1. Please tell me a bit about your role and your key responsibilities
I am the Chief Learning Officer at Looop, a learning platform for L&D. Previously I was working in-house with libraries of learning that were mostly ignored. There was a belief that learning and development is at the detriment of the business. When people are learning they are not working. It’s all about timing though and how to get people to use this platform.
Now I talk to the market and haven't worked in-house in five years. I also write, speak and attend conferences as the mouthpiece of Looop. We are trying to change the conversation on L&D.
2. Have your businesses priorities changed due to Covid?
We have had to grow the team enormously. And it has been hastened by emerging trends, particularly around digital and what digital could be. We are in search of a digital solution that can replace face-to-face learning and L&D that is digital.
3. What are the main challenges for your business if you look at the next 12-24 months?
The challenges I see that could potentially happen in the market - knowing what L&D has been like and expecting the worst, is that when things go back to some kind of normal, there could be a reflex reaction, where we all go back to the classroom again.
We are in a profession that resists its role in digital and outsources its digital development to vendors, who don’t know the business and create generic content for users. And believes deep pure learning can only happen when we are working our sorcery to twelve people at a time in organisations of 100,000 people. The profession is a joke when looked at objectively. And I think it is a mixture of naivety and ignorance and arrogance that has led to this situation.
I think that we have a huge opportunity to digitise. Digital doesn't mean just plugging in tech. We have only to look at the profession of digital marketing in the last 15 years, to see the potential of our profession in the next 15 years. But you have to get out of the classroom, to see that.
4. Specifically, what are the main challenges in regards to people/talent?
I think the biggest one right now is preparing people to do something fundamentally differently within any given organisation, you've only got to look at the brands that have disappeared in the last few years. It was their inability to adapt as organisations that led to their downfall.
The challenges are that this current situation has irreversibly changed the way that people operate, and therefore changed commerce, although to what extent we don't know yet. We don't know what the role of the High Street will be. This isn't a digital vs. face-to-face thing like some of the conversations going on in learning and development.
It's not as easy or as simple as people only living and shopping online now, because that's not what they want, they are forced to. But the old model of going into a shop and then choosing from very limited options, it's a redundant model. But opportunities to interact and gain a different sort of satisfaction or fulfilment from an interaction, there is still an enormous place for that. And I think that we will value face-to-face interactions and the spontaneity and the freedom that will come post lockdown.
But the problem is when it's an employer's market I think it's going to be a tough place to be working. Where talent is abundant and employers can almost be ruthless.
But there is still something about the fact that there are smarter ways of recruiting. There are smarter ways of developing people while preparing people to work. And I think that technology can help to reduce the cost and the risks there, and I think the organisations more and more will wise up to tech. Tech being smarter than people in a lot of regards.
5. How are you dealing with this? What’s your plan?
The employment market for L&D is not good. We have posted several positions and been inundated with applications. A massive part of the business is that we have to love our customers. We need to hire people that care about our customers and empower employees to be the mouthpiece. To speak, to write and so forth.
Now we're in a position where we can hire people with a great deal more experience and hire learning and development people rather than, say, customer success people or generic salespeople. We want a learning environment, people who can talk about the impact of what we are trying to do in organisations from a position of authority.
If you look at your organisation’s capabilities and the skills of the employees
6. What are the main strengths?
We've got people who have been learning development managers and leaders and who have run learning development functions. I'd say that this technical experience has helped across our entire operation, whether that's in sales. Or whether that's in customer success and implementation, to be able to talk with people about the challenges they're facing rather than engineering new challenges - like how do you get people to use your new platform?
The real problem is how do you support the development of people in your organisation?
We have been able to build and then grow a product that is laser focussed on the real problems, and everyone believes in it. There isn't a single person in our entire organisation that doesn't believe that we've got something valuable that organisations need, which is so powerful.
Nobody is resting on their laurels, with an acceptance that change is good. People’s roles are stretching and growing.
7. Where are the main weaknesses or opportunities for improvement? Has this changed based on Covid?
We've recognised that there is a strong link between digital marketing as an approach and learning and development - when you think that both are in the business of trying to influence the behaviour and thoughts of people in the direction you want. By understanding your target audience, understanding their experience as a consumer.
But in organisations, as we know more about employees needs, especially during transitions and periods of unfamiliarity, then we can nudge them and educate them to do more of the right stuff and exhibit the expected and rewarded behaviours within the organisation.
And we are also students of data science. So to what extent that we can use data within our organisation, build it into our product, and then provide tools for L&D’s, who aren't particularly savvy around data. Certainly around formative data. We consider ourselves pretty hot on summative data (but only engagement).
8. And when you look at the next 2-3 years, which skills do you think are most important?
We want to empower anybody to become much more proficient in data analytics. There are elements of data science, I think that we all need to incorporate.
Finding specific performance issues, taking the time to understand them, before finding a solution.
I think Agile will grow in prominence again across different parts of the business. This will require adaptability and changes in the role of managers.
AI is a big factor, and I think our ability as leaders in organisations to integrate AI. Hopefully to eliminate the crappier jobs in organisations, like the amount of admin that is required. And I don't think that there's been a major technology that hasn't elevated the status of humans to a great degree. Our ability to integrate AI and the best of people - is really important
There is also too much lazy sales. We are moving into a difficult environment, the nature of sales is going to be essential for organisations to survive.
I also see blockchain and cloud and distributed computing as important in the future.
9. Where do you see the biggest gaps between ambition and reality of skillsets?
So I think that organisations have a way of shooting themselves in the foot. They give the change rhetoric, but they don't want to change themselves.
So I think that that's the biggest risk - I think internal culture and an inability to galvanise employees around a better, more efficient way of operating.
Dehumanising work is a huge risk. Whenever you look at Amazon and their model, they can undercut suppliers and track their employee’s performance. The nature of work is a risk when it seems to be a race to the bottom.
10. How do you assess the skills of your team?
We don’t do it formally. With the evolving nature of our business, we need adaptability. We have people working across different areas and different functions, we record demos and see how people are performing.
We have such a talented team, and no one feels monitored, we are all learning from one another, recording sales calls. Peer-to-peer learning is key for us with cross-functional teams working together to help and inspire each other.
To work collaboratively and solve problems together. There is a lack of formality, we are small enough and smart enough to do this.