Magazine excerpt: Start with your people

Don Taylor looks at the key to implementing learning technologies: your people.

I have recently had a book published. The writing was spread over two years, the greater part of which was spent in research – mostly in interviews and reading. It’s a very pleasant way to spend the time, because it involves a great deal of reflecting and learning.

Over such a long period, and with such a lot of material, it’s possible to lose track of things, but one quote stands out for me, because it points to something fundamental about workplace learning programmes. The quote cropped up in my conversation with Andy Wooler, academy technology manager at Hitachi Data Systems.

As soon as he said it, I knew he’d made a key point with great clarity. Andy is the veteran of many Learning Management System (LMS) implementations, and you might expect him to stress the technical intricacies of rolling out such complex platforms.

He has strong opinions on that, but it is the human side of an implementation that he prefers to stress. “You can do anything with technology,” he told me, “but people can also stop you doing just about everything.” 

Success depends first of all on people’s trust and on a good relationship with them.

The interview was about implementing technology-supported learning, but Andy’s observation holds true for just about any workplace learning initiative, and its sentiment was repeated throughout my interviews by people in a range of sectors.

Success depends first of all on people’s trust and on a good relationship with them. Without that, any initiative is likely to fail because, as Andy says, when they are not on board, people can stop you doing just about everything.

But while this is widely understood by the people I interviewed – those who had successfully implemented learning technologies – I don’t believe that it is common practice in L&D to start with people, to build trust. Too often, an organisation’s learning and development function starts with the solution and aims to find a willing home for it.

This approach may succeed if the department is fully in touch with the business and knows where learning is the right solution for a performance issue. More likely, however, it will miss the mark in part or in whole, leaving those responsible for the course, or the content, or the social media site, or the LMS, bemused and asking why attendance or adoption rates are so low. 

We seldom answer this question by saying, “It’s because we didn’t know the exact problem we were addressing, and didn’t bring people with us on the journey of creating this solution.” Rather we reach for some other explanation, such as tricks for increasing adoption, or gamifying participation on a social media site, or providing incentives to attend courses.

All of these approaches deal with the symptoms – a lack of interest – rather than the cause – a lack of utility. Produce something useful and if you have involved people in helping you understand the business need and in creating the solution, you will succeed.

The reason for this is that there is a corollary to Andy Wooler’s comment. Yes, people can stop you doing just about everything, but it is also people that make everything possible.

This article appears in the July issue of TJ Magazine. You can subscribe here.


About the author

Donald H Taylor is an L&D veteran. Visit his website at​.


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