What your learning journey REALLY says about your culture


As training professionals, we use learning journeys (or learning pathways) to bring together all the multifaceted activities needed to achieve a goal.  As we know, the best learning journeys include a mix of theoretical knowledge, the acquisition of skills, as well as real world application to help individuals gain experience.   They should also be reflective of a company’s culture.  I can hear you agreeing with me, so why is it then that so many don’t?

When creating a learning journey, especially when it is part of a change project, the first thought is normally about getting something down on paper to solidify how much effort is going to be needed to take individuals from where they are now to where the change needs them to be.  If we are doing it old-school, we translate what is required from the information gathered during the Training Needs Analysis (TNA) into manageable tasks that are then grouped together to create a series of activities.  Depending on the size of the change, the TNA may also identify multiple roles that are impacted and therefore, also define who needs to know what – and this is often where the first cultural oversight takes place.

Let us focus on using our learning journeys to help shape a culture where actions speak louder than words.

We typically identify the training needs of different populations but can fail to create opportunities to bring them together.  The criticality of these ‘coming together’ events for the successful implementation of a change affecting multiple populations is frequently overlooked.    Each role will have learned how they need to modify their routines to adopt the change independently, but there is also a need to make time for them to come back together so they can identify how they will make the change happen, as a team as opposed to individuals.  Most companies will have a value or behaviour that encourages teamwork amongst colleagues but when we create our learning journeys in population silos, this important cultural driver is side-lined.

And this in turn leads nicely onto what the other activities on your learning journey may say about your company culture.  Learning has changed considerably over the last twenty-five years.  At the start of my career, learning was presented in a classroom using an overhead projector with acetates covered by a sheet of paper that was gradually moved down to reveal the content, and if you were lucky, you had an accompanying printed workbook.  The way in which learning is presented has been able to piggyback on the huge advances in technology during the same timeframe.  Facilitated face-to-face learning has become more of an occasion with many of these events taking on a ‘festival’ appearance where a range of topics are covered in short sets rather than the whole event being dedicated to one subject.  I accept that this type of event has its place, especially when introducing and rousing enthusiasm to a change, but as a learning event it can often send the wrong message.  The number of times I have been asked, to my horror, to facilitate a session on coaching in just an hour. How?  Learning to coach effectively takes time and practice; it is much more involved than ‘here is the GROW model – now go and use it’.  It’s about effective questioning, motivating, creating will and skill, understanding behaviours enough to create a dynamic two-way flowing interaction, observation, practice, I could go on! Consequently, why would anyone think you can teach such a fundamental skill in sixty short minutes?  We can debate the answer to that question another day. The point here is the message that it conveys.  Again, many companies will have a value or behaviour that is focused on personal development but when a learning journey doesn’t allow sufficient time for learning to take place, is it any wonder that colleagues frequently report in their engagement surveys that they feel undervalued?

So, what needs to be done?  In a nutshell, when we create a learning journey, we need to reflect on what that pathway is saying about the organisation.  The first step should always be getting the activities down on paper, but the second step should be to ask, ‘is this learning journey reflective of the culture?’.  If every piece of learning is time challenged, what is that telling the learner about the importance that organisation places on the content?  People need time to learn, time to create new neuropathways and build muscle memory.  Likewise, if every piece of learning is a minimum viable product, then you need to ask why the organisation is having to run at such a fast pace?  The same applies if the learning doesn’t feel current or is so futuristic that it looks great but doesn’t actually tell the user what they need to know now.

Over time, I’ve learnt to be well prepared ahead of the inevitable stakeholder discussions that normally start with a sharp intake of breath when they see the total length of time it will take individuals to complete the training.  When presenting the journey, it is important to be able to explain not only the event, but the significance of the activities, and be able to explain why a specific media has been recommended to deliver the message.   For example, referencing how culturally important it is to bring the different populations together to share in their experiences of the change, and start to work out how they are going to fit it all together, is a great explanation of why we need to include the coming together of events.  Sharing that you are suggesting using an animation to explain a process, as it will help to bring it to life and make it more memorable, helps the stakeholder to appreciate the use of new technology.   And when asked why we can’t ‘just show a few slides?’, questioning back so they can appreciate how the lack of desire to invest the time to do things properly can be interpreted by the end user.

Taking this approach works on two levels: firstly, in my experience, most stakeholders who understand the benefit of an activity will want to find a way to keep it, and secondly, it forces you, as the learning journey creator, to reflect on what you are recommending.  Is it just a bunch of ‘finger in the air’ activities thrown together, or is it an exercise to bring together all the multifaceted activities needed to achieve a goal that is reflective of a company’s culture?

As learning professionals, we can be our own worst enemy.  We know how to deliver learning correctly but often let ourselves be browbeaten into watering things down to a level that makes stakeholders comfortable, but then frequently finds us in the hot seat when the change has not met its intended goal.  Let us focus on using our learning journeys to help shape a culture where actions speak louder than words.


About Author

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As an experienced and professional Consultant and Training Professional, I have had the privilege of working across a wide range of companies and business areas predominately in the Financial Services sector. Wherever I am and whatever job role I am undertaking on behalf of a client, you will always find me influencing and driving others to produce results.

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