Thursday, January 19, 2012

2012: Emerging Trends, Roles and Responsibilities in Learning and Development

The following summarizes the comments received during an informal survey of Learning Leaders in the New York Metropolitan area on the anticipated changes and new developments in the Learning & Development and User Support fields.

The comments are presented in two categories (along with an indication on the level of consensus from the Learning Leaders surveyed):

  1. Roles and Responsibilities that will be in demand over the next 12 to 24 months, and
  2. Emerging Trends in the Learning and Development space over the same time period.

Emerging Roles and Responsibilities:

  1. Performance Consultants to ensure alignment between business goals, challenges and breakdowns, and learning and development initiatives. Most survey participants noted a critical need for learning and development professionals that can speak the language of business and understand profit and loss challenges, staff management and professional development concerns, and business operations. Are we better served to have L&D professionals with an MBA focus or MBA professionals with an L&D orientation? There was universal consensus on this role.
  2. Community Engagement Managers to promote, coordinate, organize, and manage user and subject matter involvement involved in social learning initiatives. Some survey participants indicated that this role and responsibility may be incorporated into the job description of existing L&D positions. There was broad consensus on this role.
  3. Project and Program Managers with the ability to oversee global and virtual team initiatives. Going forward, the concept of the team may include employees, subject matter experts, business partners, clients, business stakeholders, and third party vendors. These Project and Program Managers will manage team members with varying cultural perspectives and alternative work arrangements. There was broad consensus on this role.
  4. Talent Management / Human Capital Management Specialists to provide broader organizational design and organizational effectiveness to existing internal clients. These professionals will provide expertise in "hire to fire" strategies including topics encompassing competency modeling, recruitment and selection strategies, compensation, professional development, leadership development, and succession planning. There was broad consensus on this role.
  5. Knowledge Managers / Content Librarians to oversee, manage, update, and determine access of organizational knowledge and learning assets. This role is a morphing of the Knowledge Management discipline and the current Curriculum Manager role. There was some consensus on this role.

Additional roles and responsibilities noted included:

  • Learning Systems Integration Specialists to ensure seamless integration of learning systems and applications with enterprise systems. These specialists would serve as the primary liaison between Learning and Development and IT and third party vendors.
  • Learning Evaluation and ROI Specialists to assess the business impact of Learning and Development initiatives.
  • Online Learning Designers and Developers with expertise in rapid development tools.

Emerging Trends:

  1. Social Learning encompassing the utilization of social media tools to enhance learning and retention. Most survey participants are currently involved in the development or prototyping of social learning solutions. Some of the challenges mentioned included concerns over how information is shared and accessed, conformance to regulatory and compliance guidelines, productivity loss, and the reliability of the knowledge being shared. All survey participants saw social learning as a current and emerging trend.
  2. Greater reliance on User Generated Content: Most survey participants envision pushing more of the content creation responsibilities to the end-user and subject matter expert community. In this scenario, traditional Learning and Development departments would be responsible for: (a) the development of toolkits, templates, and training solutions to support the user community in the development quality content and learning deliverables; (b) serving as mentors and coaches to the user community on content and learning development activities; (c) quality control activities
  3. Mobile Learning: With the explosion in usage of smart phones and mobile computing devices, a great majority of survey participants see mobile computing as a significant emerging trend. With mobile learning (mLearning) come significant challenges including usability design concerns, security and compliance concerns, network reliability and speed, and the lack of an established mobile learning pedagogy and standards. Additional concerns were noted by David Wentworth of the Institute for Corporate Productivity who wrote, "Mobile learning is not without issues, though, most of which boil down to very tactical, practical application and the ever-present challenge of garnering the support of senior leaders. Do content owners now need to develop a mobile application for every piece of content they create? If so, does there need to be versions that can run on iPhones, an Android device, BlackBerrys and Windows phones? What about tablets? Are there authoring or content creation tools that make this easy? How do we manage all of this - through our existing Learning Management System (LMS)?" (
  4. Additional reliance on Outsourced Services: All survey participants indicated that they anticipated lean and mean times ahead. With continued economic uncertainty, staffing levels will be managed closely and Learning and Development departments will be pressed to continue to deliver quality solutions with limited funding. In order to meet these challenges, Learning and Development leaders will need to enhance their reliance on third party vendors and outsourcing partners. This will require (a) investigation of overseas or lower cost providers of quality services; (b) Learning and Development professionals skilled at managing outside vendors; (c) staff members skilled in managing overseas vendors and virtual teams

Survey participants included learning leaders from corporations representing the Healthcare/Hospital, Aviation, Insurance, Financial Services, Professional Services, Education, Manufacturing, and Real Estate sectors.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Your primary objective for the first 30 days in your new job - BUILD TRUST

Congratulations on landing your new job! You have beaten out the competition and if you are like most you are filled with some mixed emotions:

  • Elation at finding and accepting a new position

  • Nervousness that accompanies any new job or assignment

  • Worry that the job and the people are as advertised

Believe me, your new employer has these very same emotions. Your first 30 days are very important. During this time initial impressions and judgments will be formed about your performance as an employee, your reliability, and the outlook for your long-term employment. If these initial assessments are negative, they can result in termination, being put on a performance plan, or at the very least serve as an obstacle to be overcome.

My recommendation to all professionals when beginning a new work endeavor is to consciously work to build TRUST during your first 30 days. This TRUST needs to extend to your management, co-workers, peers, internal clients, and vendors. Here are some tips and pointers:

  • Work with your manager to establish goals and objectives for your first 30-60-90 days. These goals and objectives should be tangible and measurable.

  • Establish a dedicated time every week for a one-on-one review with your manager. This is especially important during the first 30 days when you are both learning how best to work with each other.

  • Treat your manager as a customer that needs to be satisfied. Having this orientation will build your awareness and sensitivity to your manager's level of satisfaction. Besides your 30-60-90 day goals and objectives what other conditions of satisfaction does your manager have? Be sure to ask if there is anything else that you could be doing to have your manager more satisfied with your performance.

  • Follow a "No Surprises" policy during your first 30 days. If deadlines are in jeopardy, communicate them as soon as you know so that other actions can be considered.

  • Eliminate any potential car trouble, latenesses, bursting water pipes, illnesses, etc. Anything and everything that occurs in the first 30 days are magnified.

Each of these pointers will support you in building TRUST with your new employer and will help in validating their hiring decision. These pointers when implemented long-term will also support you in continually meeting your employers expectations and will help greatly in leading to a long and productive relationship.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Hey...Wake Up!

I have written several times in the past about the importance of protecting your online identity. You have to assume that prospective employers will be searching the Internet and reviewing any results that show up. This pertains to both full-time employment and consulting opportunities and includes Twitter tweets, Facebook postings, personal/professional web site content, and the like.

I have come to realize that even well skilled and experienced professionals can be blind to the importance of protecting their public identity. Please note that I used the words well skilled and experienced and not top-tier or best.

There is no distinction between posts on the Internet that are business-related or ones that are personal or private. They are all reviewed and factored when assessments and judgments are formed and a decision is made to hire or to move on to another candidate. Most importantly, these online references can have a lasting impact for years to come and play a significant factor in your career growth and development.

This article needs to serve as a wake-up call and cause a moment of reflection.

  1. Do your online postings support your personal and professional identities?
  2. Are you considering how these postings may be viewed or interpreted by prospective employers or clients?
Here are some actual examples that we have uncovered over the years. My intention in citing these examples is not to make a judgment about the events that unfolded but instead to illustrate how the online posting could be factored into the hiring decision:

  1. We were recruiting for a position with a progressive e-learning development firm. The company has built an impressive reputation for the caliber of their elearning solutions and the high moral and ethical standards that they set for their business. After presenting a very impressive candidate, we were informed by the client that a Google search revealed that the candidate was involved in a home business that dealt in adult themed products. The client decided not to pursue this candidate.
  2. After interviewing a talented candidate, a review of their Facebook page revealed several inappropriate references to their partying days in college and excessive use of foul language.
  3. A recent Google search of a candidate revealed their personal Twitter page which showed numerous tweets every day throughout the day and raised real questions about the candidate's focus and dedication to their full-time employment. Were they working or tweeting?
  4. One client told me that they had decided not to offer a position to a candidate because their Facebook page indicated frequent illnesses and sick days.
  5. A Google search of another candidate uncovered the candidate’s political blog. The blog, while well written, was decidedly partisan. A prospective hiring manger with opposing political views could react negatively to the blog.
  6. Another candidate's Twitter page showed several references to drinking, beer and alcohol. How could this be interpreted by a prospective employer or client?

There is no way to know for sure how thorough prospective employers will be in their screening of potential employees or consultants. There is, however no question that more and more are using a simple Google search to see what they may be able to learn before they make the decision to interview or hire a candidate.

The strong advice here is to THINK before posting and consider: How might this posting be viewed by others - peers, current and future employers and clients?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Time For Your Annual Career Tune-Up - 2010--->2011

I have been publishing the Annual Career Tune-Up since the company was formed in 2002. The tune-up gives a quick reflection of the current year and a forecast of what may be in store in the coming year. Included are also some recommendations that you may want to consider for 2011.

As we reach the end of 2010 and look forward to 2011, there are indications that brighter economic times may be ahead. The chart from the Bureau of Labor Statistics below illustrates the cause for some of my conservative optimism:

Employment, Hours, and Earnings from the Current Employment Statistics survey (National)

While we are far from a rosy job and employment market, we are seeing increased demand for consultants and full-time employees. Here are some quick stats:

* Year to date, the revenue at KnowledgeStaff have increased by over 60%

* Sales within the healthcare sector accounted for close to 61% of the total revenue; financial services accounted for 27%

* Consultant pay rates have
begun to creep upward

When the employment marketplace is uncertain but showing some signs of recovery, several things occur:

* Supply and demand forces cause salaries and consulting rates which have been depressed begin to show signs of improvement. My sense is that this will be a slow gradual improvement.

* Staffing cycle times slow; with more candidates in the marketplace, corporations are more likely to hold out for the “perfect’ candidate.

* Corporations will begin to ramp up their hiring. Traditionally we see an uptick in consulting requirements before full-time hiring although this recovery may be different as most companies needed to cut deeper within their full-time ranks.

Establish your Learning Budget
Resolve each year to acquire some new skill, tool, technology, or subject matter expertise that contributes to your ongoing career development. My recommendations for this year include:

* If you are a learning and development professional and you do not have some exposure to e-learning authoring tools, you are at a distinct competitive disadvantage. The tools that we see demanded most, in order of importance, are Adobe's Captivate, the suite of tools from Articulate, and Trivantis's Lectora ProSuite. Most if not all of these vendors offer free trial versions of their software.

* Begin to research DITA. The Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) is an XML-based architecture for authoring, producing, and delivering information. This standard has been in use within the technical publications world and we are seeing it discussed with the L&D community more and more.

* Attend and/or participate in industry conferences.

* Research the impact of social media within the L&D space. If your organization is not discussing social media, they will be.

* Read Jeanne Meister and Karie Willyerd's book, The 2020 Workplace, published by HarperCollins. This book presents a forecast for the future that I believe is spot-on and is a must read.

* Consider enrolling in a certificate program to enhance your current skill set.

In some cases your employer will absorb these expenses but if not, an appropriate annual investment in your professional development would be $1,500 - $2,500 per year. You're worth it.

Take Time to Reflect
Many of us, so consumed with work and extracurricular activities, drift through our careers without being mindful of its direction. The answers to these questions will help in determining whether the time may be right to investigate new career opportunities:

* Is your current position consistent with your short and long-term career goals and objectives?

* What are the new trends in the learning marketplace and is your current position consistent with these trends?

* Is your career moving forward with acceptable velocity?

* What new roles and responsibilities do you need to assume to move your career forward?

* What conversations and actions are required to get your career back on track?

* How vulnerable are you to a future downturn in the marketplace?

If you have any questions or would like a "no-obligation" appraisal of your current situation, please contact us at 866-742-2410.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Interview Questions: What Should You Be Asking?

So have done your due diligence prior to the interview and reviewed the company’s web site, googled the names of all of the people that you may be meeting, and reviewed the job specification again. You have also set aside the business interview suit, organized your portfolio to highlight the experience that is reflected on the job specification and committed yourself to getting a good night’s sleep and setting out early enough to account for traffic, public transportation breakdowns and the like.

Great job! But if I were to ask you what the goal was for tomorrow’s interview would you have an answer? Sure, the goal is always to try and have the interview result in an offer however will you learn enough during the course of the interview to know whether it is a job that is consistent with your career aspirations and goals?

When I speak with people that are seeking to embark on a new job search, they often mention negative aspects of their current position that they were not aware of when they accepted the job, aspects of the position that were misrepresented, or questions that they neglected to ask during the interview stage. I offer that you need to be asking questions during the interview related to three critical areas:

1. Roles and responsibilities: Sure you have a copy of the job description however how accurate is the job description? What will be the focus of the position during the first 30 days? The first 90 days? How are roles and responsibilities delineated within the department? How might the focus of your day shift over time? For instance, will you be working to maintain existing learning programs during the first six months and then begin to focus on new development initiatives? Can you see samples of the team’s work?

2. Management and Career Development: The quality and competence of your manager contributes more to your job satisfaction than any other factor. It is very important for you to try and learn as much as you can about how you will be managed and how you will be assessed. Questions could include:

  • If I were to ask members of your staff how would they describe your management style?
  • How do you communicate with members of your staff and what kind of reporting do you require?
  • How often will we meet to discuss my progress?
  • Do you develop annual performance plans with your staff that discusses job and professional development goals?
  • If bonuses are a component of the compensation plan, what criteria is used in determining the bonus award?

The key here is to try and learn as much about the manager’s style and skill as possible. Be sure to validate the answers you hear with your potential peers. There is a world of difference between a skilled and secure professional manager and a poor manager that resorts to micro-management and indecision.

3. Work environment: I strongly advise using your power of observation in assessing the company’s work environment. What words would you use to describe the feeling that you had when you entered the reception area (i.e., warm, collegial, cold, hectic, loud)? How were you made to feel by the receptionist and all of the people that you interacted with?

Try and gauge what a typical work week is like in terms of work load and overtime. Are there specific times when the overtime kicks in? Is overtime the norm? Also, what is the company’s policy regarding working off-site? You goal is to determine whether the work environment will support you in doing your best work.

Take these tips and questions to heart and the likelihood of being unpleasantly surprised will decrease significantly.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

So You Want to Be a Top-Tier Consultant? The Four Key Attributes

Having spent over 25 years of my professional career working with consultants and representing consulting services to a Fortune 500 clientele, I have come to recognize and truly appreciate top-tier consultants.

Below are four key attributes that I have been able to identify that are consistent with these top-tier consultants. Top-tier consultants possess all of the key attributes. So how do you stack up?

  1. Masters of their craft: The top tier consultants are masters of their craft and are firmly rooted in the philosophies and methodologies that govern their industry. Within the learning space this would include formal grounding in adult learning theory, instructional design, organization development/effectiveness, and performance improvement. They are dedicated students of their craft with a commitment to remain ahead of the bleeding edge. They typically are active in professional societies and associations, attend and present at industry conferences or write for industry publications. They have built a social and professional network where they are recognized for their knowledge and the quality of their deliverables.
  2. They are true business partners: Top tier consultants have rock solid business and performance consulting skills. They are able to understand and uncover business goals, breakdowns, challenges, and objectives. All solutions are designed to support the client in meeting their underlying business challenges. They are viewed by clients as a business partner, not as an outside resource. Their opinions are valued and respected and in most cases their engagements lead to other engagements. They are resale machines.
  3. They are extraordinary communicators: These consultants have an uncanny ability to communicate with people at all levels of the organization. In times of conflict and stress they are able to work with clients to resolve any issues that pose a threat to the success of the engagement. They are keenly focused on the ultimate objective of the engagement which can often get blurred when times get tough. They have the extraordinary ability to blend with clients to resolve disagreements. These consultants speak honestly and directly and their commitment to excellence is never questioned.
  4. They are hard-wired to serve clients: Everyone knows the importance of satisfying clients but I have found that the top-tier consultants are almost genetically inclined to serve and satisfy clients. When you speak with them about the jobs that they held when they were beginning their careers, serving customers is a consistent theme. Serving clients is not a concept but a mantra. Top tier consultants recognize that while their assessments are valid, the assessments of their clients are most important. They are finely tuned to the satisfaction of their clients and are sure to consistently check in on their satisfaction. Difficult conversations are had the moment they arise, communication is proactive and engagements end positively.

Top-tier consultants are in high demand by clients and greatly minimize risks associated with a consulting engagement. For organizations like KnowledgeStaff that provide consulting services, top-tier consultants offer us a sense of comfort and peace of mind. We just know that the job is going to get done.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

So You've Been Out Of Work For How Long?

For the past 6 months, I have been supporting a family member in his search to locate a new job. He has been seeking employment for close to a year. The mental, emotional, financial, and physical toll of his search for employment has been deep. Sadly, he is not alone. There are numerous stories of people within the KnowledgeStaff network that have been on the hunt for a new job for as long and longer. None of these people I mention are dead wood, poorly skilled or problem employees. They are all struggling job seekers, members of a fraternity that none chose to join.

But there are promising signs out there. Slowly, I am hearing stories of people landing new jobs or assignments. At KnowledgeStaff our activity with full-time placements has picked up noticeably. Predictions of a slow economic recovery seem to be on target.

A question that I get asked frequently is “How do I explain being out of work for so long?” with the follow-up question “How do I let this potential employer know that I am not damaged goods?’ These are not easy questions but the best answers to these questions may come from dissecting the concerns of the potential employers that are behind these questions.

It is important to remember that employers are readily aware of the job market and economy. In many cases they too have experienced downsizings. Unlike other market downturns they are clear that many very qualified people lost their jobs and that layoffs went much deeper than just eliminating the poor performers or dead wood.

The most frequent concerns that I hear from employers when considering candidates that have been out of work for a while are:

  • Why so long? They basically want to know the story behind the story. What were the circumstances that caused you to be out of work and why have you not secured a position to date? What they are listening for is sincerity and to be sure that there is no remaining bitterness. They want to hear that you are in a mood of resolve and excitement about beginning a new position and making a contribution to that organizations' success. A small dose of humility can also go a long way.

  • How have you been spending your time? Has the job search been a full-out endeavor? Have you been volunteering your time or done any consulting work? Candidates that appear to have been sitting on the sidelines or putting out anything less than a full-out effort may raise concerns about work ethic and commitment.

  • Have you made any investments (time or money) to improve your skill set and marketability? If the answer is no, there is still time. Take an online course, read some books or download a free trial version of a software tool that will enhance your marketability.

  • How much? We are all aware that there is a new reality when it comes to compensation. The law of supply and demand is just not in the favor of job seekers. Candidates that show a willingness to consider positions at a significantly lower level that what they are accustomed raises serious retention concerns for the employer. The best answer that I have heard presented by a candidate was to offer to commit to remain with the new employer for a period of time (12-24 months seems reasonable). Please note that the employer may not raise their concerns about retention - just know that it is most probably there and any answers that you can provide during the interview to stress your commitment and the fact that you are not a job-hopper can only help.