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David James


Chief Learning Officer

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How can we extend the reach of L&D?


David James is a seasoned Talent Management, Learning & OD leader with more than 15 years of experience in the field. Until recently, David was Director of Talent, Learning & OD for The Walt Disney Company’s EMEA region and has since joined as Learning Strategist.

2015 was a big year for mobile - and 2016 is going to be even bigger.  It was well documented that last year mobile internet usage surpassed all other devices. Smartphone usage alone surged by 394% and our mobile devices have become an extension of ourselves for a whole host of digital services that we rely on every single day.

This is important for Learning & Development because it’s also been found that workers are spending more time online developing themselves - in their own time, on their own devices - than L&D is influencing, and that they are doing so, primarily, because they want to do their jobs better and faster.

With such a huge opportunity to positively impact both performance and productivity, what can L&D do to support this?

We all know that learning is much more complex than transferring knowledge and know-how from one person to another (or to many).

We now have the opportunity to extend the value of L&D by creating a range of online experiences that learners access when the time is right for them - helping them to immediately overcome the challenges they are facing in their jobs, when they are motivated to do so.

There is a line in the book Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth that is particularly helpful for L&D to bear in mind when looking at this: ‘Help people to do what they want to do, better’.

This means that if people are already developing themselves professionally online, and more and more often on their mobile devices, then how do we help them to do just that... but better?

Make it your business to know how people are developing themselves already.

Let’s break that statement into two to explore what it could mean for us, starting with: ‘Helping them to do what they want to do…”

Open up the conversation

Make it your business to know how people are developing themselves already. If you don’t already support the Marketing function on developing their technical expertise and staying abreast of innovation, how are they doing so for themselves?

If you see Senior Executives only once a year in programmes, how are they developing themselves in all manner of different topics throughout the year? Strike up a conversation with as many people as you can about their development.

Surely, it’s the most obvious thing they will be expecting to speak with you about? Ask them what their priorities for learning are right now. Ask them how they are learning online to support their development. And ask them how that might be easier for them.

Understand and ‘own’ their biggest priorities

Following all those conversations, you will have identified some common priorities - and it’s likely to be some of the biggest priorities for the organisation as a whole. Whether these are around digital transformation, changing consumer expectations, growing business in new markets, emerging technologies, or anything else, pull together those themes - as well as the insights you gleaned from how people are developing themselves online today.

This is because the opportunity is to go ‘with the grain’ and support people in a way that they recognise, trust and prefer already. This is the important first lesson in gaining traction in any new initiative with your client group: Helping them to do what they want to do…

But how do you help them do this BETTER?

Add the context

It cannot be understated just how important ‘context’ is to organisational learning - although web-search is completely remiss of organisational context.

Closing the gap between ‘content’ and ‘the work itself’ is an important role that L&D can play. This can so easily be done by creating, curating and sharing online resources that work in a similar way to the sources that they are finding for themselves, i.e. short articles, videos, how-to’s, interviews, infographics and all variety of other mediums.

Context comes with the end-user understanding why it is important to them and what they should ‘do’ with whatever was shared.

Inform, inspire and instruct

When creating or curating resources, think of the different ways you can prepare the content. This can be as easy as deciding whether any resource will be designed to inform the user, inspire them, or instruct.

  • Informing is ‘you should know this’ and can take the shape of sharing: approaches, top tips, knowledge and know-how for getting ‘the right things done well’. This can be insights that you pull together and share, or that you involve others in - from both inside and outside or your organisation. This is powerful when curating external sources and layering it with ‘why it’s important to us’. Whether it be a news story, a feature article, or industry report.
  • Inspiring is ‘I do it like this’ and can come from somebody who is already successfully doing what is being shared. Perhaps it’s one of your digital marketers, a seasoned leader, or your top salesperson just sharing what they do that works. TEDTalks and business book reviews are also good for this - along with the context of ‘why it’s important to the end-user’.
  • Instructing is ‘you should do it like this’. When there is one way to do something or when somebody knows the most efficient way to successfully do it, then instruction can be the best tactic. This can most naturally fit with systems and processes. For example, when booking Annual Leave with the Time & Attendance system, running formulas in Excel, and sharing end-of-year budgetary requirements for managers.

Amplify what successful people do

It cannot be understated just how important ‘context’ is to organisational learning

This means putting successful people in front of a camera, sharing with colleagues what they do, how they do it and what they are learning. It may not be in your L&D toolkit yet but video is by far the most important medium available to you.

Online video views are rising rapidly and Cisco predicts that by as soon as 2017, video will make up 69 percent of all Internet traffic. “No matter the screen size, users clamored for video—users spent an average 5.5 hours each day watching video content in front of a screen in 2015.”

You can produce - and even edit - really good quality videos with your smartphone, a $60 lapel mic and free editing software (such as iMovie). The value far outweighs the investment and you will soon be impacting many more employees than you do right now. If video isn’t in your toolkit yet, it will need to be to remain relevant.

In summary

Helping employees to do what they want to do (better) means fully understanding how they are learning what they need for their jobs now. The opportunity to extend successful behaviours and outcomes - beyond the limitations of the ‘course’ - is one that can truly impact performance and productivity.

As well as impacting personal effectiveness there is the potential to positively affect engagement too, if employees are better equipped to perform.

Supporting learners on their terms - with resources that help them overcome challenges in doing their job - is one way that L&D can extend its value to an entire organisation. The shift from ‘Courses to Resources’ is one that has been extolled by Nick Shackleton-Jones for some time and now business needs this approach, whilst employees demand it.

Author Profile Picture
David James

Chief Learning Officer

Read more from David James

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