The term "agile" is ubiquitous. You've probably heard it mentioned in a meeting or referenced in a blog post. Perhaps part of your job revolves around using agile software development methods or management.
In today's business world, the term "agile" speaks to how businesses must organize themselves to remain relevant. It's how technologies must morph. It's how employees must respond. And, it's how L&D must evolve to remain relevant and supportive of organizations and individuals as they operate in today's dynamic environment.
So, what's the problem?
It turns out that "agile" flies in the face of many time-tested and well-accepted practices that have become familiar parts of the learning function. As a result, it might be time for learning professionals to let go of old best practices in favor of better break-through practices that facilitate more flexible and nimble responses to changing business conditions and needs.
Former Best Practice #1: Conduct a comprehensive annual needs assessment.
Remember the days when the final couple of months of the year were dedicated to extensive needs and gap analyses? Surveys would go out. Focus groups were conducted. Comprehensive, organization-wide plans and schedules were constructed for the entire following year.
Better Break-Through Practice #1: Assess needs early, often and always.
A year is an eternity in business today. And change will only continue to accelerate. As executives and markets shorten their strategic planning sights from five to 10 years down to one to two years, L&D must adjust its relationship with time accordingly.
The luxury of protracted assessment and planning periods is long gone. Instead, the most effective learning professionals are always assessing and planning.
They stay close to the customer day-in and day-out. They're in the field and in the lunchroom, keeping a pulse on what's happening. They routinely collect and review critical data – from within and outside of the organization. Because they consistently expose themselves to and soak up relevant input, they're well-positioned to assess needs real-time, develop spot solutions and offer timely and targeted support.
Former Best Practice #2: Take the time to get it right and work out all of the kinks before going live.
In the past, L&D departments worked at a very different pace. New programs were reviewed at multiple levels of the organization and perfected over a lengthy development period before making them available to end users.
Better Break-Through Practice #2: Welcome to life in the beta zone.
Cycle time reduction applies to L&D just like every other part of the business. By the time a need is identified, it means that someone or something somewhere is falling short. The organization expects – and needs – quick-turn solutions… and, in most cases, they need them yesterday.
As a result, learning teams must realize that their value lies in delivering solutions that are actionable, not award-winning; enough, not elegant; practical, not perfect. Supporting organizations today means placing something in front of people who need it as soon as possible and then iterating and improving. This means adopting a beta test mindset.
Former Best Practice #3: Top-down cascading is the most effective way to ensure results.
Training departments of days-gone-by took pride in starting at the top of the organization and gaining support at each successive level before rolling learning out to the masses. This was considered the only way to ensure the management support required to deliver results.
Better Break-Through Practice #3: Go where there's energy and build from there.
It's certainly a timeless truth that what managers do in support of development efforts can dramatically increase the return on a training investment. But, by the time the ink has dried on a learning initiative, something has already changed in the business. Imagine how different the landscape might be after corralling your decentralized, virtual and absurdly busy leaders. You might never get around to rolling the program out using this classic approach.
Instead, it makes more sense today to go right to pain points; the places in the organization where a need exists and people recognize it. Start there. Make progress. Generate results. Build support. Stories – and energy – will spread organically from there.
(And if you're still worried about management support, given the tools available today, there are countless ways to engage leadership in a more relevant and time-honoring way. Additionally, ease of communication among employees customers, suppliers and others offer new and evolving networks that can be leveraged for learning support as well.)
Learning professionals have an exciting opportunity before them...if they're willing to stretch themselves in a way that parallels the speed and agility of today's business.