Is Ego Limiting the Potential of Your Learning Ecosystem?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

“How will they know we did it?” This question was asked of me by a former peer as I pitched a solution for an ongoing performance problem. Rather than build content and put employees through training, I suggested we curate a collection of best practices that frontline staff could share directly with each other via a social platform. It was a new idea, and I expected some pushback. However, I didn’t expect it to focus on who would get the credit. If it helps people do their jobs better, does it really matter? Well… 

Because we have so many problems establishing a connection between our work and business results, many L&D teams are still measured on typical training metrics, such as completions, test scores, and seat hours. In other words, our value is directly associated with the volume of content we churn out, along with our obvious participation in high-visibility projects. This isn’t just a bad way to determine whether our work is helping employees perform better, it’s also promoting a value system within L&D that inhibits our ability to evolve and keep pace with modern business. The question from my former peer provides a great example of this value system in action. 

The workplace is a complex ecosystem with a multitude of components that influence day-to-day employee performance. As demonstrated by the 70:20:10 framework, most of this takes place outside the sphere of L&D. In fact, L&D often fails to make the effort necessary to recognize, understand, and leverage these components. This can create an unbalanced learning and performance experience for employees as they try to balance mixed messages and conflicting priorities. To enable meaningful and sustained performance improvement in a modern ecosystem, we must escape the L&D bubble and adopt a holistic approach that applies to the overall employee experience. 

This evolution will require us to check our egos at the door. To leverage the complete workplace ecosystem, L&D professionals have to forsake “publicity” and take a decidedly more behind-the-scenes role. Sure, we can still be front-and-center when formal training is the right-fit solution. But we must be oaky with playing a less glamorous supporting role when enabling concepts like performance support, knowledge sharing, and community management. What’s more, we must establish ourselves as valuable partners and subject matter experts—and not allow ourselves to be judged based on volume of work alone. 


In addition to retiring our egos, we must facilitate the shift in the L&D value proposition across the organization. After all, if people are familiar with judging our work solely on the quantity of services we provide, they are likely to see a less visible role as negative change. 

This starts with socializing our approach so key stakeholders understand ALL of the ways we can support performance in today’s workplace. We must overcome legacy challenges and firmly establish connections between learning, performance, and business results whenever possible, especially as part of formal training initiatives. Finally, professionals in our field must revisit our ecosystem-based approach continuously and make our strategies clear to stakeholders by working out loud in simple, easily understood ways that further reinforce the value of L&D. 

By no means is L&D the only workplace team that currently measures its value based on volume of work. However, shifting this mentality is essential if we hope to evolve our approach and foster an employee-centered learning and performance ecosystem. To shift the perceptions of our business partners, we must first get out of our own way and focus on impact, regardless of credit. This is why I responded to my former peer’s question with “It doesn’t matter if it works, right?”


If you’d like to learn more about evolving the L&D mindset, join me in New Orleans for my session “Building a Smarter Learning Ecosystem” during the inaugural ATD Core 4 Conference, September 29-30, 2016. I will share a framework for an employee-centered learning ecosystem and provide practical tips for how L&D pros can use this concept to strengthen existing and new strategies. 

About the Author

JD Dillon is one of the most prolific authors and speakers in workplace learning today. With his practical approach, JD integrates science, technology, storytelling and pure common sense to enable employees, improve organizational performance and drive business results.

JD has spent 20 years designing learning and performance strategies for respected global organizations, including The Walt Disney Company, Kaplan, Brambles, and AMC Theatres. He is currently Chief Learning Architect with Axonify, where he partners with an award-winning team to solve business problems for leading organizations through the application of modern learning practices and cutting-edge technology.

JD is also the founder of LearnGeek, through which he provides advisory and educational services.

You can find JD on Twitter via @JD_Dillon or online at

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