The majority of L&D’s workload comes through the front door. By that I mean we are almost always handed our assignments. It could be a direct request for training. It could be a stakeholder who has identified a performance gap but needs help figuring it out. It could be part of a larger company initiative that has a training component. Regardless of our “seat at the table” status, we don’t tend to have the time, capacity and mandate to go find learning needs on our own.
This is part of the problem with viewing L&D as a support service. Yes, we should be there when people need us, and we should be part of those large projects that have clear learning and change management components. However, L&D is optimally positioned to find the cracks in the infrastructure that often go unnoticed until it’s too late. We work within everyone. We use a variety of tools. We are close to the frontline (if we’re doing it right). We shouldn’t just solve the problems we are handed. We should constantly bubble up the ones our partners may not see.
I believe L&D provides more value when we focus on channels and networks as opposed to content and programs. We should still build content and programs, but we should dedicate more time and effort to finding better ways to continuously connect the people who need with the people who know. When you shift your focus in this way, you often trip over systemic problems that were previously undiagnosed. This happened to me at Kaplan when we addressed the shared knowledge issue and fundamentally shifted the way the company approached learning and communication – all because I couldn’t find what I needed on SharePoint when I was trying to build an eLearning module.
So, rather than waiting for every assignment to come through the front door, here are a few places you should explore for signs of learning needs.
Intranet. SharePoint. Wiki. LMS. Wherever employees are searching. What are they looking for and why? Should they already know this information, or are they expected to reference it at the moment of need. Are they finding it quickly, or are they getting poor results? Search activity can help identify not only topics of need but also potential gaps in the organization’s knowledge sharing infrastructure. But don’t just leap to assumptions based on search traffic. Use the data to ask questions about how this information is meant to be used on the job.
Who’s getting a ton of “please help me” emails? Subject matter experts are a critical part of any company’s performance support structure. But there’s a difference between being helpful now and then and being the only way path to the information people need to do their jobs. Find the persistent go-to people and determine if there are more scalable and efficient ways to pass their knowledge along.
Does your company have a help desk for employee issues? It may be for HR or IT requests. Or it could be a general performance support tool. Regardless, how often do you analyze their activities to determine the need for additional training? If IT is getting the same calls over and over again for something that is clearly knowledge or skill-based, you may be able to intervene to improve the employee experience AND bank some extra cred with your partners.
I managed Splash Mountain at the Magic Kingdom Park a few years ago. But, I’ve only been on the ride once – when I was 12. First, I never felt like getting wet at work. Second, drops just aren’t my thing. Despite this, I was always up to speed on the show conditions inside the ride. How? Besides my regular morning walk-throughs, I looked to internet. Disney fans are VERY particular about the upkeep of their favorite attractions. They’ll get off a ride and immediately jump online to report what’s not working. Sometimes they see things that you miss when you work there every day. So, I regularly reviewed fan discussion boards, found common themes and sent my team into the attraction to assess and fix the problem.
Your customers may be offering you similar public insight across social media channels, especially if you work in customer service, hospitality or food service. Again, don’t jump to action based on a single Yelp review. Look for common themes in customer commentary and ask informed questions to determine potential learning needs.
What other sources do you use to identify potential learning needs within your organization?
JD Dillon is one of the most prolific authors and speakers in workplace learning today. He has spent 20 years designing learning and performance strategies for respected global organizations, including The Walt Disney Company, Kaplan, Brambles, and AMC Theatres. JD is the founder of LearnGeek and Chief Learning Architect with Axonify.