Employees expect the same learning experience everywhere, from the conference room to the living room. Businesses demand learning that is strategically aligned and tactically significant. Achieving all of this requires a rich, wide-ranging, and deep bench of talent. If you’re charged with staffing a learning team—or you’re a learning pro yourself—you should be giving serious thought to upskilling and reskilling. Here are two skills that should live in every learning team.

Marketing Skills

The American Marketing Association defines marketing as “…the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.” Imagine how compelling learning and development could be in the hands of a leader who has mastered these strategic skills. As we continue to make the case for learning as a business partner, leaders must be laser-focused on offering value. They should be keenly aware of every stakeholder who may be seeking that value and put their energies into defining how, when, where, and why that value should be communicated.

There’s also room on the team for tactical marketing skills. The best learning teams understand the fundamentals of persuasion. They are also plugged into what’s happening with their learners on the ground, and they design from that perspective. Design thinking has arrived in the learning space, and it’s a great springboard for advancing the marketing mindset. Design thinking is deeply connected to understanding the user’s experience of learning. That forces us to focus on the story that needs to be told and to skillfully tell it. Look for learning pros who are top-notch writers, have mastered the art of storytelling, and who understand how learners make sense of visual information.

Change Management Skills

Broadly speaking, change management is about helping people navigate change. At its essence, however, it’s really about creating awareness of change and cultivating a desire to undergo change. What is learning if not change? Viewed through a change lens, there’s more to consider when executing a learning program. Change practitioners have critical skills that learning practitioners should have in their toolkits.

Strategic change management skills should be a key part of any learning initiative. In a change management engagement, we take a close look at stakeholders to understand who has influence, who has power, and who has interest in what’s changing. We also explore areas in which we might encounter resistance. Wouldn’t that be helpful when presenting an organization with a new learning tool, curriculum, or program? Or when facilitating a learning strategy meeting?

Tactical change management skills are also a key asset to a learning team. A significant part of change management involves mastering relationships with executive sponsors of key initiatives. This includes identifying and evaluating the best sponsorship candidates, informing them about your project, and coaching them on the most effective ways to advocate for your cause. Teams who know how to finesse these relationships and coach senior leaders to better support learning are at a distinct advantage over teams without a direct line to the executive suite.

Another key change management skill for learning teams is strategic communications planning. Whether you’ve built or bought your learning solution, your ability to develop a compelling message about it and deliver it with savvy and discipline can determine whether you sink or swim. Unfortunately, the communications planning process is often an afterthought, conducted in a scattershot way after the “real” work of learning product development is completed. The success of your initiative depends on doing this right and having the right people to do it.

There’s a marketing aspect to communications, for sure, but there must also be a focus on the nuts and bolts ability to design and execute a disciplined communications campaign. Someone on your team should have a good grasp of messaging and an understanding of channels, branding, integrated campaigns, and communications planning, at a minimum. There’s a discipline to this, and reskilling or upskilling yourself or your team members in this direction will pay off. 

As we look to 2018 and beyond, learning and development pros won’t be immune to the forces roiling other professions. Making learning work requires skills found in far-flung corners of your organization. Make friends with this idea–and with some of those people who can expand your reach in your organization.  

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Kristen Sterbenz, CPLP, PMP

Kristen Sterbenz is a seasoned learning pro with a keen interest in making learning work. She's the founder of Voolama LLC, (www.voolamallc.com) a provider of learning strategy, design, and implementation services. You can find her on LinkedIn.
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