Man popping balloon with "ego" written on it

Is Ego Limiting the Potential of Your Learning Ecosystem?

In General L&D by JD Dillon

“How will they know we did it?” This question was asked of me by a former peer as I pitched a solution for an ongoing performance problem. Rather than build content and put employees through training, I suggested we curate a collection of best practices that frontline staff could share directly with each other via a social platform. It was a new idea, and I expected some pushback. However, I didn’t expect it to focus on who would get the credit. If it helps people do their jobs better, does it really matter? Well…

Because we have so many problems establishing a connection between our work and business results, many L&D teams are still measured on typical training metrics, such as completions, test scores, and seat hours. In other words, our value is directly associated with the volume of stuff we churn out along with our visible participation in high-visibility projects. This isn’t just a bad way to determine whether our work is helping employees perform better, it’s also promoting a value system within L&D that inhibits our ability to evolve and keep pace with modern business. The question from my former peer provides a great example of this value system in action.

The workplace is a complex ecosystem with a multitude of components that influence day-to-day employee performance. Most of this takes place outside the sphere of L&D. In fact, L&D often fails to make the effort necessary to recognize, understand, and leverage these components. This can create an unbalanced learning and performance experience for employees as they try to sort through mixed messages and conflicting priorities. To enable meaningful and sustained performance improvement at the pace of modern business, we must escape the L&D bubble and adopt a holistic approach that applies to everything an employee does on the job.

This evolution requires that we check our egos at the door, and that can be a tall order. To leverage the complete workplace ecosystem, L&D professionals have to forsake “publicity” and take a decidedly more behind-the-scenes role. Sure, we can still be front-and-center when formal training is the right-fit solution. But we must be OK with playing a less glamorous supporting role when enabling concepts like performance support, knowledge sharing, and community management. What’s more, we must establish our value based on our impact and expertise—and not allow ourselves to be judged based on volume of work alone.

In addition to retiring our egos, we must facilitate the shift in the L&D value proposition across the organization. After all, if people are familiar with judging our work solely on the quantity of services we provide, they are likely to see a less visible role as negative change.

This starts with socializing our approach so key stakeholders understand ALL of the ways we can support performance in today’s workplace. We must overcome legacy challenges and firmly establish connections between learning, performance, and business results whenever possible, especially as part of formal training initiatives. Finally, professionals in our field must revisit our ecosystem-based approach continuously and make our strategies clear to stakeholders by working out loud in simple, easily understood ways that further reinforce the value of L&D.

By no means is L&D the only workplace team that currently measures its value based on volume of work. However, shifting this mentality is essential if we hope to evolve our approach and foster an employee-centered learning and performance ecosystem. To shift the perceptions of our business partners, we must first get out of our own way and focus on impact, regardless of credit. This is why I responded to my former peer’s question with “Does it matter if it works?!?!”

I originally wrote this post for the ATD Blog