October 2017
Issue Map
October 2017
Newsletter Article

5 Things I Wish I’d Known When Starting Out in L&D

2001: A Space Odyssey. It was not just a film about space; it was when I began my own journey into unknown territory—the world of learning and development. I have learned many things over the years. Some I wish I’d known sooner, some I learned exactly when I needed to, and others well, let’s just say, I’m still learning. 

The thing that I love about learning and development is that it is just that—learning and development. I have been fortunate enough to pick a career that allows me to constantly grow my skills, both personally and professionally, and help others do the same. What a great feeling that is! 

As the industry changes and transforms from instructor-led events to a focus on social learning and AI, it has caused me to pause and reflect on lessons I have learned along the way and how they can be incorporated into the current and future state of L&D. 

Failure is OK. That was a tough and painful lesson. As we move toward the future and new technologies and vendors join the L&D landscape, it is important to dig in and learn about them. It is even OK to pilot some ideas with a small group at your organization. If it does not provide the results you were looking for (return-on-investment, engagement, ease of use), don’t fret. We all have to step out and determine what is best for our individual organizations. Don’t allow yourself to get locked into an LMS that is not providing your organization the real positive engagement that you hoped for. Instead, sign up for a free demo, add some users to a new platform, and gauge their engagement level, as well as how it affects the organization’s bottom line. 

Measurement and evaluation are key. I certainly wish I were better versed in this highly sought-after skill. Gone are the days of completion rates as signs of L&D successes. As L&D leaders, we need to be more diligent about how our choices truly align to organizational strategy. Focus on all the ways your organization is learning, formally as well as informally. Determine the appropriate risks of your development strategy, even mistakes, to better align to the direct strategy of the organization. Learning how to utilize true data analytics is key to gaining or keeping a seat at the table with executives. 

Focus on outcomes first. There was a time when a leader would come to me and say, “Customer satisfaction is down. Can you create a training program?” And I would certainly oblige. That approach can no longer apply in today’s fast-paced business environment. As learning leaders, we owe it to the field, the organization, and those we support to truly identify the business goal (how it will be measured, what we are hoping to address), and then define the performance requirements of the request (what do employees need to do). Next stop and think—is this a training issue or not? If the answer is yes, then create the content. Deliver it using micro-learning to create key points for the learner, and then you will truly see your work align to organizational strategy. 


Be visionary. It is imperative as L&D professionals that we step out of our comfort zone and be the consultant and partner we are meant to be within an organization. Whether that be changing the competency model at your organization or even introducing a competency model to our organization, it is our role to bring new ideas to the table. As practitioners and leaders, we owe it to the organizations that we serve to bring not the hottest new idea, but the best idea that suits business needs. 

Align strategy to the organization’s goals. This sounds like a no brainer, right? Well not necessarily. I have been guilty of creating L&D initiatives that align to L&D philosophies without taking the organization’s goals into any of my planning. You can imagine how that turned out, right? Not so well. How did I right the ship? Easy—I admitted my fault and worked with the executive team to ensure that all initiatives going forward directly aligned with our goals. This did something magical as well; it ensured buy-in and increased by success rate as direction to participate came from the top. 

Again, 2001: A Space Odyssey was great film that prepared us for the future. As we look to the future of L&D, we need to ensure that we learn from past mistakes, make course corrections when needed, and always shoot for the furthest star. Remember to always involve, solve,  and evolve.

© 2017 ATD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.

About the Author
Tiffany McLean is a dynamic and passionate L&D professional geared to transform organizations with an in-depth understanding of what L&D tools are needed to succeed: knowledge, drive, consistency, and trust. She currently is the learning and development manager at General RV Center, where she develops the learning strategy for more than 1,500 employees in six states and twelve locations. Email:
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