“What’s holding L&D back is actually L&D”

Posted on Feb 24, 2016

Learning strategies

Award-winning learning professional Dave Buglass reveals why significant culture change is on the horizon for L&D. Dave Buglass at Learning Technologies 2016

Warning: Dave Buglass speaks his mind.

He’s both a champion and critic of Learning and Development, and for more than two decades he’s been a leading advocate of the people who really matter, the learners.

As Head of Organisational Capability and Development at Tesco Bank, Buglass has proved that learning done well can make a significant difference.

He has won a host of top industry accolades including CLO of the Year at the 2015 Learning Awards and spoke at conferences in the UK and beyond.

Sponge caught up with him at Learning Technologies 2016, where he returned as a conference speaker after a long break.

What’s changed in the 20 years you’ve been working in L&D?

It was in pursuit of an answer to this question that I returned to the Learning Technologies conference this year. I’d not attended for more than a decade, back in the heady days of CD-Rom, the end of multi-media and the start of elearning.

For me, I think the biggest fundamental change in the last 20 years I have worked in this space has been less about the technology and the growth of the internet and more about the change of the consumer, the learner. Understanding learners as consumers is one of the biggest challenges we as L&D professionals face, and we still haven’t quite got our heads around it. Indeed, HR has a lot to learn and change if it’s to develop compelling colleague propositions.

So I returned to Learning Technologies out of curiosity to see what some of the technology vendors, suppliers and speakers were saying about what they are doing in terms of dealing with the change in the learner profile.

So what is holding L&D back from getting to the point when the learner really is at the centre of everything?

I recently spoke at an event where I actually challenged the L&D professionals in the audience with a similar question and suggested that what’s holding L&D back is actually L&D. Without wishing to be disrespectful, I think some L&D professionals have held themselves in quite high regard, to the point that they might be missing an opportunity to educate the rest of the HR profession around what we do, how we treat learners and how we can spread that across the wider organisation. 

After all, out of all the departments in HR, L&D are the ones that get more instant feedback than any other function. Therefore, I think the biggest thing holding us back is probably ourselves and our willingness to change. We need to increase our ability to open our minds wider, in terms of what is going on outside L&D.

The biggest change for me personally is the whole environment in which we work and play. When I started two decades ago, work was work and play was play. I think as a consumer today those worlds are very much more integrated, more and more it is ‘Work the Way We Live’. I think we need to bring some of that external thinking around what we do with our customers into L&D.

So how do we achieve that and bring in more external consumer focus into L&D activity?

One of the things we’ve done very successfully at Tesco Bank is to work with our digital customer experience and design team, the people responsible for developing our customer-facing website and apps.  My guys have been working closely with a number of colleagues on the customer side to look at customer segmentation to see if they can bring that into colleague segmentation. 

As L&D professionals, we are perhaps all guilty of building solutions that are one-size-fits-all but by learning from our marketers and digital experts, we’ve started to look at how we can personalise solutions that fit more closely with learners’ needs. We’ve learnt from what we do with external customers to help improve what we do for our colleagues.

What part should L&D vendors play to help support this change?

It’s an interesting question and it would be easy for me to criticise the learning vendors and claim the problem is all down to them but I would imagine a number of learning vendors are already looking at how they can provide better content and better technology to use inside our organisations. 

I would imagine a number of learning professionals who deal with vendors are probably giving out quite stale, dated statements of work and not allowing the vendors to come in and speak to learners, and I think they could probably add a lot of value to internal learning teams in terms of educating them about what they do to develop their own products and systems.

I would encourage more learning professionals to open their ears and talk to the vendors a bit more. It isn’t just about responding to statements of work, it is about working in partnership to understand the problem in detail. One of the biggest things that we’ve done recently is to actually look at how we let vendors in to co-create content with the people who will ultimately end up using it, just like we do with our consumer products.

You wrote the foreword for the most recent Towards Maturity Industry Benchmark Report , Embracing Change. Do you think 2016 is going to be the year of change for L&D as a whole?

I was highly flattered to be asked to write the foreword and it was actually quite a challenging thing to do but really exciting. 

I took part in the very first Benchmark Report and now having been involved in this one, it appears that not many things have changed. 

However, I actually do think this is the year when we could make a significant culture change within internal HR functions as a whole, not just L&D.

I think the most consumer-centric part of HR is learning so I think this is a massive opportunity for learning professionals and learning organisations to influence the wider colleague landscape.

Finally, I would like to think that instead of the Learning Technologies conference next year, we will have a new event where the learning tech guys, the resourcing guys, the reward guys and the HR professionals come together to see how they can transform things for colleagues.  Perhaps that is when we really embrace change, when we have a Colleague Experience conference.

Subscribe for the forthcoming Sponge Elearning Podcast interview with Dave Buglass and other leading learning thinkers and professionals.

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