On Enthusiasm

Book excerpt: Our industry’s path forward is not going to be an easy one and we will need a full tank of enthusiasm to fuel our organizations.

The following is excerpted from my open sourced ebook,

Running Training Like a Business: the startup way to delivering exponential value (working title, suggestions welcome)

I have been talking about the idea of this book for years. I was part of the team that launched Running Training Like a Business.  An industry staple and game changing approach in the nineties.  So why is it that after two decades, Learning and Development is still struggling to deliver unmistakable value?  Technology, just emerging when Running Training Like a Business came out, is now at the core of the learning organization. The tools used by learning and development practitioners for everything from course creation to measurement have improved. Yet the same problems that stirred the need for the first book continue to challenge Learning and Development organizations around the globe. Recent research by Bersin by Deloitte indicates that, while employee development has never been as important, faith of the organization in the L&D function to deliver value has also never been so low.

In those two decades, the companies that L&D organizations serve have changed. Companies of all sizes, once comfortable in their place in the market, have been disrupted. Innovation, once a source of competitive advantage, is now a business requirement. With all of these changes to the business, how has L&D evolved? Some would say not very much. The use of outsourcing, controversial at the time of the first book, is fortunately now a widely accepted solution for many functions of L&D. Thanks to the migration to digital learning, measurement data, formerly difficult to collect beyond “smile sheets”, is now readily available. But, in many ways, L&D has not changed at all. As stated recently by Bersin, “business leaders and employees often cite little or no value coming from the learning organization. An ominous comment about Learning & Development, an organization that we would argue is more important today than ever.

Enthusiasm is defined as “intense and eager enjoyment, interest or approval”. My sense, having sat with many industry professionals at all levels and comparing that to the enthusiastic energy inherent in fast growing startups, is that our industry is sorely lacking enthusiasm. While we may experience excitement, a short duration form of enthusiasm, about new tools, technologies or toys, this is the emotional equivalent of a sugar high. As the last two decades have shown us, we are running a marathon, not a sprint, and sugar is not the fuel of success.

The lack of enthusiasm is not entirely unwarranted. The importance of employee engagement in an organization’s success is widely recognized. We have all seen the studies on what increases it; mission, leadership, development, among others. Yet, when you talk to learning pros, the focus is often on the lack of funding, limited executive support or latest tool or tactic being deployed. Even the cup of sugar is half empty. And when we hear from executives, we often find they have a low expectation of training. My belief is that is because they really do not know what is possible. If we, as an industry don’t have any enthusiasm, how can we expect executives to have any enthusiasm for learning?

Successful startups have enthusiasm in abundance. Founders actually take enthusiasm to the next level, passion. Passion is that intense, driving feeling or conviction and while at points this may be divorced from reason, it sets the highest possible standard for others to follow. Sit with a startup founder for two minutes and they cannot help but tell you what they are building. They will talk fast, as if they have had too many cups of coffee. Most importantly, they will leave you excited about their mission and looking for ways that you might help them.
The passion for what they are doing is not only visible when they are talking to investors or potential customers. It comes through all the time. It is on display when they are talking with their teams, standing in line for lunch, sitting around with friends, riding the bus and even walking their dog through the park. If there are ears to listen, they feel compelled, like new parents, to share it. And this is not limited to just the founder.

Successful founders recruit people that share their passion and contribute their own enthusiasm to the mix. Enthusiasm is not solely enjoyment. It is also defined as “intense interest”. In this way, enthusiasm leads to curiosity and curiosity often leads to new, novel, more effective or more efficient solutions. Coding engineers at startups frequently spend long days at work only to go home and play around writing code for fun or to test ideas that they might be able to bring back to work. When was the last time you invited some friends over for some barbeque and some brainstorming on how redesign an assessment process or a learning program? Not because you had to, but because you wanted to.

Our industry’s path forward is not going to be an easy one and we will need a full tank of enthusiasm to fuel our organizations. We are enthusiastic about the future of learning and development and we think you should be too. We believe that unlocking the enthusiasm that our industry has for learning requires a new approach.  An approach built on the timeless principle of delivering value holds huge opportunities for the professionals that practice it and the people and organizations they support.

Enthusiastically yours, j.

An Upvote for an Update

Keeping your stakeholders engaged .

Pat Riley, CEO of the Global Accelerator Network (GAN) wrote a great post last week about how to best keep stakeholders updated.  In the book I discuss and provide some ideas on how L&D pros can keep their stakeholders “in the loop”.  Pat had been waiting for a, “truly exceptional update to arrive in my inbox that I could showcase to the world.” I would agree with him.  Having seen my share of both startup and L&D updates most would benefit from this article.

While our world may be learning, our program sponsors and executives have other things at the center of their worlds.  Keeping them engaged is critical and updates, like the one dissected by Riley.

You can view the article here.

What are your best practices for keeping your stakeholders engaged?

The Accountable Chair

The mission of a company’s L&D organization is to provide the business with a skilled workforce that enables it to achieve its business goals.  In a tight job market, the ability to upskill the workforce takes on an even more critical role.  The costs of new hires are high.  Wage inflation, time to productivity, culture fit (or first-year attrition due to the lack of it) are only two components of this cost equation.

So in this environment think about this. As L&D continues to ask for a “seat at the table.”

“Layoffs hit their highest level for a first quarter in 10 years as 2019′s job market got off to a shaky start, according to a report Thursday from outplacement firm Challenger, Gary & Christmas.

Total announced cuts hit 190,410, a 10.3 percent increase from the fourth quarter, and a 35.6 percent jump from the same period a year ago. The level was the worst period overall since the third quarter of 2015 and the highest level for a first-quarter since 2009 as the economy was still mired in the financial crisis.”

-Jeff Cox, CNBC

And that is not to mention the lost revenue and growth opportunities due to the mountain open positions.

And yet when you Google “CLO’s fired” you get ZERO results. I understand that many factors play into layoffs and but with automation increasing and the digitization of the workplace sweeping overall business sectors shouldn’t we all be targeting the lowest layoff levels and job openings possible.  With a seat at the table will come accountability.  Are we ready for it?