What I learned from one year of Offbeat

1-year

If I look back at when I joined L&D I have to admit I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I knew that I liked the idea of helping others (both individuals and organizations) experience the joy of learning and reach their potential. But I knew nothing about how hard and yet […]

If I look back at when I joined L&D I have to admit I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I knew that I liked the idea of helping others (both individuals and organizations) experience the joy of learning and reach their potential. But I knew nothing about how hard and yet exciting this mission is.

I was lucky enough to extend my mission outside of my full-time job by building Offbeat in the past year. I mention my own luck because out of my desire of sharing resources with L&D peers I also got to learn a lot, like aaa lot. This article is mostly about the L&D know-how I gained by reading, meeting people, attending events, writing, and ultimately putting the best L&D resources together on a weekly basis. But it’s also about what I learned about resilience, compound interest, anxiety, mental health, and motivation.

It’s going to be a long one, so brace yourselves.

How I grew as a person by building Offbeat

I’ve inherited my father’s desire and passion to build something from nothing, so I always wanted to see something come to life out of my own hands. I also think many of us want this, for different reasons. An innate desire to solve a problem, a need for freedom, the nowadays flashiness of being an entrepreneur. Having these thoughts feels courageous, passionate, exciting. Actually doing it, well, that’s another story.

How putting in the time pays off

I’ve first heard about compound interest from my boyfriend a couple of years ago. Just to have a bit of background, if you’d look for a definition, you’ll learn the term comes from investment:

Compound interest (or compounding interest) is the interest on a loan or deposit calculated based on both the initial principal and the accumulated interest from previous periods.

Although the financial side of the concept is pretty interesting, I’m no expert. So we’re not going to talk finance, but we’re going to talk life. Because compound interest can apply to so many areas of our life, and this year, I’ve seen it in action. So instead of defining it as a financial term, I’ve looked for another definition:

Being consistent with small things leads to big things down the road.

The first Offbeat issue I ever sent reached the inbox of 46 people. The second one, I think around 90 people. Pretty far from my goal of reaching all L&Ds in this world through Offbeat. Some of us are results-oriented, and we expect them asap. We expect to master skills right about when we start to learn, we expect to get fit after our first week of exercising, we expect to reach millions of subscribers, users, customers when we launch our projects.

And the stories surrounding ourselves don’t help at all with building resilience and patience. Hearing about the “overnight” successes of different Silicon Valley start-ups gives us a wrong recipe for achievement. Most probably, those you read about in magazines were not overnight successes even though they appear to be so. And even if 0.00000001% of them are, they are literally 1 in a million. The other 99.99999999% involved consistency and resilience. Like most things in life.

When I was just starting with Offbeat, I was anxious that such a small number of people were subscribing, and even a smaller number were enjoying it and sending over feedback. I could have quit (like I did with so many other projects). But what I did instead was trying to do my best every week, and soon enough I started seeing the results. People were sharing Offbeat on LinkedIn, mentioning it as a source of trust, and naming it “useful”. Little by little, the audience is growing, the feedback is coming, and Offbeat gets closer to its vision.

Have I reached my goal? Definitely not. Have I seen progress? Definitely yes.

Being aware of how compound interest works, helped a lot with consistency and resilience. And it not only helped with Offbeat, but with my piano lessons, my role as a people manager, and other goals I have in life.

To reach goals, you need more than a plan, you need a system

I always fell into the trap of setting these ambitious goals either at the beginning of a new year or on my birthdays. What followed is history. Either I forgot about them, or I was just frustrated that I had no time to accomplish them all.

I think Offbeat was my first proof that goals alone are not enough. You need a system. Mine was simple. Research resources at least 20 minutes at the end of each day, put together the newsletter on Saturdays, send it over on Sundays. I’m sure there are some theories about this somewhere in a book talking about habits. I’m not sure if I’ve got this from there or just by doing it and seeing how well this works for me, but I’ve learned my lesson.

No more lists of goals. At least not without a system in place for each of them.

When the system is not enough, reflect on your why

There are so many days when I just want to lay down, enjoy a movie or a walk in the park. I won’t lie to you. On those days, I just don’t want to sit down and do the work.

Right then, when resilience, passion, or my system don’t work, I remember why I’ve started this and why I keep going on: to have a bit of an impact on Offbeat follower’s careers as L&Ds. This is my why, and although I’ve heard and read before about how important this is when you start a project, I’ve never felt it as powerful as right now.

And it is all crowned by mental health

But sometimes everything fails. Especially if you’re having a bad day, or you’re sick, or something happened that makes you sad.

And on those days, it’s ok to just let go. Take days off, relax, read something non-related to your job, spend some time alone, or with your family and friends. Because as long as you’re not ok, you won’t be able to fully enjoy what you’re doing, the work you do won’t be as useful and as impactful as you want it to be.

In the long run, the best way to go is to incorporate moments of relaxation (whatever that means for you), silence, peace, and togetherness on the go. It took me a couple of breakdowns to come to this, but I finally realized it’s ok to read silly books, it’s ok to spend the night playing games with my friends or family. It’s ok to not always focus on my goals.

Without all these lessons, I wouldn’t have gotten through this year, hence, I wouldn’t have learned everything I’m about to lay down. So let’s dive into the technical know-how I gained.

1. Behavioural Science

Although it’s the field I’m starting with, I must confess is the one I’m still less familiar with. I think the biggest lesson for me was the importance of understanding human behavior as an L&D. From how people behave as a status-quo, to how behaviors shift as a result of learning.

If we take a step back and look to our goal as L&Ds, in the top three we can find helping people perform better. Most often than not, this comes down to shifting behaviors, hence this should be the goal of a huge percentage of our programs.

Two of the most important things I’ve read about this year are theories of behavior change and my favorite one, nudges.

Behaviors change theories

I got to dig deeper into this while building a program together with my team in eMAG. As we were brainstorming solutions to a problem we’ve discovered we realized our (pretty though, I might say) job was to help people change some toxic behaviors with more healthy ones. The main question we had was ok, but how do behaviors change? In my research, I stumbled upon 6 theories:

Self-efficacy

Let’s start with a definition:

Self-efficacy is the belief in your own ability to succeed in achieving a goal – having the confidence you can do whatever you set your mind to by managing how you think, feel, and behave.

Having this in mind, the theory also comes with a couple of examples about how we can support others in their journey of change:

  • Help them recall times when they have succeeded in the past through their own hard work and strengths;
  • Expose them to other people like themselves who are successful in their own goals;
  • Facilitating feedback and coaching;
  • Facilitating visualisation of future self;
  • Supporting self-awareness (reading your body and emotions).

Theory of reasoned action

The probability of someone displaying a behavior depends on the intention behind it.

So, which are the influencers of intention?

  • The attitude towards that behavior – our beliefs about the consequences of carrying a specific action + our evaluation over those consequences (are they positive or negative?);
  • Sense of subjective norm – how much social pressure you feel to perform the behavior? Our perceptions about the expectations of our significant others + our motivation to comply with these perceived expectations.

Theory of planned behavior

The Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) postulates that the likelihood of an individual engaging in a healthy behavior (for example, regular exercise) is correlated with the strength of his or her intention to engage in the behavior.

The theory of planned behavior is an elaboration of the theory of reasoned action. This theory adds another influencer of intention to the ones already presented:

  • Perceived behavior control – the degree of perceived control you have over the behavior in question, meaning how well you believe you can perform the behavior?

Transtheoretical or stages of change model

The assumption of this theory is that behavior change is a long-term process and individuals go through multiple stages, possibly multiple times, to change behaviors. The stages?

  • Stage 1: Pre-contemplation Stage. In this stage, people do not intend to take action in the foreseeable future (defined as within the next 6 months). People are often unaware that their behavior is problematic or produces negative consequences. People in this stage often underestimate the pros of changing behavior and place too much emphasis on the cons of changing behavior;
  • Stage 2: Contemplation Stage. In this stage, people are intending to start the healthy behavior in the foreseeable future (defined as within the next 6 months). People recognize that their behavior may be problematic, and a more thoughtful and practical consideration of the pros and cons of changing the behavior takes place, with equal emphasis placed on both. Even with this recognition, people may still feel ambivalent toward changing their behavior.
  • Stage 3: Preparation (or Determination) Stage. In this stage, people are ready to take action within the next 30 days. People start to take small steps toward behavior change, and they believe changing their behavior can lead to a healthier life.
  • Stage 4: Action Stage (+relapse). In this stage, people have recently changed their behavior (defined as within the last 6 months), but if something doesn’t go according to plan they may experience a relapse into old behaviors.
  • Stage 5: Maintenance. In this stage, people have sustained their behavior change for a while (defined as more than 6 months) and intend to maintain the behavior change going forward. People in this stage work to prevent relapse to earlier stages.
  • Stage 6: Termination. In this stage, people have no desire to return to their unhealthy behaviors and are sure they will not relapse. Since this is rarely reached, and people tend to stay in the maintenance stage, this stage is often not considered in health promotion programs.

Health action process approach

The Health Action Process Approach

 (HAPA) suggests that the adoption, initiation, and maintenance of health behaviours must be explicitly conceived as a process that consists of at least a motivation phase and a volition phase. The latter might be further subdivided into a planning phase, action phase, and maintenance phase.

Fogg Behavior Model

The Fogg Behavior Model shows that three elements must converge at the same moment for a behavior to occur: Motivation, Ability, and a Prompt. When a behavior does not occur, at least one of those three elements is missing.

Each of these theories has its own faults. But since I don’t want to turn an article into a book, I won’t dig into those. I just hope I piqued the interest of those who weren’t aware of them and I encourage you to further explore them.

Nudges

I think the first person who recommended me to follow Laszlo Bock was my manager, Bianca Guta. Even years ago she was a fan of his work at Google. After he left the company, he founded his own business, Humu, and that’s how I got to learn about nudges.

Here’s the definition of the concept I got out of the most famous book on the topic, Nudge:

“…A nudge, as we will use the term, is any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives. To count as a mere nudge, the intervention must be easy and cheap to avoid. Nudges are not mandates. Putting fruit at eye level counts as a nudge. Banning junk food does not…”

Complicated! But here’s a short review of what I learned so far:

One of the bases of this theory is that people are not amazing decision-makers. Some of the reasons for poor decision-making are that we either have too little or too much information, we are influenced by our emotions, and we have biases.

Given this human flaw, nudges are a way to influence people to change certain behaviors without taking away their freedom of choice. To dig deeper into this idea you should read about the concept of libertarian paternalism.

Nudges are of different sorts, from environmental, to written ones, and as L&Ds I think we can experiment with all the forms. Nudges should be easy, attractive, social, and timely, just like this article explains. Here’s how a written nudge from Humu looks like:

2. L&D is not about executing it’s about consultancy

When I got into L&D I received the “consultant” title. But honestly speaking, it would have been better to name me “assistant”, as I was basically fulfilling all the desires of my stakeholders. But what others ask from the L&D role it’s not what makes it fulfilling, and I soon felt it on my own skin. So I started researching what a consultant should actually do.

These are the top things that stuck with me:

  • Ask the right questions to understand the real causes of the behaviors displayed;
  • Gather data from multiple sources to put the pieces of the problem together;
  • Cook various solutions, some of which are not even the L&D responsibility (this requires an extensive understanding of the business, the client, processes, performance indicators, etc.);
  • Pitch solutions in a manner that gets stakeholders buy-in;
  • Drive implementation or offer support as the plan gets deployed no matter if the chosen solutions involve learning activities or not;
  • Analyze results and report back to the client.

Is it easy to actually practice the consultant role?

No, it’s not. Let’s face it, it’s hard for us, as L&Ds to keep in touch with all the industry trends and practices. Our internal clients are even less aware of them so more likely to miss the real value L&Ds can bring to the table.

Should we just stop trying?

Again, no. First, because it makes our role way more fulfilling. Second, as stated before, it brings way more value to our organizations.

So arm yourself with patience, assertiveness, and courage, and practice or keep practicing the consultant behaviors. Hopefully, in time, our clients will start seeing the L&D role as it could be, not as it used to be.

3. Move from training to learning experiences

As I read more and more about adult learning, I got to understand why one-time learning events are not effective. We already established why changing our behaviors is a long-term process, but knowledge and skill acquisition is no different.

First, let’s talk myelin

Myelin is a fatty substance that covers neurons. Around your neurons is a myelin sheath (a layer of myelin) that helps increase the speed at which information can travel on the neurons.

As you may already know, the primer part of our body that determines learning is our brain, with its multiple components and complex storage space.

Our feelings, actions, thoughts are the result of electrical impulses that travel along a series of connected nerve fibers (axons), called “circuits”. Each circuit corresponds to a single action, thought or feeling.

The neural circuits which carry those signals are encased in a substance known as myelin. The myelin determines how quickly and precisely a signal can travel along a circuit.

Much like a wider road allows you to travel faster, a thicker myelin enables electrical impulses to travel more rapidly through a circuit. The thicker the myelin, the greater your ability to control movement and thoughts more accurately.

Myelin is living tissue, and much like a muscle, it needs to be exercised regularly for it to grow. When you do the same thing over and over again you don’t stimulate myelin growth because you’re using existing, strong circuits.

Second, let’s explore a model of building long-term memory representations

You probably heard before of the Know – Understand – Use – Master process. Well, I did as well, but this year I took some time to better understand it. We won’t dig deeper into it, but if you’re interested to find out more, you can explore Learning in the brain.

I wanted to mention it because it supports the idea that learning is a process. More specifically, a long-term process. Our jobs as L&Ds is to help people reach at least understanding, and even better using what they are learning.

So given what we know about myelin and about long-term retention, we can understand why it’s important to move from one-time learning events to long-term learning experiences. We should define learning experiences as a combination of learning methods organized over a longer period of time, with the purpose of boosting awareness and understanding, and engaging participants in practicing the skills and knowledge they need to do their jobs better.

4. Always keep in touch with how adults learn

I wouldn’t have been able to make the previous points about moving from training to learning experiences without knowing at least some of the basics of how adults learn. In my opinion, this is one of the main added values we bring to the table.

Let’s assume some of our colleagues might be interested in this and have gained some knowledge about learning because they wanted to become better at it. But my guess is that a big percentage of them did not bother to research the subject. And honestly, I don’t blame them. In most countries, kids still don’t get to learn about learning and as adults we just stick with the status quo.

So we have an important mission. The one of equipping our colleagues with the skills they need to stay relevant. Learning how to learn is probably the most important one. But to do so in an effective way, we should know what we’re talking about. We should know about social learning, self-directed learning, spaced repetition, behavior change theories, what happens in our brain when we learn or unlearn. We should know how to use different instruments to support an effective learning process.

I mean, that’s why we’re called Learning & Development, right?

5. Be aware of where the world is going

Our main job as L&Ds is to help our colleagues perform better at their jobs, so our organizations survive and thrive. As this mission is so complex, we shouldn’t fall into the trap of always working for the now. We should also prepare ourselves and others for what’s coming.

Organizations such as McKinsey, Deloitte, the World Economic Forum, BCG, and others, are constantly showing where the future will take us, what skills will we need, what behaviors will be the most productive, and what should organizations do to adapt.

What work models do organizations adopt?

We’re (hopefully) moving to a new normal. There’s been a lot of talk about all kinds of work models: hybrid, remote, in-office, and the adjacent. They all come with good or bad things, and in some cases massive changes in how people collaborate, perform their duties, and even learn.

So we should know what to expect and prepare our processes for how our organization will change. If we want to go even further, we can even act as consultants in the change process.

Some of the resources I recommend to better understand workplace models:

What skills are needed to stay relevant?

Beyond the current talk about workplace models, the future would have still looked different even without the pandemic. COVID-19 only accelerated the change. For individuals, this means a shift in what skills they should acquire. So when crafting our L&D strategy we should look at both current skill gaps and think about the skills people will need 5 years from now. Given my belief that the acquisition of skills and the change of behavior is a long-term process, starting today will only make sure we’re ready when we get there.

To explore the most important skills of the future, you can read:

6. Build your L&D brand. Oh, and market your programs like a pro

People are not constrained to learn. Most of the time. This means their attention should be attracted and maintained. The field that masters the art already is marketing. So we should all take the time to learn something from them. There are two things I learned this year about marketing: branding and using campaigns.

Brand yourself and your programs

Branding is the process of creating a strong, positive perception of a company, its products or services in the customer’s mind by combining such elements as logo, design, mission statement, and a consistent theme throughout all marketing communications.

Oberlo

I tried to find a definition that brings together both the benefits of spending time on branding and the elements of a brand.

Branding is mostly used by companies to differentiate from the competition. And you might say, but hey, we have no competition. Think again. Think about all the information reaching your learner’s inbox, all the social media platforms they use, all the conversations they have all day, every day. That’s your competition and it’s a tough cookie. But there are some basic things you can strategize when launching a new program:

  1. Can you think about a name that is going to resonate with your audience?
  2. Is there a promise you can make through a tagline that touches on a problem your learners experience often?
  3. What’s the tone of voice your audience uses? Could you use it as well?
  4. Are there any key visuals you can use to make the program stand?
  5. Are there any other assets you can use to remind learners what’s the program’s purpose? (workbooks, gift bags)

Once you have all this in place, use them wisely, throughout your channels, before, during, and after your program is done.

This also applies to your brand as an L&D team. What do you want to be known for? How do you want your audience to perceive you? These are basic questions you should answer and then incorporate what you’ve found everywhere you can.

Build your comms campaign

Marketing campaigns are organized, strategized efforts to promote a specific company goal, such as raising awareness of a new product or capturing customer feedback. They typically aim to reach consumers in a variety of ways and involve a combination of media, including but not limited to email, print advertising, television or radio advertising, pay-per-click, and social media.

Hubspot

There are multiple types of campaigns, depending on your goals: raising awareness, get learners to enrol in a program, send over content to help people learn on-the-go, get people to learn more about your brand. But my feeling is that we mostly use campaigns for the second purpose: get learners to enrol in a program.

Why not use it to make people aware of the plateau of learning resources you’re serving. Or just let people know how you work, what’s your mission, and how you can help?

When thinking about a learning campaign, you can take the following steps:

  1. Define your goal;
  2. Think about key metrics;
  3. Define your audience;
  4. Determine if you need a creative concept;
  5. Establish channels;
  6. Measure your success and think about your next steps.

A good place to start learning more about this is Hubspot’s Ultimate Guide to Marketing Campaigns.

7. Technology

I’m far from being a tech expert, but what I know for sure is that we should keep an eye on where the L&D tech is going.

First, it’s important to understand how things such as automation, artificial intelligence, machine learning, virtual reality impacts the way we do our jobs and the type of experiences we can provide to our learners.

Second, we should keep in touch with the tools and products we can explore and add to our tech-stack both to make our work more efficient, and to improve how our colleagues experience learning.

Since I said I’m no expert, I’ll let the experts talk and recommend you L&D tech: Insights from 12 months of Tech Talks with Christopher Lind.

8. Measure. Measure. Measure

If we don’t know if we’re doing the right thing, what’s the point of doing it? Don’t get me wrong, L&D measurement is definitely the hardest part of the job, but it doesn’t mean we should stop trying. As much as I’ve explored the subject I can tell you not many have gotten past vanity metrics.

Since I’ve written an article about it in the first Offbeat issue, I won’t repeat what I said there, and unfortunately, over the past months I haven’t learned anything new, so if you haven’t read it so far I recommend Learning analytics set-up. Also, this issue Alex Gotoi wrote another piece on the topic: Learning Analytics 101.

9. Learning doesn’t happen where we want it to happen

Offbeat Comic

This comic of ours explains the point in a very simple way. When learners need to learn something they will rarely wait for us to make things happen. Most of the time they will either ask someone or Google it.

And I think our job here is double. The first is fostering a culture where people like to learn from one another and are willing to help those in need. The second is bringing the information as close to the learners as possible. So that when people are not available to answer questions or they don’t know the answer, learners will still find the resources they need.

Of course, Google is a huge source of learning! But what Google lacks, is context. You can definitely search for “How to work Agile?” and you’ll get various results. But you won’t get any result for “How does my company apply Agile principles?”. This is where we step in.

You can start small, by looking at your onboarding process:

  • Make lists of questions people address;
  • Have a map of the moments when a new hire needs your help or the help of other teams and colleagues.

Then, start building a resource center with short videos, cheat sheets, checklists, and process flows and incorporate them in the process. Looop walks you through this specific example in Unpacking L&D at the Point of Work.

10. Other useful skills

I probably covered 0.0000001% of all the technical knowledge and skills we should acquire as L&Ds. The purpose wasn’t to lay everything here, but to make a review of all the things I’ve stumbled upon and I think we should look into to become better professionals.

And since we’re talking about becoming better professionals, I should also add to the list those less technical skills:

  1. Be yourself a learner. Be curious, walk the talk, and you’ll get closer to earn the trust of others in what you’re doing;
  2. Know all your audiences. Know what they need from you. And always keep in touch with them;
  3. If you’re a leader, work on your strategical skills. Alongside leadership habits, the most powerful added value you’ll bring to the team is strategy;
  4. Be a problem solver. Take the time to understand your business, its issues and think about ways you can provide people with painkillers, or worst case, vitamins.

And don’t forget to enjoy it! The L&D role is as exciting as you want it to be. If there’s one thing I got out of this year is the happiness of being in such a diverse, impactful, and dynamic industry. No offense to other industries, but being a part of learning today is the shit!

If you’ve got ’til here, well, thank you! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this as much as I’ve enjoyed putting it together.