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

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