What motivates L&D to get fit?

by | Aug 7, 2018 | Articles, Featured, General, Interviews

Some avoid it like the plague, many are ambivalent and others embrace it fully.  Whatever our position, we can’t avoid the L&D ‘F’ Word.

Some avoid it like the plague, many are ambivalent, and others embrace it fully.  Whatever our position, we can’t avoid the L&D ‘F’ Word.

We’re talking about the fit word!

Are L&D future fit – ready for times of accelerated business change?  Are our programmes and campaigns fit for purpose in the face of shifting consumer expectations?  Are we improving engagement with online offerings that are fit for consumption?  Are we grabbing the attention (and commitment) of business leaders?  It’s clear that 2018 is the year that L&D need to be ‘fit’ – in every sense of the word!

The ongoing role of L&D and our readiness for change has been a hot topic in workshops and webinars I’ve been running for the last few years.  It is clear that L&D leaders around the globe have a vision about what a fit L&D organisation needs to deliver.  Personalisation, agility, business impact, collaboration and performance are just a few of the regularly occurring themes and aspirations that are used by the community to describe what fitness looks like.

We also know how to talk about getting fitter.  We need more performance consulting and less order taking.  Fewer courses and more resources.  Less old-style classroom, more new style blends and campaigns.  A big dose of data analytics and better user experience.  These are all discussed with increasing frequency as the secrets of success.

Our thirst for knowledge about how L&D can get fitter is fuelled by inspiring stories we hear from high performing learning teams at conferences and events.  Our own Towards Maturity research over the past 14 years has highlighted exactly how L&D can get fitter – what we need to need to start, what we need to let go of and what we need to continue in order to become a top performing learning team.

Knowing how to get fit and getting fit are very different!

Despite knowing a lot and agreeing that change needs to happen, we see very little progress year on year.  Early findings from this year’s Towards Maturity Health Check don’t promise a breakthrough any time soon, either.  It’s clear that in our L&D lives, as in our personal lives, knowing how to get fit and actually getting fitter are two very different concepts.

This thought has been challenging me – on every level – for the past two weeks.  From a health perspective I understand why I need to adapt my diet, what habits I need to cut down on and what exercise I need to take up.  Knowing about something and doing something about it are often poles apart.

Closing the gap requires willpower, a compelling external push or ideally a bit of both.

What motivates us to change?

Motivation is the not so secret ingredient that shifts us from talking about what we know, to taking what we know and putting it into practice.

What motivates us to get fit?  I was mulling this over when I bumped into Andrew Jacobs in Yorkshire recently (as you do!) and I was keen to get his perspective.  I’ve known Andrew for many years and I am continually in awe of the personal transformation that has been taking place before our eyes!

Each time we meet we talk about the steps he has taken to get fit.  Each time I seen him, he has dropped a few more pounds or run a bit further.  Each time he sees me, I have added a few more pounds and got a bit slower!  Of course, I have my excuses, but I am continually intrigued by Andrew’s journey.

It seemed fitting to check in with him to explore what motivates us to really change at a personal level and the implications for time starved L&D leaders who want to be fit for the future.

One small relevant goal at a time

When it comes to getting fit, intrinsic motivation is so important. Andrew sees his fitness motivation as a personal challenge rather than a competitive sprint to keep up with others.  It was a challenge that he literally took one step at a time, setting short term goals to continually improve performance.  Over a period of years each of those individual steps have added up to a life changing transformation.

‘No-one tells L&D you are going to die!’

However, that personal motivation needed to be switched on, and for Andrew, it took a health scare to do it!

But no-one tells L&D that they are going to die!  There are plenty concerned that we will soon lack relevance, that we struggle to demonstrate value and are seen as a cost centre or that we are doomed to live our lives out in a compliance cul-de-sac.   These concerns have been around for at least 15 years (we’ve been tracking them!) but still we are here.  We know that we need to change but are not dead yet, so maybe tomorrow!

Waiting for that health scare in business might be a little drastic.  So how do we build that intrinsic motivation within L&D today that helps us to shift from old to new, from push to pull?

Levers for change

Andrew referenced the concept of diffusion of innovation to outline four levers relevant to both personal health and building L&D fitness:

  1. The lateral lever – when we understand what our peers are doing it creates a framework of reference. Their experience helps us understand the potential, what is realistic and what are the best next steps to take
  2. The temporal lever – change needs to be at the right time for individuals to make a meaningful connection
  3. Physical lever – something needs to happen to you. For health, it might be that doctor’s warning.  In L&D terms, it might be a loss of resources or a change in the organisation that accelerates the need for change
  4. The hierarchical lever – is there an expectation from others or even permission and authority to change?

These levers made sense to me and we certainly see them at play through our annual Towards Maturity Health Check.  This year, we’ve been encouraging participants to pin down their reasons for taking the Health Check and many are driven by the lateral lever – what are others doing and how do we compare?

We know that a straight benchmark is not enough to drive the change needed for us to get fitter.  It starts to make sense when we use the outcomes to identify the small changes we need to make on our personal journey.  Working with organisations at a deeper level, we see three levers –  timing, permission and a direct intervention – more powerful in changing L&D behaviour.

Leveraging the opportunity ahead

Direct interventions provide that external kick that helps us get moving.  When an intervention is out of our control, there are two routes that we can take.  We can use them as an opportunity not to change, harnessing a plethora of excuses (my budget/team has been cut, my managers don’t support me). Alternatively, we can use them to kick start a determined energy to overcome.  We certainly see that the high performing learning teams are typically those that are low on resources but high on innovation.

When we don’t have to cope with something beyond our control, it’s often easier not to change at all, despite the fact that we know we could be fitter.  In those instances, seeking out a direct intervention that gets us up and running can kick start our motivation for change.

Some of my colleagues within the wider Emerald Group are currently in the middle of a major fitness campaign because they have chosen to cycle from our offices in Wimbledon, to Edinburgh, via Bingley in Yorkshire, to raise money for the Social Mobility Foundation in early September.  A cause greater than their own circumstances has created motivation to get fitter!

I have seen L&D leaders do the same – harnessing an initiative taking place in the wider world of their organisation to kickstart the fitness regime that they need to apply to their own teams.  I have seen a company focus on ‘Customer First’ or ‘Agile’ or ‘Smarter Working’ harnessed by L&D teams to drive successfully drive their own change.

L&D – future fit and ready for action

Being fit and getting fit provokes a reaction in most of us.  For me personally, the ‘Fit’ word sometimes grates and occasionally is offensive, constantly reminding me that I am not where I need to be.  For L&D, we might be excited about the changes needed ahead, or we may be fed up of the continual reminders. What is clear from 15 years of evidence is that L&D fitness, driving the high performing learning organisation, is not a luxury for the few but a place of agility, innovation and excitement that delivers real business impact.

That’s a place where I want to be!

I’d love your thoughts – what motivates L&D to get fitter?

A few links:

Compare your L&D strategy with the Towards Maturity Learning Health Check

Compare your L&D strategy

Review your L&D strategy to discover your strengths and opportunities for improvement with the Towards Maturity Learning Health Check.

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