Do you have the juice?
No, not the juice in the graphic. I’m referring to the influence needed to get things done.
In real life, many L&D pros don’t have enough juice. This makes the job incredibly difficult in a complex organization. When it comes to large-scale learning ecosystem evolution, just forget about it if you don’t have the juice.
So the question becomes “How do you get the juice?” While there’s a pile of tactics you can use to foster trust and influence across your business, I always start with a simple recommendation. It’s number one on my recent suggested L&D strategy list: Solve a small but meaningful problem.
Remember that the juice flows in all directions within your organization. This means you need more than executive buy-in—it’s great and all, but it ultimately won’t get you where you need to go. You need frontline employee buy-in, too. So, rather than try to improve your influence with everyone at the same time, start with the people who really know what it’s like to do the job every day.
What is a “small but meaningful problem,” and how do you solve it as an L&D pro? Here are three examples from my past corporate learning roles that each had huge impact on my future ability to get things done.
The conference room map
How many times have you been unable to find a meeting room? This can be super challenging if you work on a massive campus or visit satellite offices. I experienced this problem during the first few weeks in one past role. The room names were all very similar, the rooms lacked any identifying characteristics, and they were often hidden around corners. I was constantly bugging people or running up and down stairs after walking into the wrong room.
One day, I made a comment about my conference room problem to a peer. She casually showed me an Excel spreadsheet she had made complete with room names, locations, capacities, and equipment. Eureka! Problem solved, except she was the only person with access to the spreadsheet. As is my nature, I immediately posted the map to the location’s Yammer group. Within days, people in the elevator were calling me “Conference Room Guy.” Fast forward a few weeks. When I came calling on these previously unknown folks, I had an established reputation as a helpful partner—just because I shared the conference room map.
The sales list
Much of my early time in L&D was spent developing content. I shot video, built eLearning modules, and constructed PowerPoints. One day, I had an offhand discussion with a member of the sales team. He mentioned a list salespeople were required to reference during every call, and that it was often out-of-date. This caused confusion for potential customers and frustration for employees. I wasn’t familiar with the sales process, so I started asking around about the list. It turned out that only one person, from the home office, was allowed to update the list.
Looking to be helpful during my early days on the job, I called the person to ask about the process. She acknowledged the frustration and pointed to the company communication process as the real problem. Apparently, sending an email with the new version to the entire organization required planning and approval. If she could push the information directly to employees, the list could be updated every day. Fast forward a few months, and the sales list became the cornerstone of my shared knowledge initiative (aka the wiki). Once the list was digital, she could update it with ease, and employees had immediate access to new information. Seventy thousand pages were eventually published in the wiki during my time with the company, but it was the sales list that demonstrated the power of shared knowledge and triggered immediate engagement in the new platform.
The comment box
My organization was going through a near-constant state of change. Processes were in flux. Products were being added and changed. And employees were expected to keep up and deliver on expectations. However, every time a major change was implemented, mass confusion would erupt on the day of. Regardless of how much training or documentation was provided, employees would get confused, managers would provide misinformation, and customers would suffer. Sure, my learning content was being completed and receiving positive feedback, but it wasn’t solving the day-of problems.
After hearing the complaints during project after project, I made a simple suggestion: What if, during the days leading up to and following a major change, employees were told to go to a specific wiki page and ask their questions via the comment box? At the top of the page, we could place the hours when a subject matter expert would be available to answer in real time. This would eliminate misinformation and reduce the need for duplicate streams of questioning. And, once a question was answered, we could use the new details to improve our reference information.
On the first day of using this idea, we received over 200 comments. Everyone received an answer immediately. No email chains. No games of telephone. We established a timely, direct connection between SME and employee. Within a week, the reference information for the project was so much stronger that the commenting subsided. We learned how to better support the next project, all because we let employees ask questions in the open and reserved time with a subject matter expert.
So what is your “small but meaningful problem”? What do you constantly hear employees discussing, and what can you do about it using your L&D resources? Solving one small problem will demonstrate your willingness to help and give you some of the juice—the influence—you’ll need to address bigger challenges in the future.