Podcast | L&D Life Hacks 2: 9 Lessons On Collaboration, Storytelling And Strategy

Gary Stringer
August 24, 2023
August 24, 2023

Give us one hour, and we’ll give you insights from decades of L&D experience!

L&D Life Hacks are back!

​Taking the proven lessons from our expert panel and framing them in a way you can apply every day.

From the reframing you need to collaborate effectively, to how you manage the short and long-term L&D vision, and much more.

​​Meet our experts

​​👋 Lauren Scholtz, Learning and Development Manager at Humanforce.

​​👋 Neil John Cunningham, Founder and Learning & Development Solutions Director at Align Learn Do

👋 Sam Allen, Head of Learning and Performance at Insightful People.

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Running order

0:00 Intro to the show
1:00 1. Reframe learning requests as hypotheses to test
6:05 2. Bring stakeholders into Learning Experience Design 
10:32 3. Let people teach you what they know - then steal it
18:31 4. Accept that going slow is sometimes how you will go fast
20:00 5. Start small and go large 
31:47 6. Talk to your stakeholders about their business, not about learning/training 
39:38 7. Get comfortable with business data
44:45 8. Become a good data storyteller 
49:56 9. Think medium

9 Lessons On Collaboration, Storytelling And Strategy

1. Reframe learning requests as hypotheses to test

This tip is all about collaborating with our stakeholders, rather than simply being order takers. And it was borne from the frustrations of people coming to Sam with requests rather than explaining their symptoms.

But you wouldn’t go to a doctor and tell them the medication you need. And this hack helps us move away from that, by asking what else could be happening alongside what someone thinks is happening.

“Talking about their assumed training needs as hypotheses to test is a really nice way of positioning it. All of a sudden, it sounds very scientific, they get less defensive, and it's slightly less threatening to their assumption.

“The whole point of a hypothesis is you offer alternative hypotheses, right? And then you test all of it and see what's going on.” - Sam Allen.

This helps you get out of a narrow, prescriptive mindset and into a relationship where you diagnose together - allowing you to understand problems and metrics better.

2. Bring stakeholders into Learning Experience Design 

Neil explained how this hypothesis approach can also help engage stakeholders you might not have thought about in the process. 

“Find out who else that group who’ve come to you with it are talking about, and you can involve those people in the design of the experience they're going to go through.

“So you can actually say, okay, well, here's your hypothesis. Here's what the group has said about that. Here's how we're then going to design a learning solution, whatever that may look like, to see whether or not our treatment for your symptoms will deliver a positive outcome on the hypothesis.” - Neil Cunningham.

3. Let people teach you what they know, then steal it from them

If you’re going to tap into internal experts, it requires a little bit of courage and a little bit of vulnerability to acknowledge that you're not the expert in everything.

In most organisations, loads of content is created outside the L&D team, and Lauren explained that we have two options:

☝️ Let it terrify us
✌️ Find relief in accepting that we don't need to know everything.

“Learning and development needs to be the Robin Hood of skills. We seek out the people that have got a lot of it, and then we take it, we redistribute it. We make sure that the people that need it most have got access to it.” - Lauren Scholtz.

4. Accept that going slow is sometimes how you go fast

Lauren put it perfectly when she said we’re often “small teams, with big dreams and even bigger to-do lists.”

That often steers us down the road of trying to be efficient and effective, which aren’t always the same thing. 

We might send mass messaging out using automation, which can be efficient but not effective…

So we might need to run personalised sessions multiple times, which might be more effective but less efficient.

5. Start small and go large (AKA pilot/test ideas)

This tip takes us back to the idea that L&D takes order and has output, a concept that can be influenced by your confidence as a function and your ability to push back when there are other strategic priorities.

“Running a pilot group and starting small allows you to take the order, but then you can define what the delivery and the output is of it.

“So you can say, well, we've taken the order on, but this is how we are going to roll it out. And by doing that, it also lets you find out what's not going to work, not just within the learning experience itself…”

Going too fast and not going small first can stop us from being either efficient or effective, meaning we may not be intentional in targeting the right people and we might target too many of the wrong people, damaging the perception of our L&D brand.

6. Talk to your stakeholders about their business, not about learning/training

We often get stuck talking in L&D terms as we chat to the wider business, and Sam believes that might be because we wrongly perceive it’s what they’re interested in.

Sam shared his own experiences of explaining that he’d rather speak about their strategic priorities, and being vulnerable in sharing all the business areas he wasn’t familiar with.

If you want to start having conversations like this, try Sam’s three-question framework.

  • What are your key strategic priorities for your function or department?
  • What will people have to do potentially differently in order for you to achieve those strategic priorities?
  • What are you most worried about from a people perspective that people aren't going to be able to do, or you've not seen from them before?

“All of a sudden, the conversations were totally different. I learned way more of what their business was all about, what they were doing… I realised that with the relationship I now had, I started getting invited to more leadership team meetings.

“And I genuinely felt like I started to be perceived as a kind of strategic partner versus somebody who's just doing something that we should be interested in because we're supposed to be.”

7. Get comfortable with business data

We’ve all probably glazed over when meetings get too deep in the financial weeds, but silence is not the answer!

Instead, ask loads of questions. Be curious! Even if that means feeling vulnerable as we ask about terms, acronyms and topics we don’t understand right now.

“Whenever I was in a meeting, I asked questions. Sometimes I felt like a school boy and it was a bit embarrassing. But people want to talk about stuff that they know about and are interested in themselves. So most of the time it really helped.

“The follow on to that is that if you understand the metrics that businesses use to measure their successes, you can then also start to understand sub metrics used to measure progress towards that.” - Sam Allen.

If we influence those small, sometimes indirect, measures, we know we’re positively impacting the bigger goal.

8. Be a good data storyteller 

Is the secret sauce to telling good data stories to actually not get too deep into the data - it might be, because it stops us focusing on the hero at the heart of our story.

“It might sound counterintuitive, but the key piece here is not to get bogged down in the data. It has to be about the story as well, and I use  a simple narrative device called The Hero's Tale, which goes a little bit something like:

“Our heroes have set out on a journey, they've been through some adversity - that's the learning. They've overcome it, that's getting better performance. And now here's the end of the story. Here's your outcome. So it's a real simple narrative device.” - Neil Cunningham.

Apply a ‘what’s next?’ mindset to that too. If we didn’t achieve the expected outcome, we can reframe this as chapter one in our learner/hero’s journey.

9. Think medium

“I guess this is more of an aspiration than a hack because it's something that I am still struggling with and learning how to do. It's finding that balance between the big dreams and having that medium-term perspective.” - Lauren Scholtz

It can be hard for L&D to plan longer than six to nine months out because things change and unpredictable things happen.

If we fill up our capacity for that period, we’ll inevitably end up cutting things out. So, the idea of thinking medium is to:

“Pick our top priorities and fill our capacity to around 85%. So we do have that room for things to go into the red. If we have that emergency sales closing training that we have to send people on, It just gives us that space and helps us to retain those relationships with the businesses.” - Lauren Scholtz