Three Ways to Sabotage Your L&D Impact: Navigating From Confusion to Clarity

10 Jan, 2023Tjarda Lamsma

Impact Lab – Welcome to episode #1

“A poor approach to impact has consequences, which, in most organizations, is the morale and engagement of front-line employees. This causes disorder, confusion, and disrupting communication.” – Jessica Winchell, Talent Manager at Amazon

Last year, when we kicked off our first Impact Lab, it was clear that many resonated with Jessica’s sentiments. One thing was clear from our discussions, it is easier to sabotage our attempts at learning impact than actually build it.

Lepaya’s Impact Lab, cohosted by Bo Dury and Laura Overton, brought together learning leaders from around the globe as we sought to bridge the gap between learning, impact, and business goals.

Untangling the Impact Mess

As People Leaders, we are facing pressure from multiple fronts: small budgets, senior stakeholders who constantly challenge the business value of our work, and a constant request to share success KPIs. While we work under pressure to prove ourselves, we become fixated on the one and only KPI that seems to matter to our stakeholders – Return On Investment (ROI), which is often envisioned in terms of “Input to Output in terms of Revenue”. However, there’s no clear guidance on how to set up and drive impact KPIs that link to the successful development of our people, which drives organizational success.

Therefore, we set out to explore and redefine impact to take the lead in supporting our businesses strategically.

To start designing our learning for impact and business value, we first explore how to set it up for failure. By defining and understanding what obstructs our success, we can start to rethink our approach to designing learning for impact.

Three Ways to Sabotage Impact

  • Confusion
  • Obstruction
  • Miscommunication

Confusion

Imagine: You deliver a lump of complex learning content in a plain format and then measure success without defining the outcomes you expect to see.

Overloading our Learners with Content

Let’s start by discussing the learning content problem. There’s so much learning content on the market. From content platforms such as LinkedIn learning to classroom sessions with endless PowerPoint slides, we are constantly overloading our learners with generic content. This disengages learners from the learning process. By not spending any effort on pre- or post-training initiatives, we make it difficult for learners to connect the content to their daily work, and reduce the chance of learning transfer. To make matters worse we often make the consumption of this content mandatory. Not only does this waste valuable time, it also confuses our learners into thinking that learning is consuming content.

“Our role as L&D professionals is to understand what learners need to improve their performance and design an effective upskilling journey. We can remove confusion by explaining why it is important for them to learn a skill, and then enabling them to explore, practice and apply.” – Bo Dury, Impact Lead at Lepaya

Vanity measures

In terms of learning, the stakes are always high. Once learners are in the flow of their mandatory training programs with no end goal there’s a very slim chance to quantify the outcomes. But as People Leaders who want to showcase the relevance of learning content and methodology we try to quantify anyway. 

People Functions are generally seen as supportive and not strategic, so we tend to hide behind vanity metrics: our learners’ opinions, course attendance, and module completion rate. As long as we have this data then our L&D appears impactful.

Don’t believe your own press! AND don’t expect others to either. It’s a surefire way to sabotage your impact efforts. Instead seek out the metrics that are meaningful outside of your own echo chamber.” – Laura Overton, Founder at Learning Changemakers

Obstruction

As People Leaders we feel fully responsible for learning. Therefore we involuntarily develop short-term solutions to please our stakeholders by agreeing to quick fixes. Unfortunately, these quick fixes often avoid the real problem and end up obstructing business impact.

Quick Fixes

How many times have we been approached last minute and had to develop a “quick fix” training? Creating a “Quick Fix” solution means adopting a short-term focus on learning impact; also known as the ‘plaster approach’. Our sense of responsibility to build a learning culture in organizations comes with an involuntarily built-in sabotage of self-obstruction.

Whenever a stakeholder has a learning request, say an excel training, we want to deliver on that request because we as People’s Leaders believe that we own Business Learning. Yet the notion of quickness is the opposite of challenging. That’s why quick projects tend to fall short because we do not challenge what is being asked of us or question the long-term impact of the learning request, and we continue to ‘plaster away’ obstructing impact with quick-fix learning. That disrupts both impact and business goal attainment.

People Pleasing

It’s great when our stakeholders come to us with a request, as this validates the importance of our role in building impactful learning cultures. This is a moment where we believe to have a real influence on business impact. However, by quickly agreeing to their request we may be obstructing our longer-term strategy. People pleasing is a pitfall of all business functions. But when it happens for learning it must be one of the most costly pitfalls. Without understanding the business case for learning we cannot solve a business challenge. Without contextualizing learning content and engaging talent via agile learning methodologies we end up in a position of People Pleasers rather than being perceived as Strategic Business Advisors.

“Remember who is the learning expert in the relationship with your stakeholders – don’t be afraid to say an initial no to requests for ‘training courses’. Instead steer the conversation towards your shared outcomes of improved impact.” –  Laura Overton, Founder at Learning Changemakers

Miscommunication

Our third sabotage is to make ourselves small and isolated by not engaging our learners or the right people in the business. This way we miss the opportunity for communication and collaboration.

Lack of Communication

As People Leaders, we are often People People, we choose this career path because we want to help others grow. But fast-growing companies face fast-growing problems and most of them stem out of isolation and silos. If we remove communication & engagement from our daily work because we’re too busy doing “our own thing” we isolate ourselves and our impact. By focusing inward, not outward, we ignore learners’ needs and aspirations for growth, hence, creating an even bigger gap between training and business impact.

“It’s crucial to build trust through consistent communication. The most impactful L&D leaders have built ‘radical candor’ relationships with their stakeholders, as explained by Kim Scott. Caring deeply but also challenging directly and being open about what will work and what won’t.” – Bo Dury, Impact Lead at Lepaya

Low Prioritization

To make matters worse, as People Leaders we take full responsibility for the success of our L&D strategy. However, learning success can only be defined in terms of our stakeholders’ performance targets and people’s goals. By working on our own, making assumptions about our stakeholders’ priorities, and not asking questions about what’s important to them we put ourselves last. By avoiding the topic of business value creation through learning we deprive ourselves of being strategic and therefore deprioritize L&D on the business priority list.

If we don’t bring our entire People Leader selves to our interactions with our stakeholders, our plans and people will not be prioritized. We won’t have the confidence to build new, co-created solutions, which our business and our people desperately need.

 

Onward and Upwards

Mindset is crucial when co-creating impact. It’s important to not let the confusion, obstruction, miscommunication, and most importantly – imposter syndrome bring out the worst in us. As People Leaders, we should be conscious of and fight our own bias which may lead us to self-sabotage and in the end less strategic conversations and lower overall impact. Great businesses deserve even greater People Leaders to support business goals through innovation & co-creation with stakeholders and the courage to untangle the impact mess. Let’s continue on this journey together!

Would you like to become part of the Impact Discussion? Join our next Impact Lab and take the lead on the business impact you create through L&D.

Sign Up Here

Join the Conversation

Your input is essential for the 2nd next Impact Lab and deepens our understanding of how to rethink L&D impact with you.

Based on your experience:  

  • Which of the three sabotages are you secretly guilty of?
  • Looking back at 2022, where have you made the most progress?
  • What is your biggest challenge with learning impact for 2023? 

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