Last year I volunteered to join my department’s Engagement Team. We are a small grouping of individuals from various functions in my department. We were presented with a complex challenge. How do we encourage and create an environment of highly engaged and productive associates? Honestly, it sounded like a tall order.
First we evaluated the perceived needs and wants of our team members. There was a desire for better employee recognition, increased communication, and more learning opportunities. As a member of my department’s Learning and Development Team, I was the one expected to find a solution to meet the learning need.
The problem was simple: We are a support-oriented department with ‘clients’ from many different business functions; all distinct, unique, and with a history of being heavily siloed. We have a history of cross-training individuals to counteract this issue. The training consisted of team members attending an instructor-led training, lasting several days. The time and resource investment was considerable with a debatable return on investment.
We needed an impactful, informative, informal, and strategic learning opportunities. The session should be easily accessible and merit the investment. I suggested what I knew to be an effective solution at most companies: institute a Lunch & Learn (L&L) series. To be clear, I have never built an L&L program before. I had no clue where to start. I knew I wanted it to be simple and straightforward for our hosts so they could focus solely on the content and activity design.
Simplicity was crucial and would be the key to the success of the series. I designed a standard development timeline with specific benchmarks to support our various facilitators in their L&L creation. I kept the framework to four standard forms:
- Guidelines and expectations for 1st consultation: I use this form as a guide to walk the facilitators through the initial components of their session. This first consultation occurs 2 months prior to the L&L date and lasts an hour. Main deliverables include:
- Establishing a main contact who will design and host L&L
- Date for L&L
- Initial brainstorming session for topics and activities
- Date scheduled for the second consultation.
I also identify main deliverables to be completed before the second consultation. This includes:
- Topic selected
- Presentation started
- Activities designed
- Remote participation ideas.
- Guidelines and expectations for 2nd consultation: The second consultation occurs 2-3 weeks before the L&L session. Main deliverables include:
- Session agenda
- Identified materials
- Planned activities
- Remote engagement plan
- Room setup plan
- Finalized L&L flyer
The second and final in-person consultation is also meant for the participants to be able to express any questions or concerns. We design the agenda together to discuss the flow and get the hosts comfortable with the timing of the delivery.
- Tasks to Complete the Day of the Lunch & Learn: This form provides the facilitators with a broad list of items to complete the day of the L&L. I also use this form to communicate what my role is:
- Operating the tech components: WebEx, webcam, chat, and clicking through the PowerPoint.
- Participant Review Form: The participants receive this form a full week after attending the L&L session. The main goals of this form are to assess for learning transfer (asking them how they’ve applied or reflected upon what they’ve learned) and to gain their insights on how the session went.
As the development and implementation continued, a secondary benefit became clear to me. We were not just investing in our team’s functional knowledge and skill gap. We also created opportunities for our hosts to develop their skills in the following areas:
- Presentation Skills
- Public Speaking
- Event Planning
- Adult Learning Theory
Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) are the ones designing and delivering these L&L’s. Passionate and knowledgeable as they may be, the bullets above describe major personal and professional development goals for many of them. I wanted to create an opportunity and platform for our SMEs to channel their energy into the skills listed above. So far, there has been great improvement.
A wise person once told me that in order for one to be successful, one must not only reflect on failures, but also reflect on successes. A crucial component in my success was that my direct leader bought into this program and trusted that I could handle the implementation. This built confidence in me, a 24-year-old Learning Professional who is new to the game. That confidence enabled me to develop and implement a program that I believe achieves the results my senior leadership and coworkers expect.
Through this experience, I learned that work environments like the one I described in my initial statement are not simply created. No amount of engineering can make magic happen and shift an office culture overnight. Change is nurtured and well-kept. It is the product of associate dedication at all levels, committing their energy to grow the change they want to see. Through offering Lunch & Learn sessions, our team members have been able to congregate in an informal way to learn more about the various process areas they interact with directly or indirectly. This has created an ease of dialogue while still having fun; encouraging each other to make better informed decisions. We are not near our end state, nor are we close; but, I like to think my L&L initiative is sowing the beginning seeds of change for our department.