S4 E7: The Structured Learning & Development Strategy


Podcast November 13, 2023

What a poorly done L&D strategy is, is reactionary. It is short-term. It’s not thinking about the big picture,” says Jen Moff, Vice President of Learning and Development at AIM HR Solutions, in this week’s episode of Human Solutions. Pete Wright sits down with Moff to discuss how HR professionals can design learning and development programs that strategically align with and achieve organizational goals.
An ideal learning and development strategy takes the long view, considering what an organization wants its brand and culture to represent years down the road. It requires dedicating real budget and resources to L&D across all levels of staff, not just selected trainings as needs arise. As Moff explains, “Having a line item in your budget for L&D initiatives, for professional development initiatives, and not just these reactionary, ‘Oh, someone is doing such and such. We need this now’” is the difference between a program that transforms and one that merely checks the box.
To craft an effective strategy, L&D leaders need a view into organizational needs and goals. This requires active partnership and communication across departments. As Wright puts it, “There is no way for you to have an understanding of the organizational needs from L&D unless you are a part of the conversation at a high enough level to be able to hear them.” Moff stresses that executives must actively invite this cross-functional collaboration for it to work.
A well-structured program is ultimately measured by lasting employee behavior change that aligns with corporate values and furthers strategic goals. As Moff explains, “training is a seed that gets planted” but real growth only happens through “integration of what was learned into regular ways of being.” This requires ongoing reinforcement after the training itself ends.
Links & Notes

Transcript:

Pete Wright:
Welcome to Human Solutions, simplifying HR for people who love HR, from AIM HR Solutions on True Story FM. I’m Pete Wright.
Crafting a robust learning and development strategy in today’s diverse workplace is both an art and a science. As an HR pro, you’re at the forefront balancing the unique learning styles of your team with overarching organizational goals. But how do you measure the success of your L&D initiatives? When it comes to choosing the right provider, what criteria should be at the top of your list?
This week, our in-house expert Jen Moff joins me to shed light on these pressing questions from understanding the nuances of individual learning to recognizing the broader organizational context. Jen Moff, it’s time to talk learning and development.

Jen Moff:
All right, Pete, let’s do this.

Pete Wright:
Are you ready for this? Are you ready for this?

Jen Moff:
I was born ready.

Pete Wright:
You bought the seat, but you’ll only need the edge, Jen Moff. Here we are. One of the things that we wanted to talk about when we started this conversation, and that I hope you will illuminate for us is, what does it mean when you have a well-structured, and I’m saying that word in quotes, learning and development strategy, because I feel like its dogs playing poker. I may not know art, but I know what I like. Right? I won’t know it until I see it. What is a well-structured L&D strategy?

Jen Moff:
The thing about what you just said, we have to first focus on what it means to be strategic. There’s a lot of intentionality with strategy, a lot of information that has to be considered with strategy. What a poorly done L&D strategy is, is reactionary. It is short term. It’s not thinking about the big picture. There’s so many things that it’s easy to identify what wrong looks like. Starting from that place, what does right look like? It involves thinking about the long term, what you want to be known for. If you have a culture that embraces learning, it has to show up in where you invest your time for your employees, where you invest your time in planning for this, where you invest your resources of money and energy, so we know it’s about big picture intentionality and where you’re investing your time and your budget.
Having a line item in your budget for L&D initiatives, for professional development initiatives, and not just these reactionary, “Oh, someone is doing such and such. We need this now.” That’s important, and it’s not to say that that’s not part of the strategy is to have resources of time, energy, and money for that, but it’s not exclusively about that. It’s considering the entire organization, the brand, what you want to be known for, and not just one level of employment. It’s all the employees from the top down to the bottom. That’s what a comprehensive intentional strategy needs to do.

Pete Wright:
It’s really interesting to hear you talk about it in this specific language because especially when I think about the history of learning and development organizations, the sort of evolution from, I mean the seventies, eighties, nineties of just traditional classroom learning where you go in and it’s this ongoing just sort of, “Here’s what the curriculum looks like and you’re just going to keep going through this to get to some sort of management level or some sort of organizational defined level.” And now, we’ve sort of evolved into this not quite just in time learning where “Here’s an up skill we need to do right now.” We still have that, but creating lifelong learners out of our employees by becoming learning organizations. Is that a fair assessment?

Jen Moff:
Yes.

Pete Wright:
Is that the sort of thing you’re seeing? What does an ideal case look like for a lifelong learning organization?

Jen Moff:
Oh my goodness, what a fantastic question. Well, it starts with that intentionality and having regular time on the calendar to review and assess what it is that you’re doing as it relates to learning and development and realizing that learning and development encompasses many things. Like you said, it’s not just putting, forgive me, butts in seats in this in-person training. It can be executive coaching, it can be performance related coaching, it can be self-paced or learning, it can be a virtual learning. It’s about leveraging all of the options that are available in today’s learning environments so that you’re seeing the impact shake out in the ways that you want it to shake out, which is ultimately behavior change.

Pete Wright:
How do you assess what the behavior is that needs to change? I’m thinking about an organization that comes to you and says, “Look, we don’t have anything.” When people need training, they come to their HR person and they say, “Hey, I don’t know how to use Excel,” and we send them to a place that teaches them how to use Excel. Do you perform L&D audits? Do you help build a well-structured learning and development program? Is that part of your purview?

Jen Moff:
As an L&D professional, an L&D audit is something that they can do. What that would do is allow you to establish the reality in present, get a benchmark, a baseline. Who knows what things are currently in place, what’s missing, what should be available, what isn’t, what are they doing well, what could be improved upon, what feedback is coming in that’s being addressed? What isn’t being addressed? How can we take things to the next level? And a lot of it comes from regular communication that’s happening internally, whether that’s through surveys that are done, whether that’s through conducting stay interviews, there’s things that managers, supervisors, and HR professionals obviously are doing and finding information.
But what we do with the information is where the rubber meets the road. An audit could be done in-house by an HR professional, or they could hire an external third party to come in and say, “Let’s do some focus groups. Let’s do some interviews. Let’s do some surveys, and gather a bunch of information to inform how we make decisions moving forward.”

Pete Wright:
From there, I want to go back to this strategy piece, because at some point, understanding what you’re capable of offering has to tie directly into the managers and organizational leaders who are delivering on organizational goals. I’m a manager and I just want my team to get the work done, and at some point they’re going to need to get training. Maybe I still look at the L&D department as a customer service organization, and yet the L&D department… I feel like the L&D department has higher goals too. The best initiative of the L&D department is to up level the whole organization. How do you get these two ideas talking to one another?

Jen Moff:
Ah, yes, fantastic question. There’s always going to be competing agendas within a company and different priorities, and sometimes we have to allow certain things to take the backseat. Say you have some agendas that the L&D department has, they want to roll out, and this is internal assuming you have all these systems internally already. Say they want to roll out their own internal coaching program and they would need to hire people to do that. While that’s going on, meanwhile like you said, customer service over here needs some help because they’re getting lots of complaints from customers about how they’re experiencing interacting with frontline sales rep or customer service rep.
So we now, as L&D, have the original initiatives that we wanted to move forward to build out this customer service, to build out this coaching program, but we’ve also got to be able to support other initiatives from other departments internally. From a balancing act, it’s challenging and sometimes what we have to think about is what is going to have the higher impact? What that always comes back to is organizational goals and making sure that we’re always aligned with the same values, aligned toward the mission. If there’s an incongruence, then that’s where we look.

Pete Wright:
You just said something that it’s a sweet spot for me. You are in charge of a learning development organization. At what level of the organizational leadership should you be engaged in ongoing conversations?

Jen Moff:
That’s a hard question to me. I understand why you have a sweet spot there for it. I really think that it depends on the organization because every company’s size is going to inform the different levels internally and what a level means and what responsibilities they have. You could make the argument that everyone’s voice matters, and so you want to be able to collect information from everyone so that you can pass it along and it goes up a ladder so that every voice matters.
At the end of the day, if we’re trying to do that, it can be hard to make decisions too. So the buck, as they say, has to stop here at some point. In my case, being the Vice President of L&D for AIM HR Solutions, I own everything related to training, which could be our public training, which could be our private company trainings, can be our executive coaching and our training needs analysis consultative service, and other things that fall in this umbrella.
I’m part of conversations that make sense because they fall under my purview. Can I add value in other ways and talk about different things related to HR? Of course. But at the end of the day, somebody has to make the decisions. In this case, it’s a vice presidency level. In other organizations, it might just be a management level. I’ve worked in companies where I wasn’t even a manager title and I got to contribute in training ways that I would not have gotten to in other companies. So it really varies in my experience.

Pete Wright:
Well, I think what I’m getting out of that is depending on the organization, your title might vary, but the point is there is no way for you to have an understanding of the organizational needs from L&D unless you are a part of the conversation at a high enough level to be able to hear them.

Jen Moff:
Yes. There’s a thing that’s really important that what we’re circling around is the culture of the organization really has to be one where communication, up, down, left, right, whatever is welcomed. If you’re part of a company or an organization that does not have those channels open and does not want to get feedback, or allow you to contribute, or you don’t feel comfortable contributing, or say you have contributed and it feels like it’s fallen on deaf ears, that’s a challenge in and of itself.

Pete Wright:
A lot of our HR pros listening are working in organizations that don’t have, let’s say, the massive resources of an international conglomerate. And so they work with external L&D providers. There are some fantastic external L&D providers who are providing this service. What makes a great L&D partner a great L&D partner? How do you go about selecting them?

Jen Moff:
That’s so important to talk about because the marketplace as we know is getting more and more saturated. It can be very easy to fall prey to marketing tactics that are very effective, but maybe it’s all just smoke and mirrors. So, how do you see beyond that? Its important that we do our due diligence to look beyond. That means doing our own research and knowing is this organization that I’m considering hiring or partnering with, they have credibility. What do their other clients or customers say about them having worked with them? What types of services do they offer?
Are they actively educating themselves on their own industry? These are things you want to ask. How often are they updating their content? They could have, “I seel this great customer service training,” using the customer service example again, but having very outdated information. If we’re not constantly honing our expertise and passing that along to our clients as L&D professionals, we’re doing them a disservice. Paying attention to what the company is doing, how much they walk the talk of what their own message is. It can’t be the cobbler and his shoes situations.
More often than not, unfortunately, it is, and that’s true for so many industries. What types of trainings are they offering? Do they offer the types of trainings that you need? Or are they just offering to quickly build you something because you’ve asked for it? Do they have experts in that area to draw expertise from to make sure the information is sound? So much training these days is easily just sourced. You can go online and watch a YouTube video and call it training. That’s not training. That is absolutely not training. That is a pet peeve of mine. I’ll pause there.

Pete Wright:
I think we’re getting back around to this question of involvement, and determining what sorts of training becomes training is endemic on the provider to be as involved in those conversations as we can be. How far into the organization? Let’s take your role with AIM as an example. When you’re working with a partner organization, how far into those conversations are you invited? Are you sitting in those meetings with managers, directors, VPs to help you understand the global requirements of L&D? Or is this a phone call, “Hey, we had a meeting and we have an order sheet for you.”

Jen Moff:
You’re hitting on some stuff here. There’s an ideal situation and then there’s what happens nine times out of 10. Ideally, we would act as more of a partner with you. We would spend time with you. We would get to know you. We would understand through different conversations with different people at different levels, having those focus groups, having surveys. We really want to immerse ourselves in your world, and we can’t do that with checking a box on an order form or just saying, “Oh, you said you want customer service training. Okay, here you go.”
Which as I said, nine times out of 10 what ends up happening is a very busy HR professional will come and say, “Hey, I know that I’ve been tasked with this. I need such and such. We need supervisory skills training on communication. There’s been a lot of conflict internally.” I could make a recommendation as my expertise allows, but if there’s not time for them, and that’s a big thing that we see often is how taxed and spread thin HR professionals can be, how do we find that middle ground where we can get the information that we need so that we can make the right recommendations of what they actually would benefit from session-wise, format-wise, or if training really is even the right solution to the situation at hand.
We really want to partner with people that care about doing the best thing for the bigger picture, not this reactionary “Okay, I’ll be your order taker and check a box for you.”

Pete Wright:
It’s like the Door Dash [inaudible 00:17:18] of learning and development.

Jen Moff:
That’s a great analogy.

Pete Wright:
It’s sort of terrifying. You can order from a whole bunch of different restaurants, and they’ll all come to your organization. But sometimes, you have to step back and say, “Why? Why did I do this to myself?”

Jen Moff:
Why?

Pete Wright:
Maybe that’s me ordering yet another killer burger. The real issue is that “why” question though. I think that’s the one that is really sticking in my teeth, that if you’re just an order taker and you don’t have the gift of context, how can you possibly make a thorough recommendation?

Jen Moff:
You can’t. Frankly, you can’t. You can hope, but hope as they say is not a strategy.

Pete Wright:
That’s right.

Jen Moff:
It’s unfortunate, but when I said the ideal situation, I said what happens nine times out of 10, it’s not that anyone’s done anything wrong. I want to be very clear about that too. It’s not that you should feel bad as an HR professional because you don’t have a lot of time and you’re doing it the “right” way or the “perfect” way. We all only have so much time and energy. If you’re working with the right provider, they’re going to understand that and be as efficient as possible to get the right information as quickly as they can. There’s a bit of a middle ground that we have seen that works fairly effectively when there isn’t a lot of time for the full ideal deep dive, but never stepping into the “All right, I’ll be your order taker. Do you want fries with that?” training on customer service.

Pete Wright:
Lets say we’ve solved all the world’s zeal in terms of integrating L&D. How do you actually measure that it’s doing the thing you want it to do? How do you know it works?

Jen Moff:
Behavior change. Unfortunately, it’s really that simple. Training as one tool in our toolbox, the way that I like to think about it is, it’s a seed that gets planted in each one of the attendees or participants. A seed in dirt by itself is the beginning. It’s the foundation. It’s the possibility. After the seed gets planted, it’s up to the organization to hold that seed accountable to its potential now. It needs to be watered. It needs to be fertilized. It needs to be given sun. So, we are there to act as the catalyst for behavior change. We spark awareness. We bring new ideas to the forefront.
We demonstrate that information can be acquired and you can retain it. You can analyze things you didn’t before. You can synthesize information you didn’t before. Training is not a magic pill or a magic bullet, or a magic anything. It is a seed that gets planted. Really, the behavior change is starting from this place. We want to see lasting change over time. Again, that’s about a learning culture and buy-in from the organization. That’s again, the difference between coming in checking a box, coming in order taking, and just assuming this is the thing that’s going to solve all your problems.
It is a huge piece, a necessary piece, an essential piece of a bigger picture and the puzzle provided the strategy of additional support afterward. Maybe it starts out with a training on managing workplace conflict, and then afterwards you provide accountability calls. Maybe you provide coaching for that person that is really needing it. Maybe it involves a group coaching program just for holding accountability and maintaining the information so that there’s integration of what was learned into regular ways of being.

Pete Wright:
I think that’s so great, just the reflection on bearing witness to integration, that training does not happen in a vacuum. Training happens… In fact, you might say training happens long after the actual delivery of training happens. It happens once you demonstrate you’ve learned it on the job.

Jen Moff:
Yes.

Pete Wright:
I think that’s a really useful frame to remember, that it’s so far beyond the classroom. To that end, we’ve got a lot of HR people listening whose role specifically might include learning and development by accident, training and development. But they might not be specialists as you are. How do HR pros support the training and development initiative and push towards this ideal organization that we’re spit-balling here today?

Jen Moff:
In my experience, the most effective way to do that is to keep it as part of your own objectives. It might not be something that’s been tasked to you, but you demonstrate your intention for moving that forward by keeping it front of mind through your own goals. For example, you might not be tasked with making sure that everybody gets supervisory training this year, but you know and you can see this is necessary. Peripherally, you move that forward. You contact a vendor. You set up a shadowing or mentorship program internally.
By doing so, not only are you going to accomplish what you needed to, you’re also going to demonstrate the need and the benefits in the long run. That will show maybe the organization needs that data to say, “Okay, you know what, you’re right. Let’s prioritize this. We’ll give a line item in the budget for it after all.” Then that allows you to seek out external help. It’s about, again, that intentionality and moving it forward, and not letting things fall to the wayside. Again, this is very easy to say because you’re spread very thing potentially. It’s like, “I only have so much time, Jen, something’s got to go.” I get that too.
At the end of the day, training is something that is essential to moving the organization forward. We’re seeing more and more… In fact, Deloitte actually did a study on Gen Z and Millennials, and they show that training, learning and development, professional development is a key reason that they select certain organizations and companies to work for because what we’re finding is as technology and the world changes so quickly, more and more quickly like a snowball rolling downhill, those that recently graduated, the information that they learned in school maybe three, six, nine months, what have you, it’s no longer relevant or it’s become outdated, or a moot point.
These individuals are looking to organizations and companies to pick up the mantel so to speak and begin learning from and within their organizations in a similar fashion that they did when they were going to university or college, or a tech school.

Pete Wright:
Unbelievable that you bring that up right now in this podcast. Three days ago I had a friend send me an email with a screenshot or a picture they took in a training room at a company I worked for 20 years ago, and they were delivering the same training I developed 20 years ago for them.

Jen Moff:
Get out.

Pete Wright:
20 years, Jen. 20 years.

Jen Moff:
Wow.

Pete Wright:
It was the same deck, the same statistics. That just… I don’t even know. I’m sure this is not an isolated example.

Jen Moff:
Oh, I believe it.

Pete Wright:
I am sure that this is a training and development organization that is over-burdened and hasn’t been able to revisit some of this material. This is the point, taking us back to the very beginning, Jen, a well-structured L&D strategy has room for revision.

Jen Moff:
Yes, adaptive analysis is important. That’s something that we do here. We’re finishing up a huge overhaul of all of the materials. Does that mean we’re done though? Guess what, no. Next year, we’re going through it all again because we’ve collected feedback this year from every attendee, from all the facilitators, from the experts internally. We’re taking all that and saying, “Okay, next time, next year we’re going to redo every single one.” Not completely from scratch, but constantly refining and elevating so that it’s always aligned with what’s most current, with what the need is, and where learning is going. It’s the old Blockbuster/Netflix, prior to Netflix being where it is today. You either cling do the past or you embrace the present and adapt.

Pete Wright:
Speaking of adaptation as we wrap up here, we’ve been talking a lot about diversity and equity. How do you adapt a learning development organization for diversity and equity in training? I’m not just talking about I think diversity and equity training, but integrating a mentality that is diverse and equitable into all training. How do you approach that in legacy L&D departments?

Jen Moff:
What you just said I think kind of hit on something peripherally. It’s not just about DE&I sessions. It’s about looking at every session through that lens, looking about the format in that lens, looking about the modality through that lens. It’s placing DE&I as center and one of the core values. Because as we know, what values do is help us guide decision making. This is what our North Star is, so to speak. It says, “Okay, if you value authenticity, if you value team work, if you value community,” whatever your company values are, you’re going to move towards those things rather than away. In order to make sure that the entire L&D strategy has that as a guidepost, it needs to be one of the departmental objectives or values so that decision making is always through that lens. Case in point, we are going to be developing some in-house training for our facilitation team on facilitation skills, because who doesn’t always need to brush up?

Pete Wright:
Yeah, for sure.

Jen Moff:
Just like I said, always refining. Us too. I was sharing with a colleague earlier how we could easily just cherry-pick the run-of-the-mill, like “Oh, we need to make sure you project to the back of the room,” and all of those kinds of things. I said, so much of what we’re seeing is related to DE&I, related to wellness, and factoring in the way the world is moving towards work. Maybe that’s about being a little bit more trauma-informed in how we facilitate a session, being more equitable in how we facilitate a session. Using those things to guide all decision making rather than just again checking the box, “Okay, we’ve got our DE&I training. Woo-hoo,” that to me is more performative rather than authentic.

Pete Wright:
Jen, there’s a part of me that feels like you and I are going to do a spinoff podcast all about learning and development and values, and things like that. Until that day, which I will be looking forward to eagerly, what do you want to tell us about what you do in terms of training and development at AIM HR? We’ve already sort of alluded to it in our conversation, but give us the specifics.

Jen Moff:
Yeah, sure. L&D has really grown here in the last two years, and I’m very proud of that. We’ve kept some things that we do well. We have public training, and that goes throughout the calendar year. Anybody anywhere can take these things at any time. We have different courses ranging from our tried and true supervisor sessions to HR sessions, and more recently as we’ve seen the need, workplace wellbeing is the new course. Next year, we’ll be having a course specifically for young professionals, and a new one for HR professionals called Employee Engagement.
There’s a lot of different opportunities for different levels of employees to get support through our public training. In fact, there’s one called C Suite Circle for Women, and it’s a really great mastermind training opportunity for those executives and owners to get together and collaborate together. That’s one channel. We also offer private training that can be done both virtually and in person. All of the same courses and individual sessions can be coordinated to whatever your unique needs are. We curate a list of sessions based off of the strategy and intentionality that we talked about earlier today. We also have two different types of coaching that we’ll be offering in the next year. We found executives need a specific style of coaching, but everyone else does too. Both of those are available to you.
Finally, we’re offering a consultative service to help people navigate the road that is that training needs analysis. If you aren’t sure what to do, we have dedicated professionals who are experts at doing that audit to learn as much as they can about what you are doing today, what you want to do tomorrow, and many moons down the road so you have a proper strategy for the next two years on training. I’m very excited about that. Lots of other things that we’ve got percolating in the background, but we have a great team of 15, 16 different facilitators, five different coaches. Just really grateful for all of the amazing people that we have here that are really just passionate about providing information, empowering companies and individuals, and creating that change that we all know is important in business today.

Pete Wright:
So wonderful. Jen, thank you so much for sitting down with me and drawing a little bit on the well-structured L&D strategy. I so appreciate any amount of time I get to spend mulling over these issues with you.

Jen Moff:
Thank you for having me, Pete.

Pete Wright:
And thank you everyone for downloading and listening to this show. We appreciate your time and your attention. As always, you can find the links and notes about this show at AIMHRSolutions.com or just swipe up in your show notes anywhere you listen to your favorite podcasts. On behalf of Jen Moff, I’m Pete Wright, and we’ll see you next week right here on Human Solutions, simplifying HR for people who love HR.

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