In this post, our intrepid Senior Manager of Learning and Development Greg Herrmann shares his personal story of how he got into the world of L&D. A passion for learning and development is your company’s biggest asset, especially for fast-growing companies like us!
I wasn’t always an enthusiastic teacher—or learner, for that matter.
Thinking back, I can still remember most of my early days of education. I loved being with my friends and classmates, and most of the time I also enjoyed the topics or lessons we were being taught.
But I didn’t always love everything I was learning.
Fast forward to 2021, and I look back and wonder: why did I have that feeling of not wanting to learn the interesting things my teachers had planned? Why am I now so accepting to learn new things when I wasn’t always as willing in school?
Several factors affect curiosity levels in learners. How an educator teaches a subject matters because it affects the learner’s willingness or ability to grasp and retain the information being presented.
Knowing your audience and how to connect with them is important to get right before you start to approach how to teach a topic.
As I started out in my professional career, I viewed opportunities for learning as less available. (Spoiler alert: I was wrong!) I thought that my future career path was predefined and that I had to buckle down on what I was currently doing. (Wrong again!) I call this “FOML”. It’s not as catchy as FOMO, but with the same concept: Fear Of Missed Learning.
I realized I craved education because I hadn’t been taught properly. Many of us have probably had opportunities stripped away from us without even knowing it!
As I thought about this shift in my attitude towards education, I wanted to do something about it. This urge to keep learning coincided with an amazing opportunity that changed my career trajectory forever.
Learning at work?
At that time, I was working in the customer service department at a large travel website in Boston, MA. Our group was told that we would be getting a half day off work to attend an in-person training around digital communications. The training was on how to control and adjust your tone of voice in digital communication channels like email and chat.
As a cynic, I saw this as at least an opportunity to be off the phone for four hours. But that learning session was four of the most beneficial hours of my life.
The instructor for the training was from outside the organization. He was an older gentleman, my knee-jerk reaction at the time was, “Oh, so some 60-year-old man is going to teach us Millennials about digital tonality and communications?!” My inner voice laughed, but that instructor brought a fun spirit to the meeting. He joked about the very idea of whether he was qualified to run the training with us.
My initial impressions about the instructor and the material were dead wrong. As the training continued, I learned that not only did this guy have authority on the subject, but he also understood human conversations and how spelling, grammar, and sentence structure played a role in how people receive written messages.
I learned a lot about my own writing during that session, and I thought I’d known it all!
That training sticks in my memory because of something the instructor said to me after my colleagues had left the room. He told me things that boosted my confidence and ultimately changed the course of my career.
A career-changing lesson
The instructor told me that I didn’t belong where I was. He said, through my participation and observations I’d shared, he felt the job I was performing was beneath me. And he also said it wasn’t necessarily his place to offer advice, nor was he suggesting that I find a new job. He said it was a simple observation that he couldn’t let sit.
I was floored.
This experience that I first scoffed at was building me up in ways that I had never thought possible.
I immediately had a new focus on my career and had already been looking for a new job before getting that instructor’s advice. But now I had greater aspirations and ideas that I wanted to see come true.
I kept up my knowledge in customer service, but I also involved myself in new hire training and onboarding in my next role. Volunteering for learning and development opportunities and programs beyond the onboarding process happened. Soon I was participating in Google-hosted training, cross-functional education opportunities, and more.
After this shift, I landed a role at a new organization that was fully invested in learning and development. This experience was also my first exposure to digital marketing, an industry that is constantly changing. We had to learn and move fast to stay on top of this ever-evolving landscape.
Not long after starting that job, I was able to carve out a specific career path that led me to People Success (our take on Human Resources) and a new role as a Learning & Development Program Manager. This helped me step into my current role as Senior Manager of Learning & Development at Hennessey Digital, where I’m building out an entire program for the company.
Sounds daunting, right? With the right resources and technology, a great team, and attention to detail, it can be done!
Bringing Learning and Development to Hennessey Digital
Before you start to uncover the potential learning and development needs at your company, you first need to hire someone to do the work. I can’t stress enough the importance of hiring an L&D expert early on. Doing this is the perfect opportunity to reinforce your company culture and develop a “voice of the company”.
You also reinforce that voice through how (and what) you teach your employees. This is especially important for fully-remote companies without the opportunity for in-person training or 1-on-1 time.
You don’t always need to hire someone with a Learning & Development background to do this work. Internal team members have institutional knowledge and skills to teach others what they need to know. Your tenured staff will know the most about your brand, your products and services, the goals of the organization, and your core values.
Once you have the right person or people identified for Learning & Development work, it’s time to start chipping away at the needs your company has. But where to start?
I often reference a quote I heard recently at Hennessey Digital’s LMS (learning management system) Lessonly’s annual Yellowship conference:
“You can’t boil the ocean.”
You can slowly bring the ocean’s temperature up, but it’s going to be hard to snap your fingers and get that thing boiling. So rather than attacking everything at once, consider what the main priority is for your company. Are you expecting a large influx in hiring? Is company-wide training a focus area?
Consider auditing your current onboarding process and think about ways to improve or accelerate it for new hires. Do you have a formal orientation program for new employees? Does a prescribed path of lessons exist to set them up for success?
Maybe your company has many directors, managers, and team leads. Employees in roles like these might need management training that’s lighter on technical content and creates big-picture learning opportunities for leaders. Programs like this should involve a hybrid learning model with digital and live training elements.
At Hennessey Digital, we use technology to connect virtually and establish the same type of learning experience we would have if we were meeting in person.
What about those company requirements to be legally compliant with local or federal law and regulations? Ah, yes: the always exciting compliance training! Like them or loathe them, compliance trainings are necessary in workplaces around the world.
Compliance training ensures that proper expectations are communicated throughout the company. Specific state and federal training requirements will depend on your industry, location, and company size.
Although compliance training gets a bad rap as a necessary evil, there can be a night-and-day difference between a compliance training that’s beneficial and one that just checks some boxes.
With the right Learning & Development talent and resources, you have the opportunity to turn an otherwise boring requirement into a fun way to engage your employees.
Beyond the basics of learning and development
Once you have a Learning & Development professional on staff, don’t stop with just the basics! This person can help you go beyond required compliance training and new hire onboarding to transform your company into a culture of learning and innovation.
Continued education is important in every industry. Hennessey Digital lives in the digital marketing world, which is always changing. Whether it’s updating our employees about third-party vendor updates or educating them about internal changes, Learning & Development plays a role in spreading that awareness.
Accountability is a big piece of the puzzle in driving innovation through education. We use Lessonly for our learning management system to keep track of who’s been assigned what training module, whether they’ve completed it, and how long it’s taken to complete. These key data points help us learn more about our employees and the content we assign.
Audits are a constant in the Learning & Development world. A piece of content you created last year, last month, or even yesterday may not work today.
Learning content needs to be updated, as does the method the content is delivered. This leads us to another key area for all Learning & Development professionals to pay attention to: learning styles!
Accessibility is crucial to training diverse sets of learning styles.
At Hennessey Digital, every new hire completes a VARK questionnaire to give us a guide for how they learn best. Team members are identified as a visual, aural, read/write, kinesthetic, or multimodal learner. Using this information, I can tailor our learning materials to different audiences and learning styles.
We also provide VARK questionnaire results along with a personality assessment to managers. This way, they can create the best way to communicate messages within teams and between departments. Accessibility is crucial to training diverse sets of learning styles.
Making learning and development a way of life
The Learning & Development function should be integrated with your Human Resources/People Success department. L&D should also partner with your Executive and Marketing teams to amplify the company’s voice. By leveraging a learning management system (LMS), Learning & Development can help reinforce important messages.
As an example, Hennessey Digital recently unveiled our four guiding principles (our core values). We presented these at internal meetings, in blog posts, and on social media. Learning & Development then took our core messaging to the next level with assigned learning in our LMS.
We also baked our guiding principles into our onboarding process that connects new hires to Hennessey Digital as a company. Their employee experience begins with what we do, why we do it, how we got here, and who their peers are. Context matters!
Because learning and development goes hand-in-hand with company culture, always involve L&D in employee-driven initiatives and resource groups. Make L&D part of your DNA!
Introducing L&D to your organization
Learning and development is a philosophy that goes far beyond onboarding and compliance training. Creating a culture of growth and learning is intentional and requires an investment of time and resources. A full-time L&D professional on staff is ideal, but you can always start small.
Look internally to see if you have someone who can devote time to training. Have them review your company’s needs one at a time and make recommendations on opportunities for learning and development.
You’ll start to see a boost in engagement, compliance, and employee retention. Soon you’ll be learning and developing your way to bigger things for your company—and your culture!