Podcast | Advice For Solo And Small L&D Teams

Gary Stringer
November 2, 2023
November 2, 2023

As small and solo L&D teams, there’s so much we can do - but how do we focus on the stuff that drives impact?

​We want to build good relationships with people, but pushing back and saying no are key to solving problems.

​And how do we keep enjoying the ride and build a network around us to share it with?

In this episode, ​Emma Aplin, Eryn Frost and Annie Woodcock joined us to share their honest experiences and best advice. 

Watch the episode

Running order

0:00 Intro to the show and today’s guests
1:10 How can L&D teams prioritise to add value?
16:06 Borrowing skills from internal experts
27:13 Advice on building your external network
30:56 Getting buy-in across your business
48:20 Audience Q&A

Expert advice for small and solo L&D teams

Creating clarity around what you do will help you prioritise L&D efforts

A lot can be thrown in L&D’s direction, sometimes because there just isn’t clarity on what we do or bring to the table.

“I think if you have a really clear view of the foundations and what you definitely need to achieve, then everything around it becomes a lot easier to manage and to push back on if needed as well.” - Emma Aplin.

If there’s a common understanding around what you’re here to do and how you can add value, it makes it easier to say yes and no to things, and focus on the activities that drive impact.

Eryn explained how she’s had to get really good at saying no, and having four key pillars that are aligned to the company’s strategic vision and objectives has helped on that front.

And that’s not a flat no, because we can lose people that way. Eryn looks for trends in what people are saying and taking that on board, while keeping her vision on the strategic priorities.

“We have our three-year vision, and everything has to align to that... There are parts in that vision that align to me as a department, and then we break down that vision into a yearly target. 

“So I can see directly where my impact is and what I need to be able to deliver on. And it's easier for me to say to someone… look, that just doesn't fall into our strategic objectives.” - Eryn Frost.

Consider these three things when you’re prioritising as a solo or small L&D team 

When you don’t have that strategic vision, and you’re in a scrappier environment, Annie recommends focusing on three things.

  1. Revenue: Is what I’m designing going to support the company in their financial goals.
  2. Impact: Discuss what success would look like in terms of quantitative and qualitative results up front, and accept that qualitative results might be easier to come by.
  3. And have clear learning principles: That you design around so that even if the former two things don't happen, it’s easier to assess, pivot and prioritise using that consistent foundation.

Annie also shared a great rule of thumb: “If it's high effort and low impact in terms of the learning design, then it's probably not worth it because that's just sunk cost in terms of time.”

Borrow internal skills to build a wider team

Annie explained how she brings in her product team to translate her rough slide decks into a learning experience and the value they offer as they test those out from a learner perspective.

“When our product team goes through the slide decks I've created, they do it as though they're the learner.

"So they give me feedback on the technical side and how this will translate, but also from their experience of going through it as a learner would, which is incredibly helpful.” - Annie Woodcock.

A common theme was building an internal group who you can test ideas and experiences with, and Eryn explained how she brings in people with different perspectives to challenge those. 

She also highlighted the power of borrowing skills that complement your’s and fill in the blanks for the ones you’re missing.

“Spreadsheets are a good example. I hate Excel, and I work in a business where it's like Excel is the most exciting thing. 

“People love data, and I hate data. It's not where I come to life. That's not my strength. So I recognise that, and I find people who I ask to partner with if I'm doing something that's more technical.” - Eryn Frost.

Emma described these people as learning champions, and they have a group of six or seven at Bicycle.

“They either create content for our e-learning portals, or they’ve been some of my go to people for mentoring, and we have another internal coach as well. But as Erin and Annie have said, it’s helpful just having a sounding board about certain things we’re doing.” - Emma Aplin.

Getting buy-in is about balancing motivations across the business

Emma hit the nail on the head as she described her experiences of getting buy-in - we have to understand different motivations at every level of the business. But she was also realistic about the challenge this presents.

“It was about trying to make the lives of the senior leadership team easier, whilst also making sure that the wider organisation felt that they were being heard in terms of what they needed - so that it's not just generic things that we’re putting in.

“And that balance is really hard when you've got budgets to consider, and you've got different leaders who want different things.” - Emma Aplin.

A key part of this is getting clarity on the outcomes people want from something, to ensure you don’t make any assumptions about the learning experiences you design and deliver.

“When this course or intervention is completed, or tool’s being utilised, what are you going to see, what are you going to hear, and what are you going to feel? 

“Because I want a really clear understanding of their expectations, so that when we review, or when we look at whether there has been value within this, I can refer back and say, this is what you asked for, what have you observed?” - Eryn Frost.

Challenging leadership can actually help you in L&D

Annie shared her tip on balancing listening to what leadership wants, but not being afraid to voice what the other people want - because they’re the participants and recipients of your learning experiences.

“Quite often, in my experience, a leadership team will say things like we want our staff to be more productive because then we can have a bigger margin… and we'll increase retention…

“But the people on the ground, what are they saying about their experience of working here? Do they feel like they're learning? Do they feel like they're developing? Do they have a decent work life balance?” - Annie Woodcock.

And it was great to hear Annie explain how she doesn’t mind making herself a little bit unpopular with leadership in order to advocate for learning solutions that she thinks are going to actually work in the long term.