Branding Learning & Development

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Does your learning and development department have an identity issue?

Explore the concepts of personal branding and what it can teach us about the learning and development function.

The essence of branding is interpretation – we are all very complicated creatures with complicated minds and I firmly have a belief that if you work with people you are already perfectly aware of this. Many have tried to simplify the complicated topic of human interpretation and the greatest attempt is stimulus & response. If I give you a message the mind is immediately stimulated, and how it responds is made up from your uniqueness. What we must remember from this idea of stimulus & response is the stimulus is a message received, and a message is received in many ways. The message could be this written blog, a conversation in the hall way, a video you have seen, or the advertisement on the radio.

Based on this theory, you have already formed an idea of what this blog will contain and if you will continue reading it. In fact, just based on what you may already know about me, my photo in the corner, or the layout of my web site you have already been stimulated and responding in your own way. The trick, the deception to personal branding consequently is consistency. Without consistency in the message how can you make a connection?

“I cannot dictate how you respond to the messages I want to leave you with, however I can determine the messages I give you.”

In researching this topic about incorporating personal branding principles into the branding of learning and development I reached out to my personal network. Their interpretations on Personal Branding provided many different views. The key theme, the one recurring factor that was determined was that to create a brand it must be genuine.

Join me as I explore the concept of personal branding, relate it to the learning and development function, and share my unique perspective with you.

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I summarise personal branding into three main areas:

  1. What is the brand
  2. Who is the audience
  3. Consistency of the message

1. What is the brand

To effectively brand yourself to your network, peers, areas of influence (be it community, industry, or friends) you must first understand yourself. If you could simply state what you stand for it will come easier to contribute as it is something that you are already passionate about.

If you do not understand your own brand how can you expect others to? Be clear in who you are, your values, and what drives you so you can demonstrate this to your audience and you will see that sharing becomes so much easier.

I have been warned about the dark side of personal branding too. That is that the term indicates that you are cornered, branded in one light, pigeon holed. However, humans demonstrate time and time again that we are creatures of habit, and it is that habit that brands us. Be it a good habit or not, it is the habit that becomes us. I am simply saying draw attention to your strengths as they tend to be what your passion is!

Relate this to the learning and development function and I would be taking a quick stock take. Conduct a personal reflection for what you believe the strengths and weaknesses are of the function and how you determine it to be represented by the business. With this information you are looking from within out, and the results could be very biased. Next, you should look from outside. How is the business seeing the department and does something need to change. Simply understand the brand.

More often than not with the first area of personal branding, ‘what is your brand’, many people (and in turn your department) is giving off mixed messages in what it represents. Not only can this confuse you, it can confuse the business too.

2. Who is the audience

You understand what your brand is, what you are known for and what you are passionate about. With this information you can start to create a presence and become known for you vision and insight. After all if you truly believe in something it flows so much easier and attractive. That being said, I am going to label some of us a extraverts and introverts. And No! personal branding is not just for the communicators, the ones who stand out because of the noise they make. Personal branding can be simply knowing your strengths and sharing them with the network.

This brings me to my next area, who is your audience. To put it bluntly, if you trying to brand yourself as a passionate global pro surfer why is your target audience the local swimming school?

Knowing your audience means you speak to their language, you use common grounds to share your unique perspective and you understand what they are going through. Relating this to the learning and development function, you understand what the department represents and stands for, however have you clearly articulated this to the target audience in their common language, their business outcomes.

The realisation here is the medium of communication. A recent example was using the intranet as the vehicle for all information and communication in the business. If I had done my research on the audience I would have found that they get their business updates from their managers and I simply needed to cascade information down to get the message up!

3. Consistency of the message

Clearly one of the most important areas, however without the other two it would be useless and unsatisfying. Maintaining consistency in the message being giving will result in returning traffic. Simply if the audience has an opportunity to create a recognition to a colour, image, or tonality they have a higher chance of returning or making a connection with it.

One measure I have taken with my personal branding of late is to re-focus on the consistency of the message. Ensuring I am using the same image found on my blog for all my communication avenues means my network can make a connection.

Making this relatable for the learning & development function, how often do you ensure you have consistency in approach to learning interventions, or request to support the business? I am not only talking about consistency in approach from the template lesson plans, handouts, emails, etc. But the approach you and you fellow human resources team use when working with the business. How consistent are you? Is it time to re-configure?

“Measure yourself not as a brand, but as a strength. Measure your success not in followers or likes, but in the impact you can cause. Measure yourself not by the work output, but in the input you contribute.”

Luke Campbell

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Five ways to influence learning & development

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What is the importance of learning & development in the workplace and how can it contribute to the organisation?

What a great question to ask the learning and development community to answers. To not only justify our roles but to show the strong linkages between learning & development and the outcomes of a successful business. I still get asked this question and the many different variations from organisations locally, regionally and globally and I wanted to address some of the main launching points I use when showing the awesome value of learning & development.

I am going to make a couple of assumptions here. I am going to assume that you work in a learning & development role and that you have found this blog entry not by sheer accident, but from your own drive and passion to grow and develop yourself and the organisation you work for. You see, I believe we work in the most influencing role within any organisation, one that can work beside the executive leaders and the individuals performing on the ground. It is with this realisation of influence that we can better understand all aspects of the business, identify needs for development and ensure what growth is happening is moving in the same direction.

There is nothing more fear inducing for the competition than to see an organisation that is moving as one in the same direction!

During my time working with organisations in learning & development capacity I can summarise five jumping points for the argument that it serves a key role for a growing organisation. These include:

1.    A business can only grow so far without growing its people

Look back over the last 10 years, can you think of some companies that were successful then and are not here now? Chances are you could name a few of them, so what make the difference for to continue to grow and be sustainable? The answer is people and their ability to change rapidly on the world stage.

The market is very competitive thanks to globalization and world trade. The margins continue to decrease while the capability to expand increases. So what is going to be the competitive edge, people? Investing in the capability of people and ensuring that the development planning is aligned with company growth plans can result in increased focus. If done correctly this focus is like a laser beam – a hundred or a thousand individuals developing and growing in the same direction of the business is a forced to be feared.

2.    Goals and objectives can be set but learning & development is the vehicle

It’s one thing to for a board of directors and executives to set objectives and strategy, but if this is not followed through with personal growth plans the objectives are just goals without a plan. Put simply we determine that we need to grow from 19M to 22M over the next 12 months and detail with the different functions what strategies are should have in place to do this. An example of this could be; focus on the top 20 clients; branch into new sectors; implementation of an account management system. However, if learning & development is not involved throughout these planning session how can we be sure that we are planning to grown the people to deliver on these outcomes.

Determine current state, determine end state, and then bridge the gap with learning & development initiatives. This is how you can support the organisations people to grow just that, the organisation. It is a simple approach which secures sustainable, positive change and can work with the leadership teams to create authentic learning and development initiatives at a rapid pace.

3.    Retain talented people

Talented people have one trait in common, they are hungry for learning. If you are not providing learning and personal growing opportunities you cannot be expected to retain these people. I am sure that everyone reading this today is a one of those talented people, simply because you have a hunger for personal development. If the organisation doesn’t build a learning culture how can we cultivate and retain talent.

4.    Attract talented people

The focus that I was alluding to above, you know the one where the people and the organisation march as one towards a common goal. That is something that will not only attract the eye of the completion, but also the eye of talented individuals. Put simply, who wouldn’t want to work for an organisation that knows what it wants and wants to develop you to get there with them.

5.    Real learning is not just a bunch of scheduled classrooms

It still surprises me that organisations, especially those without learning & development functions, believe that scheduling classrooms sessions about goal setting, performance management and leadership development programs is creating a learning culture. We all know it is not that simple, I simplify this complicated topic by asking “how do you like to learn” and I almost always I receive a different answer each time.

There are many theories out there revolving around pedagogy (the way we teach) in the work place and I can summarise the best strategy as formal and informal learning. Yes, it is important to pay attention to the formal training (i.e. classrooms), however it is the programs implemented for the informal learning where you will get the greatest outcome. A good measure is 20% formal and 80% informal learning, how you do it is the unique part.

What did you think of the above five points? Are there any more you would add? Leave a comment below and contribute.

Happy Learning

Luke Campbell

Innovation in Four Easy Steps

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Today I reflect on workplace innovation and how it can be sustained with the use of problem based learning.

Todays organisations are large, and they are large enough to fail. This is mainly due to global competition now brought on by world trade and and globalisation where the threat is no longer from our competing business on the same block, but from highly resourceful and innovative international threats.

A quick look at the top 10 most innovative companies from a recent study conducted by booz & company show Apple leading the way followed by 3M and Google. What do all top 10 have in common? They are Integrating processes and creating a culture where innovation is supported and endorsed at every level. A quick employee engagement survey in your workplace would demonstrate effectively (with the right questions) how our employees would like to be part of the process that will launch our companies into the future.

Lets face it, the workplace has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. Access to information is now freely available to anyone that is willing to find it, and our reliance on ‘subject matter expertise’ is no longer a unique strategic advantage. Finding innovative ideas, and executing them successfully are the key characteristics of a forward thinking workplace.

To create this workplace of innovative spirit we must engage with four things; endorse and drive a focus of problem based learning for any workplace training events, create opportunities for innovation to happen, ensure that leadership (and culture) support innovation, and finally equip the organisation with the right tool to execute!

Happy innovation,
Luke Campbell

Innovation – Emotionally involved

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How exciting is this – work hard, great leadership, supportive network for failing & learning. This is true innovation, the ability to be yourself and improve your practice!

The above paragraph is a reflection on my team and our culture for innovation. It’s was brought on by the realisation that I am heavily invested in the company I work for and the real success of a truly innovative environment. What brought on this reflection you ask…

I am prepared to be emotionally involved in what I do, who I work with and what type of learning culture I can build for others. Are you?

Learning Strategy

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Are You a Learning Consultant or a PowerPoint Builder?

Over the last week I have been approached by a senior leader within our business and asked to give guidance on the structor and delivery of a particular training session for contracts and the rules that govern them. I asked one question of them, ‘what can I do for you?’

What I received in return was a lengthly powerpoint presentation and a request to alter it to create impact. The intentions were honest and I understand that there is a perception of internal learning and development functions to fulfil this role, and realistically I could make an impact on the training session by reviewing the content along. Remove any over-used slides, suggest subliminal colours for particular sections, use simpler language & images, I could do this with no problem and little effort. However, upon receiving this information I began to ponder… wouldn’t a better approach be if I simply knew the motivation for the request.

I found my self reflecting on the above statement ‘am I a learning consultant, or just a powerpoint builder’. Do I act as a business a business partner? Now this is not an attempt at doubting my ability, far from it. I am simply drawing attention to the fact that L&D falls into two categories, consultive in approach or reactive in delivery.

So, I stripped the request back, way back to determine the real need and motivators that would drive a request like this, a request to review a PowerPoint. First, a couple of questions of the requester of the training.

  1. What is the problem you wish to address with this training solution you’re suggesting?
  2. Where have we been tracking in relation to this problem?
  3. Where would we be tracking if the problem was address… correctly?
  4. Why would this training bridge this defined gap?

Understand the problem, how it was identified, and the expectation once a solution was in place. With this information you have you can digress down the path of understanding what training events could take place, or if the problem can really be addressed with training alone.

Once you have an understanding of the motivators and the environment that drives a request for training, then you can enter into a genuine training needs analysis and start to assertion the following:

  1. Who is the target audience, what business unit, how many, different roles they play?
  2. What is their motivation for being at the training? why do they need to know, why do they want to know?
  3. What is the training commitment, how long do you have the audience for?
  4. What are the three key points you want the target audience achieve from the training?
  5. What is the outcome you would like to receive from the training? how could this be measured?
  6. When are you intending to run these sessions?
  7. What would happen if you didn’t do this training? What would happen if you did this training as is?

To derive the most valuable link between the learning and development teams and the business you must act as a consultive agent. This approach is time demanding, however is the most beneficial to the business and to your professional judgement. Historically L&D doesn’t engage with the business problems at the very front-end, and we tend to receive enquires for training events or offer a solution before we fully understand the problem

A failure to engage, question and challenge the status quo can lead to a culture of training events, a problem that can be fatal to you and the company.

Happy learning,
Luke

Assessment

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Date: 07/06/2013

Why would we use assessment strategies towards the end of a program? isn’t there value in assessing students along the way?

I am partly reflecting on yesterdays delivery and this mornings with a group of warehouse employees that are learning how to use the SAP SCM program (online tool for supply chain management).

One individual in particular was assessed yesterday with a observation of a task. It became apparent that the level of competency that was demonstrated didn’t equal the expectations of competency this far into the training program.

It was valuable using an assessment tool at this stage of the training program to determine competency as it shaped the direction of the learning to take place going forward. With the knowledge gathered from the assessment conducted I made the decision to change the training delivery for this particulare student.

Therefore my reflective point from today is one that is already known, yet somehow gets forgotten along the way. Assessment should not only be conducted at the end of a learning program to determine competence, it should also be conducted throughout to determine competence along the way and the assessment should form part of the learning program, not just sit beside it.

Happy learning,
Luke

Problem – Opportunity

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One module left to teach then the system fails – this an opportunity!

Delivering SAP (software program for warehouse inventory) training to a group of warehouse employees has been progressing well during this three week training program. The pre go-live training is coming to a close after three weeks, we can all see the light at the end of the tunnel – there is only one more module to teach.

Today seemed to be the day for it all. Many challenges were faced during this particular session, however the one challenge that takes the cake would be the fact that the system failed to load the last module at all. The trainees could simply not access the required areas of the program. Now, Im not one to complain, in fact I am far from it. This has happened before during training and I simply pushed it off to the side and diverted training onto another module that needed to be covered. Not this time though, there were no new module to teach.

I could tell that the trainees were starting to get frustrated, and rightly so, they would be the ones using this system once it was launched. So I decided to tackle the issue head one, there was a problem and it needed to get resolved. I decided to have them solve the issue during the training. What an opportunity for learning I proclaimed!

Problems are everywhere during training, do you take advantage of them for a learning opportunity?

The group, now divided into two, started dissecting the issue and discussing the problem in detail. They digressed into testing, exploring, and presenting possible solutions to each other until eventually both groups came to some conclusions. They not only found what the problem was, but they explored until they discovered two separate work arounds.

This is a success story, an opportunity in training when we were all faced with an issue and resolved it together. The solutions found were all different, yet all correct. Ultimately the  this came from being agile and responsive in the face of adversity. Grappling with a problem presented during a session and using it to our advantage.

A problem faced is an opportunity discovered, use it to enable effective learning.

My key takeaways from today:
1. In training you can be prepared, but nothing will go as you expected it to
2. When a student asks ‘why did that happen?’ don’t shy away from an opportunity to explore it together

Happy learning,
Luke