CIPD Learning and Development Show: L&D must be more agile

Agility was one of the key themes of the CIPD's recent L&D Show

Facing a volatile, fast-changing environment means learning and development (L&D) professionals need to limber up and be able to offer ready solutions – a key theme in the CIPD’s annual Learning and Development Show earlier this month. Martin Couzins reports. 

The world of work is moving very fast. Consequently, L&D teams need to sit up and think hard about the way they create and deliver training and content to their organisations.

Quotes from the show

“We want to move away from ‘safe-bet leaders’. We want people to think beyond today and ask: What does tomorrow mean?’” Paul Smith, HR director, LV

“Take your time to analyse what you have. It is not about shipping in consultants to tell you what to do.” Jan Luxford, head of L&D, Riverside

“Often less engaged employees get treated as bad apples and lazy.” Jonny Gifford, research adviser, CIPD

“Diversity is a reality, inclusion is a choice.” Stephen Frost, director of diversity and inclusion, KPMG

“When it comes to diversity, you have to make the case for change, so establish what you need to change.” Jumoke Fagbemi, group head of talent and development, British American Tobacco

“Games are a good way to quickly get up to speed in a complex company.” Charlie Kneen, social learning consultant, BP

“Business alignment is killing you. You need to align with the learner.” Nick Shackleton-Jones, director of learning innovation and technology, BP

“Coaching is a critical but often misunderstood part of leadership.” Jonathan Hill, MD, Catalyst PLD

“Be clear about the reasons why you want to do coaching. Every organisation is different so think about what coaching will look like.” Claire Molin, senior manager organisational development, Visa Europe

“We have pockets of coaching culture, but it is not across the board, which is sad.” Jane Saunders, coach network manager, BBC

“Measuring impact of digital learning is the holy grail.” Andy Lancaster, head of L&D, CIPD 

This was the conclusion of Andy Lancaster, head of L&D at the CIPD, speaking at its recent L&D show.

He believes L&D teams need to be more agile to keep pace with the needs of business: “Major changes in technology, having four generations in the workplace, globalisation and flexible working arrangements, people looking for different types of work-life balance – these changes require us to approach the design and delivery of learning and development in a different way.”

In order to operate in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, Lancaster believes that L&D teams have to have a vision. They need to understand what learning is and have clarity and agility in what they do.

“In a volatile world we need to get a fresh vision of how learning is developed. We need some clarity around what we believe,” he said.

Transforming coaching

These themes of agility and developing a new vision for learning were reflected in the sessions at the annual learning exhibition and conference.

Visa Europe and the BBC shared the successes they have had in transforming coaching from weekly or monthly conversations into daily conversations.

Both companies develop in-house coaches to mentor their colleagues.

Claire Molin, senior manager of the OD&D team at Visa Europe, told delegates that before an organisation considers embedding coaching into daily work, it has to be able to answer the following questions:

  • What type of organisational culture do you have and will it impact on the success of coaching?
  • How do you develop people currently? Is coaching going to be a massive shift?
  • What behaviours are you trying to change?
  • What is your experience of coaching?
  • Who are your detractors?
  • What is your current management capability? How much of a stretch will coaching be?
  • How will you measure success?

Once an organisation is in a position to get started, she added, it is crucial to get the buy-in of the senior team.

According to Jane Saunders, coach network manager at the BBC, the best way to do this is to provide coaching for senior executives and link this to leadership programmes.

With senior supporters on board, make sure they share the benefits of coaching. Always look out for people in the organisation who appear to be natural coaches and develop them, she says.

Both Visa Europe and the BBC say that, by embedding coaching conversations in the daily flow of work, colleagues can be developed in a timely way. “There is no waiting for courses or hunting for information without context,” says Molin.

And for the coachee, daily coaching conversations help generate ideas, enable better problem solving and allow staff to get on with their day job without constantly checking in with manager.

Making connections

Generating new ideas is at the heart of The Edge, an NHS initiative to “make connections between people, ideas and knowledge for transformational change in health and care”.

The Edge is an online resource hub where information is curated from around the world. Its aim is to bring in new thinking from outside of the health and care sectors that can be used to transform thinking within the NHS.

“There is new thinking out there that we need to start engaging with,” Carole Read, a transformation fellow at the Horizons Group, told conference delegates.

The Horizons Group is a part of NHS Improving Quality, the NHS change management organisation. It has been responsible for developing more radical thinking about change across the health service.

Its projects include the school for health and care radicals, an online course for anyone interested in change, and NHS change day, an annual event where people across the NHS commit to make a change in the way they work.

The Edge builds on this work and has become the focal point for new resources on change. The emphasis is on making content available to anyone interested, not just senior executives or organisational/L&D professionals.

“Work is totally changing. It is about shared power, not power at the top. The Edge represents a shift from creating change programmes to creating change platforms so that the NHS can open up resources to anyone who is interested and invite contributions too,” added Kate Pound, transformation fellow at the Horizons Group.

Pound added that organisations must tap into the tacit knowledge of their staff and use that to build connections between people. However, curating this information is going to be a skill for L&D.

Future learning

Looking to the future of online learning, Nick Shackleton-Jones, director of learning innovation and technology at BP, said the focus will be on two things: what users need; and creating useful and beautifully designed tools and content.

Shackleton-Jones provided a live demonstration of some of the new technologies BP has developed to support employees in their jobs.

Discover BP, the company’s online induction platform, had suffered from lack of use. It provided new starters with eight hours of e-learning modules, but was unpopular. Only 300 employees had completed these modules over two years, out of 6,000 new starters who are inducted into the company each year.

In order to make Discover BP more useful to new recruits, Shackleton-Jones set out to find out what they needed from the platform.

“It is important to align your learning initiatives with the learners, not just send them a survey. Use focus groups to understand their needs – not what they want. Understand what they are finding challenging so that you can design a useful solution.”

Starting a new day at work can be a bit like starting school, so BP transformed the induction process to provide content that helped new starters with the challenges they face in their first days and weeks.

It includes flow charts and infographics showing how the company works and how oil is refined, as well as checklists so that new starters have what they need to hit the ground running.

In the two years since the latest version of Discover BP has been live, it has received more than one million page views and more than 200,000 visits.

Interestingly, it is not just new starters that are electing to use the platform – employees from around the company find the content useful.

Shackleton-Jones says the success of such initiatives is down to two things: design and utility: “You have to make sure everything is beautifully designed otherwise you devalue your product. In a world where beautiful design is about user experience L&D has to be able to compete in that space.

“Utility is even more important. People are seeing technology as a way of dumping content online by chunking it up and delivering it to mobile devices. It mustn’t be that, it must be information that is really helpful to people.

“That means changing your process so that you put the learner – your audience – at the heart of what you develop.”

He told delegates that L&D will be successful if it puts learners at the heart of all it does. By doing that, it will create valuable learning experiences. He said: “If you design digital stuff that helps people do their job it will fly off the shelves because that is what people are looking for. They are looking for content they can refer to that is genuinely helpful.

“But if you don’t have that engagement, there is a good chance you will be content dumping and you’ll not be surprised to learn that that is not the best use of technology.”

Judging by some of the ideas shared at the CIPD’s L&D show, it looks as if Andy Lancaster’s hope for a fresh vision around how learning is developed could be turning into a reality.

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