Creating An L&D A-Team

Non-traditional hires can build strong, innovative Learning and Development (L&D) teams, bringing a wealth of skills and perspectives that can help L&D transition from a developer and deliverer of learning to a coach and consultant for the business.

A former police officer, actor, lawyer, recruiter, military leader, CIA leader, and other “non-traditional” Learning professionals are all part of the Learning and Development (L&D) team at Talent Plus, an international management consulting firm headquartered in Lincoln, NE. The rich diversity of backgrounds within the L&D team adds broader, deeper knowledge that resonates with learners and increases L&D’s relevance in a rapidly changing business environment.

“Looking at innate talent for staff development (rather than focusing on particular L&D skills) lets us include the wonderful aspect of experience diversity,” explains Libby Farmen, chief consulting officer at Talent Plus. Specifically, incorporating varied backgrounds and world views into the L&D team “…helps us think more creatively about different industries, facets of leadership, and growth opportunities. The leaders and managers we train come from a broad range of industries, so having multiple viewpoints helps us step into the shoes of the people we are teaching to create higher-impact outcomes. We wouldn’t be as effective as we are without this rich diversity.”

Cultivating diversity in the workplace is essential to drive innovation, according to 96 percent of respondents to the “Voice of the Workplace” survey conducted in March by Waggl and the Northern California Human Resources Association (NCHRA). That’s true for L&D, too.

“We’ve all witnessed cases in which diversity has directly driven innovation by creating an environment where ‘out-of-the- box’ ideas are heard and encouraged,” Greg Morton, CEO, NCHRA, said when the survey results were announced. “Having multiple perspectives encourages management to see things differently, and can help enormously with problem solving. It also helps us to avoid ‘group think.’”

Fresh Perspectives

That sentiment is increasingly common within L&D, too. “L&D is shifting from creating, delivering, and administering training to coaching and advising in ways it hasn’t done previously,” acknowledges Daniel Stewart, president of Milwaukee-based Stewart Leadership. “That opens a tremendous need for new skill sets and alternative views from outside L&D.”

For example, when one of Stewart’s manufacturing clients—a $2 billion company—needed someone to lead its change management program and teach the new leadership skills required to achieve a massive technological and cultural shift, it hired an operational manager from manufacturing who had 34 years’ experience as a project manager.

“I saw him present at the quarterly meeting 18 months later,” Stewart says. “He discussed a massive SAP upgrade that involved eight different workflows and provided clear operational examples, whereas L&D leaders may have focused on the educational accomplishments.” Because he showed he had the technical skills to shepherd through this technical and cultural transformation, he had credibility with managers and line workers, which isn’t always present when leaders aren’t from the business.

Another client, a Midwestern, rural health-care system, needed a change manager to guide the implementation of a new Workday HR and finance system. Local talent was limited. The health-care system’s leaders debated the relative importance of having the right mindset versus having the right tool set. They chose mindset and focused on identifying transferable skills, realizing technical skills could be augmented.

That system hired a retired military member for the role, and then hired Stewart to help him develop the change management skills he needed to be successful. Nine months later, Stewart says, “L&D leaders tell me the change management component is the best aspect of the implementation.”

The benefit of this approach is the influx of fresh perspectives and new ideas. Millennial attorney James Goodnow, member of the management committee at 300-person law firm of Fennemore Craig, P.C., heartily agrees. “The classic staffing paradigm captures a small slice of the pie, leaving gaping opportunity gaps. Balancing the L&D team with people with varied backgrounds lets us draw on those strengths, and connect with people in ways that otherwise may not be possible.”

Legal Firm Revamps L&D

While traditional L&D teams populated by those trained primarily as trainers have certain benefits, they also risk developing a “one-way-of-doing-it” mindset that may not be effective for all learners. “People tend to try to use learning methods that worked best for them, and that’s a problem,” Goodnow says. For example, “our classically trained L&D team had been with the organization a long time. It typically gave PowerPoint presentations and ran classroom training. It didn’t engage people.”

To counteract that, Fennemore Craig is overhauling its approach to L&D with a diversified team and a commitment to use a variety of ways to connect learners and materials. It started by adding two people (creating a six-member L&D team) and dividing training into separate tracks for lawyers and support staff.

The legal track is headed by a chief talent officer who is a lawyer. “He’s developing individualized training for every lawyer at the firm, with special emphasis on Millennials,” Goodnow says. The new approach includes peer-to-peer learning, simulations, classrooms, mock trials and deals, and other methods that resonate with the firm’s new lawyers.

To train support staff, the firm hired a person with a strong business background, Goodnow says. “He put a learning management system (LMS) in place—which is almost unheard of in law firms—and is implementing different forms of training. They include structured, 15-minute peer-to-peer programs on how to undertake certain legal tasks or use particular applications. The programs fill up almost immediately. Because this leader understand the jobs of the support staff, he has credibility.”

Involve Millennials in Decisions

Fennemore Craig takes care to involve Millennials in L&D, too. As a Millennial himself, Goodnow says, “we bring a different perspective, starting with our backgrounds and why we work differently from previous generations. Millennials have had more of a voice at home and school, so we expect that at work also.” The peer-to-peer model grew from that realization.

When the law firm overhauled lawyer training, it put together a task force to shape the training that included several of the firm’s newest lawyers, as well as mid-level and senior attorneys. Including junior lawyers was revolutionary within the hierarchical legal profession. The resultant diversity of experience led to the realization that because there are many career paths for attorneys besides the partner track—such as practice group attorneys, counsel attorneys, contract attorneys, and virtual attorneys—the training paradigm had to shift to prepare individuals for their own career goals. The goal now is to mold training around individual paths, Goodnow says.

In Non-Traditional Hiring, Put Mindset First

When hiring outside the norm for L&D roles, “first look for candidates with the right attitude and then at skills,” Stewart advises. “Culture and attitude are harder to teach than skill sets. Identify the most important skills, but don’t discard a candidate if you don’t see those skills.

“You often have to look through tall grass to see hidden, transferable skills,” he continues. “For example, the operations manager I mentioned earlier had project management experience. Drawing from that, he could build on change training.”

Non-traditional hires bring a wealth of skills and perspectives L&D needs as it transitions from a developer and deliverer of learning to a coach and consultant for the business. Consequently, they can engage the business in ways L&D often can’t. As one Training Top 10 Hall of Fame company summed it up at a recent white paper meeting, “a lot of value comes from non-traditional hires.”

To read more about “Building the Next-Generation L&D Team,” see page 6 of the Training Top 10 Hall of Fame white paper, “Technology’s Role in L&D,” at:

Curation’s Growing Role In L&D

By Eric Duffy, CEO, Pathgather

As business continues to rapidly evolve and roles and responsibilities shift, learning and development has become an essential tool to help organizations remain competitive. In order to stay abreast of quickly evolving markets, and to acquire the skills necessary to navigate new technologies, employees need to continually learn.

This means learning technology organizations must rapidly evolve. An important side effect of our fast-moving society is that micro and informal learning content is proliferating just as quickly inside your organization as it is outside. In their efforts to keep up, modern Learning and Development (L&D) organizations can use this to their advantage.

But this is easier said than done. With a limited L&D budget, how can you possibly harness, sort, and distribute all of the different learning resources available?

Content curation is the key. It’s the new essential competency for every modern organization that embraces learning and development as an essential component of business success. It involves more than simply compiling articles that relate to a particular subject. It entails gathering a wide range of content (such as videos, blogs, and articles) from both external and internal sources. The content should be relevant to the needs of the organization and individual employees.

However, having L&D professionals act as the only curators in your organization isn’t a scalable solution. High-functioning L&D organizations empower employees across the company to curate for one another. This entails empowering key knowledge stakeholders to curate the most important, relevant content within their domain of expertise for their peers.

Moving forward, the ability to execute on this crowdsourced curation model will be one of the most important factors that separates high-functioning L&D organizations from the rest.