Getting Started in a New L&D Job

After two weeks in a new L&D job, what can I recommend to others who find themselves in similar positions? 

There are six areas that I think all new L&D professionals could focus their time and effort, especially if you want to build social and informal learning into programs in your organization. These are all things I've tried to do in my first weeks - some with more success than others.

1) Talk to your CIO (or Head of Comms)

wise man recommended my first step should be to set up a meeting with my CIO and ask "How can I be of assistance?". CIO's generally hold the budget for technology. If you are wanting to implement social and informal learning, they generally hold the authority, planning and purse strings to the technology you want to use. In many less progressive organizations, this will not be a fun exercise. However, you will get a good insight into technology in your organization. How open and social is technology in the organization? Does the organizational culture match or feel out of sync with technology planning?

If the CIO considers themselves a gatekeeper or controller, send them this article from Dion Hinchcliffe. Then head off to see the the head of internal communications to have the same conversation. 

In reality, communications, IT and learning/HR should be working very closely to help an organization become more social and collaborative. I'm lucky in my new organization that I've found some like-minded thought in each department. We are launching Google Apps for Business as a replacement for Microsoft's tools this week - something that will enable me to help implement different learning/performance support ideas.

2) Don't sit at your desk - learn the business (or purpose)

If you are in L&D, you are a consultant. Your role is more than training. You can't help people and performance by sitting in a room waiting for training requests to come to you. Leverage your internal contacts to meet as many people as possible. Question them and find out what makes the organization successful: What does each department do? How does the organization collaborate? How does the business make money? What are the information networks and workflows that affect performance?

It won't take long for you to spot many performance gaps. For example, I've noticed that despite my new work being an open office, the departments are quite siloed. Larger collaboration cultural initiatives will be required to help make best use of the new Google technology.

3) Sit at your desk

Chances are your organization has a lot of training content: eLearning, in-person courses, job aids, and pages and pages of outdated intranet content. Chances are most is dead content. Sit at your desk, put your headphones on, and start a trawl through. Look at the content, usage data, sign ups, completion rates. Essentially, take a quick audit. This will give you a good grounding in what has been done before, both methods and outcomes. Does the content point to any more performance issues, whether directly (you can establish the purpose) or indirectly (you can tell a skills course is actually trying to fix a motivational problem)?

4) Find easy wins

Whatever awful business buzzwords you use - low hanging fruit, easy wins etc. - there are always some good places to start where you can demonstrate your value. How was your onboarding experience? I found reflecting on this gave me a lot of information to make some early recommendations to get started. Where is the most pressing learning or performance support need? If you've tried my first pieces of advice, you should have some ideas to get started. 

5) Acknowledge the past

You are not coming in to rip up the past and trample over previous efforts. While I may not agree with past and current training techniques and content, it's not my role to immediately criticize and demand replacements. Observe current training and build a community of trainers where you can slowly suggest new ways of looking at learning. Work to build your influence slowly, using some of the suggestions I have made above.

6) Carefully test the boundaries to learn the culture

What was the first website that I checked at my desk on my first day? Twitter. If Twitter is blocked, as it was for me, chances are the organizational culture is not that open. I was lucky - a brief explanation that my personal learning network resided mostly in Twitter, I had the block removed. However, for everyone else it remains blocked and this presents an interesting challenge. You get a good sense of the subtle differences between organizational culture talk and walk.

One area I tested in conversations was remote or flexible working. Admittedly, it's something I should have checked on when interviewing, but my sudden circumstances meant I didn't remember to ask everything. My belief is that I should be free to do my work where and when I choose and be judged on work outcomes and accountabilities. An L&D role requires me to collaborate with so many different people in an organization, so it's not an option to head to the remote tundra and start a new life working solely through Google Apps. 

However, in my new organization, flexible working is rare and requires approval. I understand and respect the desire to protect the very good office culture here, but I feel there is plenty of evidence (and opinion) to support more flexible work styles. Some good pieces I have read over the past couple of years include blogs and/or books by Dan PontefractHarold JarcheDavid Heinemeier Hansson and Dave Coplin. This will be an ongoing and interesting discussion.

Other areas to test: how collaborative is the organization? how is innovation supported? what does "learning" mean to each department? There are a few to get you started.

What do you think? Have I missed anything, or do you disagree?


I also posted this on LinkedIn to try their new publishing option. Let me know which you prefer.