Tech-Wise Learning Leaders in 2018?
Our Chief Learning Officers and Learning Leaders must rapidly increase their “Tech-Wisdom” to handle the significant shifts in technology innovations and deployments in our workplaces.
Most CLOs can navigate the current conversations about Talent/Learning Databases and Mobile Devices, and can decode many conversations as they delve into the inner workings of APIs, Technology Stacks, and Clouds. And, as good leaders should, they rely on their team members to support their tech-readiness along the way.
But, it is time for many of our Learning Leaders to build a deliberate learning program to make them more “Tech-Wise” and “Tech-Conversation-Ready”.
In recent months, I have seen the eyes of Learning Leaders glaze over when strategic conversations dove into these topics:
- BlockChain Techologies
- Audio Search & Knowledge Tech
- Machine Learning
- Augmented Reality Context
- Automation Process Cycles
- Big Data for Talent Analytics
It is not the role of a Learning Leader to be an expert in any of these technologies, but we need to have a core conceptual understanding and an active vocabulary to dialogue and to test the realities of predictions, claims, and product assertions.
Let’s build a learning pathway for our Learning Leaders to get more “Tech-Wise” for 2018:
- It’s Vocabulary Time! We need to build a vocabulary of 5 to 15 phrases for each technology that will build our ability to have conversations as Learning Leaders. Ask a member of your team or a resource in your IT department to build a vocabulary list with a one-paragraph definition for each term.
- It’s Example Time! Learning Leaders need concrete workplace examples of each technology. For example, you might hear the term “BlockChain” and think it is about geeks playing with BitCoins. In truth, BlockChain is a much wider, global exchange for financial transactions. Learn 2 to 3 examples, outside of your corporate setting.
- It’s Timeline Time! Each of these technologies lives on a predictive timeline from idea into actual productive implementation in your workplace – or not! Suppliers of technologies often exaggerate how ripe and ready their tech truly is or predict that they will change the world of learning in just three years. Remember, the predictions of SecondLife as the replacement of all classrooms was way wrong! Gain some advice to build a timeline and plot where these technologies might fit into your workplace future.
- It’s Personal Tech Time! Some of the most provocative technologies are now starting in the home and personal market. Look at the role of Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri. They are growing in the personal marketplace years before they are fully adapted into the corporate setting. And, they are often used by the employee on their own device rather than on an enterprise platform. A “Tech-Wise” Learning Leader has their own at-home lab to use and engage with emerging technologies – and perhaps observe their family members as “test users”.
- It’s Replacement Time! Watch for the technologies, systems, or platforms that are fading from use or even being eliminated at the workplace. Are new features in Talent Systems radically reducing the use of some Learning Systems technologies? Ask for and understand the vector of which technologies are shrinking in the workplace!
- It’s Evidence & Data Time! Learn what evidence and data are essential to track as new technologies are deployed in the marketplace. How will an organization know if these technologies are having an impact on the workplace and the workforce? Push to get a sense of these technologies.
- It’s User Experience (UX) Time! There is a growing field of User Experience that is researching how emerging technologies are being accepted or embraced by users. The UX field is an ideal one for a Learning Leader to follow as it is focused on the key question of how a technology will be experienced by real people in a real work setting.
Finally, the biggest one: It’s Smart Innovation Time! The Learning Leader should avoid being either the front advocate or leading cynic on technologies. Your role is not to push any specific technology, which may be quickly replaced by something faster and cheaper. Instead, you want to be the leading facilitator of discussions about how to mix and match existing technologies, emerging technologies, and changing work processes. Benchmark fiercely in your field – and beyond!
A Learning Leader in 2018 should be Tech-Curious, Tech-Open, Tech-Experimenting, Tech-Supported, Tech-Learning, Tech-Verbal, and Tech-Wise!
Published in CLO Magazine, January/February 2018
Learning Leaders in Mid-Career: What’s Next?
Congrats! You hold a senior learning leader position in the middle of your career. Now, you are managing a major function in the learning department, driving learning strategy, or maybe have been promoted to a Chief Learning Officer role (with or without the official CLO title). Well done!
So, what does the next half of your career look like? And, what are the natural development steps for learning leaders in the middle of their careers?
Normally, we are the ones giving coaching and career advice to colleagues in the workplace. Let me turn the tables and give you a summary of the advice and career options that I share with your equivalent mid-career learning leaders in conversations throughout the year:
- Go Wider and Larger: The natural route for the second half of a learning career to is go wider and larger. Become the CLO or Chief Talent Officer of your company. The average duration at the top in learning is less than 4 years, so there will always be opportunities to go wider – switching to a different team.
- Take a Stretch Assignment Outside of Learning: As a C-Level officer in your company, take a “stretch assignment” lasting several months to a year – outside of Learning or HR! A rising learning leader from a large automobile company asked for and received a one- year role as Assistant Plant Manager in Brazil. She blossomed and expanded her skill set, moving on to other very senior manufacturing roles at headquarters.
- Add an Academic Credential: Being a CLO or VP for Learning is an amazing accomplishment “star” on your resumé. Now, consider adding an academic credential. Over 100 senior learning leaders have pursued Doctoral programs at UPenn, Columbia, and other institutions. Others have added non-learning degrees, like an MBA or Executive MBA. And, others have participated in an executive development program in Strategy or User Experience.
- Join a Board of Directors: Join a corporate or non-profit organization’s Board of Directors. They will deeply value your talent and learning experience and it will give you a unique role in shaping an organization without being a manager. The networking is immense and future resources for corporate roles or connections for your next career moves are plentiful.
- Map and Validate Your Skills: Build a visual map of your skills, defining the mixture of learning, management, industry, and interpersonal competencies. Go wide and share this with colleagues and friends inside and outside your organization. Ask them for feedback on your map, including gaps or even elements that you did not include.
- Global Opportunities Await: If your lifestyle and family situation allows, consider a global opportunity. The future of business lies in the global marketplace. Reach for a learning role that either locates you internationally or has you deeply engaged in other countries and regions. Add or improve a second or third language.
- Technology and Innovation Fluency: How deeply do you explore evolving technologies, methodologies, and innovations? The world of business and learning has already changed radically in the first part of your career. Strap on your seat belt for more change in the next few decades. Immerse yourself as a learner and experimenter. Learn some code, find a few tech mentors, coach a high school robotics team, study cognitive and brain science changes, and visit a tech startup venture.
- Learning DNA vs. Learning Career? Face it: you will always have a Learning DNA make-up. Every role that you hold in the future will draw upon your experiences and competencies as a learning leader. Now, you must decide if you want the balance of your career to be in the learning field or if you are ready for a career change that will taste quite different, but that will use your people development skills every day.
Finally, we are waiting for the first Fortune 500 CLO to be promoted to CEO. There are several people in our industry that I am betting on to make this career change. It is just one of many career choices.
Again, congrats on your success. But, as my friend Marshall Goldsmith says, “What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There!” It is time for you to design and live the next chapters of your career as a learning leader!
Published in CLO Magazine, November 2017
Learning “Stints” vs. Careers?
As I travel around the United States, I see a shift in the learning field that is easy to notice. There are significantly fewer full time Learning and Development employees in organizations delivering programs to their own staff.
In some organizations, the number of L&D professionals has dropped by as much as 80%. Yet, there is actually MORE learning happening than ever before. So, what is happening to our field and what lies ahead for Learning as an organizational function?
Here are several elements that have collectively led to a smaller number of full-time L&D employees:
- Reduction in Face-to-Face Classes: A large number of learning folks used to be called “Trainers” in our Training Departments. They were subject matter experts (SME’s) who had a passion for classroom delivery. We brought them into the learning function for either a few years or for long careers as teachers. The total number of internally-led classes has dropped, replaced by asynchronous eLearning or by webinars that are delivered virtually. In those cases, SME’s are still being used, but they are “borrowed” for that function while keeping their line jobs.
- Learning Roles in the Business Units vs. L&D Groups: In areas that have high levels of turnover - e.g. retail, sales, and front line roles - we are finding larger numbers of Learning colleagues with jobs that are located in a line of business or function, often with a modifier to describe their learning responsibility: “Sales Readiness Manager”, “Field Leader for Induction”, etc. They may have a “dotted line” to the L&D department but often see their careers aligning with another business function, so they are less likely to identify themselves primarily as learning professionals.
- External Sourcing of Learning Development: The number of internal instructional designers has also dropped significantly. A large percentage of asynchronous content is being designed and developed under contract by external providers. Or, the content is licensed from a content supplier or industry association. In some companies, the on-site instructional designers may be brought in for a specific project rather than added to the learning team.
- Learning That Does Not Sound Like Learning: One large manufacturing company has a team that creates short video clips focused on recent safety problems or challenges. The team is called “Maximize” and does not contain ANY learning professionals; yet, it is deeply involved in content and activity development. I met with one of this team’s leaders who said that they do not use words like “objective” or “outcome” since they are in the “Social Knowledge Space”. The future of learning will include more embedded content and context than traditional courses.
- Skill Gaps in Learning: A big challenge is the need for a new set of skills for learning professionals. We are tracking an enormous need for our colleagues to have expertise in:
- Data Analytics: The ability to work with large amounts of Big Learning Data and support an evidence-based approach to assessment and evaluation.
- Curation of Learning Content: The ability to create and organize curation of diverse internal, external, and open content to optimize employees’ awareness and use of targeted content.
- Performance and Workflow Support: The ability to create digital and non-digital resources that support learning at the time of need, change, or shifts.
- User Experience Design: The ability to leverage a User Experience model of content development, testing, and alignment with specific employee requirements.
- Glass Ceilings Career Challenges: Let me be quite blunt. There are significant “Glass Ceilings” that limit or constrain the long-term career opportunities for current and future learning professionals. Some of these are titles (e.g. “Instructional Designer”) that describe competencies but do not suggest the ability to perform other functions in the organization. I like to use the phrase “Learning Producer”, which has a wider set of future options. And, many of our learning colleagues are perceived as lacking hard business skills. This can be corrected with stretch assignments in business roles and shifting our college programs to include more content on business performance than ADDIE (a strategy rather than a career enabler).
It is time for the Learning field to have a deep and open conversation about how we re-engineer our craft, our skills, and our careers to support engagement in learning – whether these are roles for a few years or life-long professions. The workforce and our world need agile, innovative, and business-aligned learning colleagues to face the changing workplace of the future. Let’s step up to the challenge!
Published in CLO Magazine, September 2017