but let’s say that it is, then prioritize those,” she says, “Then you go back to the regular learning side of things and define what the skill looks like in the context of the work.”
Mirjam suggests that once prioritized, you need to do your task analysis, user research, and make observations of the work to understand what the work context looks like and what people need to become competent.
You need to do your task analysis, user research, and make observations of the work to understand what the work context looks like and what people need to become competent.
“Then you need to design good holistic learning experiences,” Mirjam explains. “They could be formal pieces, design work in a certain way, feedback structures, or an apprenticeship. It's just about good design, and then you need to measure if it has been impactful and close the gaps.”
Next, Teemu Lilja, Group Learning Culture and Community Lead at Telia, speaks about an intervention that highlights how personal development and performance on the job should be considered as something other than an either-or approach.
As Teemu explains, they have a great example of how reskilling can work in an L&D organization with a performance-first mindset.
“We were involved in a project,” he says. “We wanted to make internal movement run more smoothly between our consumer sales and business-to-business sales teams. If you are a store sales rep, the only chair you're looking at is the store leader chair, and ten other people are looking at the same chair, and everyone wants to go there.”
Human Resources wanted the horizontal internal movement to be more effortless and fluid, so Teemu and the team analyzed what a natural next step would be for a sales rep if it wasn't leadership. And the move would need the employee to be upskilled.
“So, we talked with talent acquisition and the recruiting managers,” he says, “and asked what the things or the experiences were that they wanted to see for the applicants to be relevant to the job, and when we mapped these out, we looked back on the target group and asked how we create these experiences and knowledge to get them into the role.”
As Teemu explains, “It’s all about asking ourselves ‘How do we give people the skills, knowledge, and experience they need to do the work?’ Focusing on personal development and performance on the job is not that black or white; you have to do both.”
It’s all about asking ourselves ‘How do we give people the skills, knowledge, and experience they need to do the work?’ Focusing on personal development and performance on the job is not that black or white; you have to do both.
Our next panelist, Fredrik Peterson Herfindal, Global Head of Learning and Development at Telia, shared how his team manages the resistance they come up against when convincing stakeholders to try their performance-first approach.
As Fredrik explains, his L&D team often gets resistance not from their performance-first mindset but from what they don't do anymore after making their pivot.
“We’ve had the privilege of working with many supporting sales and service organizations who are used to being measured on KPIs. Therefore, we haven't had issues in convincing them to have a more performance-oriented approach.”
“But stakeholders sometimes get annoyed because they have a legacy of expectation on us that we just do whatever they tell us to do,” he says. “For example, they’ll say that they’re running this event in one week, can you do a fun workshop? Before we made the pivot to performance, we would just reply yes and do what they asked.”
Stakeholders sometimes get annoyed because they have a legacy of expectation on us that we just do whatever they tell us to do.
Now, Fredrik and the team proactively question their stakeholders about their desired performance outcomes. So, the resistance has yet to be about what they are doing to make an impact but what they are no longer doing.
Thanks again to our panel for sharing their insights and expertise in their pivots to performance! Keen to learn more from L&D experts? Check out the episode where David and Guy speak to Judith Hale about her experience and approach to working with stakeholders and clients to impact performance outcomes.
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