In the earliest months of pandemic life, as panic pervaded, and our collective focus was on keeping the train on the tracks, learning and development (L+D) went into hibernation mode. But as talent has hit its breaking point – with burnout still on high and the Great Resignation continuing to taunt – L+D has come back like gangbusters. People want to feel invested in again – grown, challenged, and expanded. I’m a believer – to my core – in the value and power of learning through interactive experiences. It’s what we do. But whether you’re looking to DIY a lunch-and-learn with your team, or to build out a full-blown leadership curriculum, please know that content is table stakes. It’s the scaffolding around the program that makes or breaks its success. When leaders are not coaching, not delegating, or not harnessing innovation it’s rarely because they haven’t learned a framework or model. They’re not doing these things because the learning hasn’t been activated. The 3 key levers haven’t been pulled. These levers are time, practice, and accountability. So whatever action, behavior, or shift you’re seeking through an L+D intervention, let’s talk about how you can pull these levers to activate that learning.
Lever One: Time
Learning a new skill is interesting. But insight without time to practice is like having a giant bank account with nowhere to spend.
Activating learning requires time.
Every one of our workshops includes tools and challenges designed to get leaders putting insight into practice. And yet the number of program participants I’ve encountered over the years who hesitate to take on these challenges because “there’s simply no time to practice” is heart-breaking.
Without a doubt, L+D participants still have jobs to do. And yet, if participants literally can not find a handful of 15-minute increments in which to practice what’s been learned, then something organizationally must shift.
How can you help your team members carve out small increments of time and space in which they can begin to activate their learning?
Lever Two: Practice
Carving out time is like getting your team members to the gym. Now it’s time for them to do the workout. It’s practice time.
Coaching, delegating, innovating…aren’t just time-consuming (in the beginning!) – they’re also messy. L+D participants need not just the time but the safety to practice – in risk-mitigated situations.
Often participants express fear – of not having control, of not knowing every single detail, of taking a messier path to a meaningful ending.
And your job is to support them in leaning into the mess, the uncertain, the possibilities.
How can you provide the psychological safety for them to practice what they’ve learned in a program?
I’m not suggesting they delegate, run, and shrug their shoulders when it all goes to [bleep]. I’m suggesting they practice asking and listening rather than telling; they practice carving out a small opportunity that aligns to someone’s development plan; they invite a team member to pitch an idea in tandem with them. All in small, intentional bits.
How can you begin to normalize these practices so L+D can start to really come to life?
Lever Three: Accountability
And finally. Whatever leadership behaviors you want to see activated must be linked to the most desirable outcomes. Participants need to see – need to believe – that promotions, public speaking opportunities, sexy projects, rewards and recognition are really and truly contingent on their activating these skills. And your job is to establish that clear accountability. I see organizations teach and preach leadership…but ultimately reward and promote the people who get results at any cost. Leadership is only valued, truly, in organizations where bad leadership behavior is called out; where poor engagement scores inhibit a promotion; where building followership matters.
So as you begin to wind down this wild year and consider your L+D needs and investments for 2022…I hope you’re feeling armed and ready to maximize that return on your investment.