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How to Make Bold Moves as a Learning Leader, Part II

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Thu Jun 13 2024

How to Make Bold Moves as a Learning Leader, Part II
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Last month, I wrote a blog post about my observations of the 2022 recipient of the Chief Learning Officer of the Year award, Ramona Arora, PhD.

As a follow-up, I’m sharing the interview I recently had with Ramona where I was curious to get her perspective on the skills an aspiring learning leader should be developing and what she feels like the L&D industry is missing most, or where it is lagging.

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Jenny Krengel: For a person striving to be in a learning leadership role like you, what top three skills should they focus on building?

Ramona Arora: The first thing is you have to be good at is understanding the external scan of the market. The market means your internal client base of business leadership and their teams. Solid business skills.

You have to understand the market of your own business that you’re serving. So, if you are an L&D leader within HR, you still have to go outside of your business to understand the rest of the business holistically. You have to understand the driving components—whether it’s leadership or technical skills or whatever it is. You have to ask and then understand, “What are the critical skills needed for our future?”

That thread across the business is how you’re going to drive the greatest value. You can spend as much money as you want. But if you don’t understand the core business skills, you cannot align your strategy with the business needs and you’re gonna find yourself not having the impact or the credibility that you want. So, I think the first thing is you’ve got to be scanning internal benchmark data that will lead your strategy.

Jenny Krengel: What’s another skill learning leaders should develop?

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Ramona Arora: You better get your hands on a crystal ball, and you are going to have to design your own crystal ball! It’s manufactured by insights from relationships you have. You must be developing relationships with colleagues both internally within your company, and externally. I’m involved regularly with other CLOs and learning designers, faculty, and researchers at universities. Working with partners; some of my greatest partners are people that help me have foresight into what’s new and innovative and what’s coming. You cannot operate in a bubble.

Jenny Krengel: What’s the third skill that’s critical for learning leaders to develop?

Ramona Arora: Some people aren’t going to be comfortable with this answer, but it’s imperative to be a technologist. If you cannot call yourself a talent technologist, you’re gonna find yourself being outdated very quickly. That's how the world is working. If I am going to be impactful and relevant in my role, I have to feel comfortable with the amount of technology that’s in the function itself, as L&D is moving super fast.

Ramona Arora: I have a fourth skill to add, is that okay?

Jenny Krengel: Of course! What is it?

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Ramona Arora: You have to be creative, and you have to know how to sell. It's about courageous leadership, and you have to be bold, right?

Jenny Krengel: Oh yes, I love the book by Daniel Pink, To Sell Is Human. Everyone should read it.

Ramona Arora: It sounds so basic, but you have to know how to sell. You have to understand your product, and you have to be thinking about your customer and you’ve got to be able to connect the two. What are you building? Who’s your customer? It’s a yin-yang relationship.

I sell ideas all the time. I take my team’s ideas and my team’s vision and my team’s products, and I go and sell it to the business, and I sell it to the market, and I sell it to our vendors. I gotta convince my vendors who want to work with us to buy into and help build our vision. I’m selling all the time.

Jenny Krengel: That’s a get ‘er done mindset! Okay, my last question is, “What is the L&D industry missing most, or where is it lagging?”

Jenny Krengel: That’s a good question. What are they missing most?

We’re not staying ahead of the needs and being in a strategic role enough. I said it before, we have got to be technologists. We have to keep in front of the skills demands. I think we’re lagging in that department.

We’re often a recipient of means, and that means we are not at the table enough for the strategic discussions. And so, when you think about being a powerful L&D leader, you want to be operating and activating business strategies; you’re enabling talent to go and execute on the priorities and the goals of the business. For that part, you can’t be sitting back—historically, we’ve been order-takers—you want fries with that?

Jenny Krengel: It’s so funny you just said, that—did you see the article I wrote? “Do you want fries with that?”

Ramona Arora: I don’t think so!

Jenny Krengel: Yeah. It’s like turning them from being an order-taker to being a strategic partner with that business unit and forecasting the needs of the business. Because L&D professionals ARE the professionals. They should be having meetings with sales leaders, or other leaders, asking questions about where the skills need to be developed. Sometimes leaders don’t know what they don’t know—from a learning perspective. The leader just knows they have some pain and want some relief. An order-taker can only put on the bandage, but a strategic partner helps to avoid the pain to begin with.

The last question is, “When it comes to your role as a learning leader, what is the most innovative thing in the industry you’ve most recently learned or heard about?”

Ramona Arora: Here it is: Like - Comment - Share

Jenny Krengel: Okay… tell me more.

Ramona Arora: Why do I call it Like - Comment - Share? We are operating in a world where for some reason there’s been a disconnect of how we consume learning in our regular lives. I have to go install a car seat. What do I do? I go to YouTube or TikTok. I just watch a 5–10 minute video, and I go install the car seat. I want to learn a quick tip on Excel, and I go maybe to the learning platform? But I usually Google it, and I go and get a quick thing. And it allows me to have learning at my fingertips in quick snippets. It's easy; it’s right there.

So the search compatibility—the search part is big right—but that’s the ability to like or comment or share, so I can make sure that the learning is relevant. That’s having an impact on people who can use it. It’s bubbling up in the search. We don’t do that inside our companies, right? We make people first of all, let me go to my LMS or the internet, and make me go search for it.

Let me go and take a course—30 minutes or 60 minutes—or let me register for a program. That's three months on the line or through the line. We’re missing the mark. There’s a gap.

So, this idea of social learning internally: Like - Comment - Share within the enterprise. I think that's cool.

Jenny Krengel: Really cool—crowdsourcing and promoting the learning that works.

Ramona Arora: How do we build social learning into our things where we’re learning from each other and frankly building influencers with our own business. I mean, we gotta look at generational pools of talent moving back and forth, and frankly, even my mom is following influencers, and she’s 84.

When it comes to my development and training, sometimes I want the one-hour video, sometimes the 20-minute video, and sometimes I just want three minutes.

Jenny Krengel: For sure!

Ramona Arora: That’s why I love stories and relatable people and film, right? You can get tied into a character and then you just want to go deep into that character, and so you could take sound bites from one character who is demonstrating a particular behavior that you want replicated in your company. You can go deep, and people want to watch the whole episode. But if I want the cliff notes …

I think almost maybe the question is malleable content with different modalities, and I think that’s where a lot of the work that you all do. Right, which is an idea. I’m gonna build this, but you can piece it together. You can leverage it in different ways. It can be small. You can run it on a big screen. You can run it or watch it on your phone. You can watch it for eight minutes. You can consume it in an hour like there’s so …

Jenny Krengel: Or host a half-day facilitated experience or a cohort.

Ramona Arora: Yeah, exactly. So that’s the part where I'm like, I think that flexibility where you produce something once but can chunk it down or serve it up in different ways. I think it’s like, you have some Cheerios and then they serve them up in a different way. You know they have Cheerio bars now …

Jenny Krengel: Right. Yeah. I have an 18-year-old daughter, and I’m always asking myself, “How will the next generation want to learn when they arrive in the workforce?” If we are going to get ahead of the game, we need to start looking forward and always asking questions like this.

Ramona Arora: The most innovative and interesting thing to me now is figuring out how to create the right place, right time, and right size content in a way that learners want to learn. And that mimics social learning. Especially for the next generation coming up through the organization!

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