How to embed an innovation mindset in your L&D team

Do you think you have an innovation mindset? On this particular day, as you read this blog post, let us ask you to stop reading right now, so you can grab a pen and some paper. Got both? Good.

Now, breathe in, and out, and write down what immediately comes to your mind when we ask you:

What are your learners ‘used to’?

Take 2 minutes and write or draw whatever you see in your mind, then come back and continue reading.

Chances are, you described formal onboarding and induction programs, paired with annual compliance refreshers, the odd multi-tiered leadership program, topped up with customer service and soft skills for everyone somewhere along their employment cycle. Some will be online, and some will be face-to-face, maybe even some blended. They all may have been designed based on a defined business need to fit a broad learner base, minimising the cost of a personalised (self-curated) learner pathway journey. Most likely, once developed, online learning programs are deployed for numerous years, in a Learning Management System (LMS), perhaps in parallel with coaching and mentoring sessions from supervisors or learning buddies.

It does not matter how many of the above are on your list, what matters is this: if you were able to imagine what your learners are ‘used to’, that may mean your learning offering has not changed in a long time. Ask yourself: are your training and education practices predictable and likely to be outdated in parts, or even no longer practised out on the floor?

They may not even be relevant to the majority of your target audience.

Another likely scenario, given the above, is that L&D in organisations with predictable learning offerings fulfil ‘organisational hygiene’ purposes of compliance or employee engagement rather than being a critical business function with a measurable performance impact.

Lastly, if your organisation falls into the above way of managing L&D, how do you cope with sudden pivots, especially during our current volatile time? The recent COVID pandemic has shown how fast and drastically an industry or global market can change.

The case for a more flexible approach to L&D

Australia has been the lucky country for a couple of decades, dodging crises that other economies had to surmount and get back up from. In any crisis lies opportunity, to unlearn what ‘was’, and to imagine what ‘will be’. It could be argued that Australia has become complacent in its ways, and the L&D sector has witnessed its vulnerabilities recently, with the lucrative export market of the international education sector ill-prepared to cater for online learning solutions.

Large proportions of today’s adult learner cohorts are digitally native. They are used to consuming rich, interactive learning activities from their peers (from gaming to group work, to video tutorials, micro-badges, to Zoom meetings), as opposed to sitting through PowerPoint slide shows.

How can L&D leaders engage their teams?

So, what is missing in L&D teams that they end up in Business As Usual mode?

Let’s draw the circle a little wider and use a quote from the famous basketball coach Don Meyer to help:

Complacency is the forerunner of mediocrity.
You can never work too hard on attitudes, effort and technique.

Don Myer

1. Attitude

L&D, as a business entity, is often treated as a Human Resources’ appendix, with HR not being recognised as a business performance driving unit.

2. Effort

Planning cycles are long, add to that a waterfall approach to design and development, and organisations find it challenging to rectify frequent changes to learning content, practices and systems.

3. Technique

Learning teams come with a significant foundation of adult learning theory, with strong ideas of how people ‘should’ learn, based on pre-determined scaffolded prototypes and fixed design methodologies.

Now, if we accept that the above is the given environment and state L&D teams are in, it will take nothing less than new habits to break down this status quo slowly and build an innovation mindset.

A case for pushing the comfort zones to build new habits

If we, in L&D, want to meet future learners and organisational leaders at eye-level, there are a few things we would be well advised to tweak to stay future-relevant.

Can L&D shift …

  • their attitude from learning provider to a business enabler,
  • their effort from structured programs to just-in-time learning,
  • their technique from theoretical, stacked units to organic, evolving ecosystem

It will take a whole team approach to get there, and the change starts from within the learning teams – through self-reflection and awareness of blind spots, you could even call it metacognition.

Implement an innovation mindset with the Quarterly Pivot

Still pushing the basketball metaphor, what if each quarter, every team member in the L&D team were to come up with one idea on how an aspect of L&D could be done differently? The ideas can include big or small ideas, and some of them will not be usable. Still, a few of them may prove to be gold nuggets that could make a positive impact on the approach to L&D, the learners’ journey, and eventually, the organisation as a whole. The habit of taking a step back will, over time, establish an innovation mindset in the team.

Our Invitation to YOU

Here is an invitation to regularly think about better and smarter ways to enable skills and knowledge development, and ultimately re-invent a profession that deserves a more prominent role in organisations of the future.

Read more about how we started with an innovation mindset here, or why we think that L&D should change.

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