10 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started My L&D Career

My first answer (that I remember) to the question “what do you want to be when you grow up” is a ballerina. I don’t know why because I have always been very uncoordinated and missed a sense of music. Yet, I have always been pretty good at teaching others. I remember growing up as the […]

My first answer (that I remember) to the question “what do you want to be when you grow up” is a ballerina. I don’t know why because I have always been very uncoordinated and missed a sense of music.

Yet, I have always been pretty good at teaching others. I remember growing up as the oldest child amongst the neighborhood kids. I would often help them with their homework, essays, and exams.

It was my first year of college when I realized that I wanted to pursue a career in education. Yet, I was already on the track for a serious job in finance. So in the first two years of my corporate life, I pursued this path. Somehow, later on, learning squeezed itself back into my life and I am very grateful for it.

For the last 5 years, I have been doing corporate L&D which has been a blessed and sometimes bumpy journey. Without being dramatic, let me tell you that I did not know what I was getting myself into!

Without further ado, hope you have buckled your seat belt for the 10 things I wish I knew before I started my L&D career. I hope you will empathize, laugh with me and get a bit of inspiration from these insights.

1. L&D is more than training

Myth 1: Learning = Training

Let me paint a very common picture for us all:

You: What are your L&D needs?

Them: Excel training 😈

[Insert picture of me flipping desk]

Does this bug you? Did I push a button?

Well, it bugs me and I am a hypocrite because “learning = training” made sense for me before. Now that I know better I get a bit worked up. But I am aware that it is my responsibility to help my organization see beyond the training trap.

Tip: Don`t tell them! Ask them!

How do they learn to play a board game now as adults? Do they expect to know everything from reading the manual?

If reading only the manual is not enough to become a master, how could only 2 days of Excel training turn them into Excel gurus?

The 40 years old 70/20/10 model is widely popular because it makes sense. I would not bet my right arm on the percentages. Still, it is crucial to make learners aware of all the learning elements and equipping them with all the necessary tools.

Learning needs to go beyond the classroom. This is a principle to keep in mind by both learners & educators alike.

So how can L&D design experiences that encourage learning outside the traditional boundaries?

Myth 2: To be in L&D you need to deliver training

I was picturing L&D professionals, like motivational speakers, witty and confident. But in the end, I learned that some of us are these natural extroverts and can fill in those roles. But some are also creative tech-savvy introverts.

And that’s fine. Because there’s a wide range of jobs in L&D: the trainer, the facilitator, the instructional designer, the project manager, the consultant, or the LMS expert. In some roles you might even have to wear many of these hats, inter-changing them.

Tip 2: Do not run away from L&D because you do not see yourself as the public speaker. You are missing out on a cool field with lots of interesting career paths.

2. With great power comes great responsibility

Can you tell that my favorite superhero is Spiderman? If not, I am more of a geek than you. I remember this line about responsibility that Uncle Ben shared with Peter Parker. It stayed with me.

I am not saying that we L&D professionals are superheroes (even though we kind of are). Yet, we should be role models when it comes to learning.

I love being in learning because I love learning! You love L&D when it is not your job but your lifestyle.

Getting down to practical things, ask yourself:

  • Am I making time for learning? How much?
  • How often do I ask/ provide feedback & feedforward?
  • What am I sharing in my professional interactions?
  • Am I learning with/from others?
  • Am I aware of my strong points, learning points, and how I want to develop?

Tip: The rule of thumb should be: If I am preaching it I should be practicing it.

Do not forget, you are the best advertisement for your L&D!

3. An impactful L&D has a chair at the table

Let’s get down to business! We L&D people can sometimes have our heads in the clouds. And you know what, we need it, it is hard to be creative when facing reality every moment.

But to create anything relevant you need to consider your client first. This is well known. We know that for any project the client is a priority and we treat them as such. We ask questions, we provide proposals and we expect feedback.

What I found more challenging is to shift my mindset a bit and view the company as my client. I realized that I was working from a skewed view without having a broad image in mind. I would get excited about a certain project and get frustrated when it was not received well.

My mistake was assuming I understand the feelings and challenges of my colleagues.

I challenge you to ask some of the following questions:

  • What is your company’s strategy?
  • What is your market share?
  • What are the plans for 2022?
  • What’s the business model? How does the company make money? What about its costs?
  • Which are the main activities that turn inputs into outcomes? How do employees perceive them?
  • What does your industry look like? Where is it going? Which are the other big players? What can you learn about them?
  • Are they about expansion and adding new revenue streams? Or about profitability and optimization?

An HR leader should be a business leader first and an HR person second. It is important for any leading role in the organization to have a stronghold on business acumen.

Tip: Listen, observe, ask, walk in their shoes, shadow your colleagues, make field visits, attend their operational meetings, and ask questions to make sure you have a good understanding of what’s happening..

4. L&D is not only about people

L&D is and should be a human-centered function. To be that you will need more than to be a people person.

In my first year in L&D, I dusted out my finance knowledge, and oh boy did it help! L&D is also about crunching numbers, budgeting, tracking, KPIs & metrics. It is not always fun but some finance for non-finance will come in handy.

Let us piggyback on the previous point. I was talking about the responsibility of being in contact with the business. Financial literacy is an essential part.

HR as a whole and L&D play a crucial role in bringing value to the organization by hiring, training, and developing the people. If L&D also understands the finance behind, it can be more responsive to the business needs and ensure efficient use of resources.

L&D works with budgets. We forecast, plan, use and adjust them. The quality of our work is also  influenced by our level of financial knowledge. Giving an example: Let’s say you’re planning to hold 3 excel sessions in Q4 of the year. The session in December cannot happen and you would like to postpone it to next year. The accrual accounting principle, says that any expense is registered in the month it happens. This means that if the session happens in January it will affect your next year’s budget.

Tip: Do you have a finance department? If yes, ask them to share some of the knowledge.

Another skill that I found essential for L&D was project management. This might not come as an obvious need, but learning initiatives and projects have a lot of common traits.

Designing a learning solution involves planning, organizing, resource management, resource allocation (time, people, budget), stakeholder management, and risk management. L&D needs to keep in mind the client and this works well with a project management mindset.

What helped me:

  • Keeping my inbox clean & organized, everything in its folder & leaving only the to be done emails in my inbox
  • Using an app like Trello or MS Teams Planner
  • Dabbling into some agile tools like personas & retrospectives
  • Having a co-worker that was much better at project management and learning from her

5. Unlearn

I did not realize how hard I was fighting against changing things until I changed my job. In my new job, I embraced trying new things because I was not tied up with a previous way of working.

I now know why I was having a hard time letting go. I created them and put a piece of me in each one. Changing meant losing something for me. Facing that something is not working anymore does not mean invalidating my former work. It means having the ability to learn and unlearn. 

This is vital especially nowadays, in this volatile, changing world. Everyone needs to learn how to unlearn so they can move further. Unlearning means letting go, moving away, and reframing our mindset and behaviors that maybe once were effective, but now are hindering our success.

The challenge is that we may be attached, we do not want to lose our comfort. We are afraid of making mistakes or sometimes we do not see that we could change things.

What to do?

  • Acknowledge where you might be stuck in doing/thinking in the same way for a long time.
  • Reflect on why you are doing things this way, what are the constraints. Does it make sense in your current context to keep things like they are or can you change something?
  • Start small.
  • Change your “location”. If you move away from the location you learned something it will be easier to let go and embrace new views.
  • It does not mean leaving your job. You can try taking that one thing you want to unlearn to a different project or different team than what you are used to.
  • Learn from your opposite. I love this! In my former team, one of the reasons we were thriving was the fact that we were very different. We had different personalities and sets of skills. For example, I learned from my teammate how to be more organized and tech-savvy when I had none of those.

Little reflection time:

What is one thing you have been doing in the same way for the past 2 years? Do you have it in mind? If yes, try applying the points above

Try it & let it go! [Spontaneously burst into singing Frozen]

6. Not everyone loves learning

Oh, did this hurt! I took it personally when someone seemed uninterested in my session or if I was not getting the wanted response to an initiative. I learned that it is fine, not everyone will be as excited as me about the new podcast, learning program, gamified experience.

Do remember you do not know what that person is carrying right now and you are at least a bit biased.

Tip 1: Tell them & ask them

Tell them that you have noticed they do not seem involved & ask them what is the issue. You might be surprised. My top answer was: “I am waiting for a response from my dad, my mum is in surgery”.

Tip 2: Involve them

Of course, you think that project is cool, you created it! You also love the crooked Ikea Billy bookcase, not because it is the best but because you made it.

Ask for their input & feedback from the get-go of the project, ask for their needs before a training, work with their examples, ask them to choose when to have the break, make it their bookcase!

7. Lose the PowerPoint

Ok, hear me out. PowerPoint is great, but… it has become the only solution to all the problems.

  • It is predictable. Each training session comes hand in hand with a PowerPoint presentation. Still, there are multiple tools for visual facilitation: Miro, Mural, 7Taps, Canva, Mentimeter, AhaSlides, and even Notion can be an option.

Tip: Next time you design a training session ask yourself, is PowerPoint the only solution?

  • It hinders connection. In the online world, it is even harder to keep participants connected & engaged. PowerPoint is not helping in increasing connection, because it was not built with interaction in mind. At the same time, it is hard for your participants to focus on what you are saying when the presentation is competing for their attention.

Tip: Use your PowerPoint only when you need to showcase something, number, plans, etc.

Once you are done, close it & allow participants to see each other and connect.

8. Get friendly with feedback

Hello, feedback my old friend! Feedback is like a dog that seems scary at first, but friendly and nice once you get used to it. I was dreading receiving feedback, but I now expect it and find it necessary. Why? Well in my humble opinion feedback is the most powerful development tool. It is about your work and it can have an immediate, real impact.

How did I tame the beast?

  • I asked for feedback. It feels more empowering to be the one requesting feedback, you feel more in control and ready for it;
  • I asked for feedback about my work 🙅🏼‍♀️not = feedback about me as a person. This was probably the hardest to integrate but it came with time and therapy;
  • See feedback as a gift. First, when you receive a gift you say….. thank you! If you like & need the gift you will use it. If not you will leave it around the house until it gets into the donation pile. Nobody forces you to use it. The same with feedback, I appreciate it when someone takes the time. I do not have to agree or act on feedback if I do not feel it is relevant for me.
  • Feedback is not always bad. Because I learned this little trick, understanding that most times feedback is positive, I now use it as a tool to boost my morale.

Tip: make a board of “Great Feedback” that you can always go, check out and feel better

9. It doesn’t have to be perfect

I have a hard time admitting how long it took me to fully grasp that 80% done is good enough. Dotting the “i’s” and crossing the “t`s” was normal for me. This caused pressure, frustration, and delays in delivery. Also seeking perfection is not a healthy environment for learning!

Making mistakes, experimenting, testing, prototyping comes with more teachable moments. It fosters a safe place and brings more pleasure to your work.

Let me paint a picture as well. If you send that project only when you deem it as perfect, you might find yourself in an unpleasant situation where the client had something very different in mind. Now you face frustration because you need to redo everything. Nobody wins!

Tip: Fight the urge to send a project when it is “done”, when you have spent 1 h picking all the right colors. Instead, send the 1st draft, ask for feedback, go back to the drawing board

10. Be the dumbest person in the room

When I first became a trainer I was terrified of questions. What if I did not know the answer? I was fighting this impostor syndrome and trying my best to learn everything! It was liberating when I embraced the “I don`t know yet”. It opened many doors and learning opportunities for me.

As an L&D professional, you do not have to know it all, learning is and should be a constant in our lives. In this way, I wish you’ll find that amazing room where “you are the dumbest” cause it will be full of learning!

Tip: You don’t know something do not be afraid to reach out to other professionals.

You might find someone with the exact knowledge you need or someone that has no clue, just like you, but is willing to learn alongside.

Conclusion

To conclude, it was an absolute pleasure to write this article (which I have never done before). I love reflecting on some of my favorite lessons from the last 5 years in L&D. I hope you are leaving with some inspiration and a sort of camaraderie feeling that you are not alone.