By Elliott Masie
(This article originally appeared in CLO Magazine in September, 2011: www.clomedia.com)
If you were able to add five new people to your Learning Department, what roles and skills would you hope to enhance in your team?
This is an intriguing question that we have been asking CLOs over the past year and one that I suggest you ask yourself as you evolve your organization’s learning strategy. As learning technologies, workforce dynamics and content models change, we need to take a fresh, brave look at the talent requirements of our own function.
My conversations with CLOs have uncovered two approaches for adding new talent to the Learning department. In fact, many CLOs have advocated pursuing aspects of both of these approaches.
Learning Competencies 2.0: One approach is to take a look at the changing nature of learning in our organizations and to recruit a new set of professionals with very different skillsets to develop the next generation of programs. CLOs have mentioned these examples of roles that would be on their wish lists:
- Librarian: As the amount and format of content both created and used in the organization multiplies, a key challenge is “discoverability”. How will learners find the right nuggets of content? A modern librarian will be able to add extreme value with metadata, search readiness, content taxonomies and federated search models.
- Learning App Developer: This is someone who can rapidly put together a learning app - to run on a device like a tablet or smart phone - that aligns with a single learning offering or that is focused on a specific role/task in the organization. Don’t look for someone with a college degree in this area, but an agile app developer could supercharge the learning department.
- Community Mayor/Gardener: Sites like SharePoint can be ghost towns when leveraged for a learning program. They need leadership and someone to remove the “weeds”. Community management is a growing competency as we shift toward communities of practice and distributed collaboration.
- Video Competencies: You don’t need a videographer, but a learning department will benefit greatly from someone with skills and experience in the use of video for storytelling. Editing techniques, framing perspectives, meta-tagging and even the development of video templates will be critical as the organization adds large amounts of user created and scripted video to the knowledge mix.
- Workplace GPS/Performance Support Designer: I anticipate that we will have fewer traditional instructional designers as we expand our content/context offerings. One role that organizations could deeply benefit from is a designer with competencies in building “learning-at-the-moment-of-need” solutions like performance support or workplace GPS. Assistance should pop up and be readily available as workers perform new tasks or forget key steps. This professional can increase your team’s capacity by significant leaps.
These roles could be developed within your current staff, but most CLOs were looking at the opportunity to bring in some very different and fresh “blood” into the learning function.
Business Acumen & Experience: A second approach to adding new talent to the learning function addresses the fact that many CLOs feel the need to beef up internal business knowledge/experience within their learning groups. They reach out to high performers within key business units and attempt to recruit them for a short- to medium-term stint in the learning department. This gives the learning function:
- Greater Internal Subject Matter Expertise
- Business Language & Fluency
- Tighter Alignment with Real Business Requirements & Metrics
- Networking within the Learning Function
- A Shift in the Career Path of the Learning Team – from Career Learning Professionals to Developmental Roles for Rising Leaders
This model has been used successfully in at least two worlds: pharmaceutical sales and military organizations. Drug companies have recruited top sales reps or managers, who are on their way to their next positions, for several-year assignments in the learning department. Likewise, the Air Force has made a stint in the learning and education function a core career step for high potential staff.
Organizations taking this approach often create a boot camp and mentoring process to bring the business focused staff to readiness on learning projects. Caution: we are not turning these folks into instructional developers or designers! The goal is to use their business acumen to drive and focus learning projects on the needs of the front line workforce.
Another benefit of adding experienced folks from the operational side of the organization is to shift the “brand” of the learning department. Several Fortune 500 companies have reached out to business leaders to become CLOs; that immediately changed the “C” suite’s and the rest of the organization’s perception of that role.
The learning professional of the future may naturally combine both of the approaches I’ve mentioned, but for now, let’s explore how we can add this type of talent to our teams and get ready for the next wave of learning opportunities.