Podcast | Why L&D Keeps Solving The Wrong Problems With Matt Bradburn

August 18, 2022
June 26, 2023

Pouring your heart into a learning initiative, only for it to go down like a lead balloon – there’s no pain like it. We’ve all been there. And it’s probably because we’re not solving the right problem!

​In L&D, we’re guilty of making assumptions. Taking action before diagnosing issues. And ending up disappointed when we’re not having the impact we want.

But solving business challenges and enabling people hinges on identifying the right problems and defining the right outcomes.

The People Collective’s Matt Bradburn joined us to discuss how we can nail that first part (and set ourselves up to smash the second).

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Running order

0:00 Introduction to Matt Bradburn
1:38 Why L&D solves the wrong and telltale signs it’s happening.
4:56 How do you work out the problems you need to solve?
8:00 Building a problem statement and communicating it with others.
16:33 Collecting data that empowers you to solve critical problems
22:17 Audience question: How do you get others on board?
28:14 How to have performance-based development conversations.
37:23 Audience question: Adding value when it matters.
44:22 Choosing the right L&D tool for the problem.
46:53 Defining the right problems makes L&D less transactional

Five lessons on how L&D can start solving the right problems

1. Get the egg before the chicken (AKA, establish the problem to be solved first).

“We see initiatives where people say, ‘We’ve got an L&D program, let’s work out the problem we’re solving’ as opposed to, fundamentally we’ve got a clear challenge…” – Matt Bradburn.

If we get the problem and solution the wrong way round, we end up with negative feedback loops. The business or leadership team comes up with the wrong problem or a poorly-defined one, which has a knock-on effect for how you build L&D programs.

They then fail to make an impact because they’re built around the wrong problem, which makes it harder for you to get buy-in or budget. Employees have also wasted time and effort trying to engage with a training program that wasn’t useful, making them more reluctant to engage in the future.

“The wrong problem might seem like a simple thing, but the knock-on effect is so significant, and it does kill the momentum if you don’t nip it in the bud as quickly as possible.” – Nelson Sivalingam.

2. Solving the problem is what gets others interested in the first place, not learning.

The rest of the business and its employees want support that helps them solve real problems and challenges. So when you get the problem wrong, they won’t see the benefit of engaging in the first place.

But if you communicate how you’re going to make their life easier or help them perform better, you’ll get them on board. Leading us nicely to…

3. A well-defined problem statement wins over stakeholders

A well-defined problem engages the people you’re asking to invest their time and effort. Often, L&D teams don’t spend enough time defining problems because they believe output is going to demonstrate value to stakeholders.

A strong problem statement helps you establish and communicate problems. Nelson gave the example of Intercom’s job stories, which combine jobs to be done with user stories:

When I am ______
I want to ________
So I can ________

‘When I am’ sets the context or moment when a problem arises, ‘I want to’ identifies the motivation in that moment of need, and ‘so I can’ establishes the expected outcome. These steps help you understand the blockers and define the why.

4. Is the issue a symptom or the root cause?

When people come to you and ask for learning, you have to diagnose what’s prompted that! Speak to people across the business, ask them what’s causing problems right now, and establish what would help them perform better.

Asking why frequently helps you establish the root cause, which leads to better problem statements and the delivery of more effective learning interventions.

5. Never give people the gold toilet seat (ensuring you’re not acting on anecdotal evidence).

If someone asked for a gold toilet seat as part of their feedback, you wouldn’t listen, right? That’s the wonderful example Matt gave of what can happen when you only use anecdotal evidence.  

“When you’re collecting that data, it’s got to be about whether there’s a weight of data, test a hypothesis by asking people who’ll give you an honest answer… then use that to build a plan.”

You achieve what you measure, but you need to connect the clear problem you want to solve with the metrics that demonstrate impact – otherwise, you end up scratching around for surface-level metrics that show some degree of ‘progress’ like time spent learning or course completion.

Defining a problem helps you establish the metrics connected to the problem and avoid that pitfall.