Your Organization is Ready to Change How it Does Learning – Build a Coalition to Ensure Success

Written by Seth Derner
The past eight weeks have exposed how much organizations rely on an in-person approach to training and development. As we talk with our clients we hear that they are concerned about creating sub-par substitutes for the original learning experience. They are also concerned with the number of programs and experiences that have been cancelled. There will be a lasting cost to this pandemic in the loss of talent and skill development for a lot of organizations.

Not everyone was caught flat-footed. Some learning leaders have been promoting a forward-looking, comprehensive digital learning architecture for years. Many of these initiatives, though, have lacked organization investment and leadership commitment. They are often seen as important, but not critical or urgent.

That appears to be changing now.

Early surveys show that executives are already considering strategies to make their organization more resilient to disruptions in the future – more remote/shared work, greater use of collaboration tools, and greater push for digital transformation of key functions across the organization. If this is indeed the case, an outcome of the current crisis may be a mandate to transform your organization’s strategy for learning and development.

Proposing a digital transformation to your learning and development strategy is an opportunity to create enduring impact on the people and performance of your organization. It allows you to bring a vision for a more integrated, more on-demand, more at-the-point-of-work, more individualized approach to helping people develop their capabilities. This is big. And important. So, one simple suggestion as you prepare to present and execute your plan: don’t short circuit your opportunity by going it alone.

Don’t short circuit your opportunity by going it alone

Yes, leaders need to be bold and visionary to usher in innovation and new ideas. But leaders also need to demonstrate they have support for those ideas. Permission to launch a new strategy shouldn’t be confused with organization-wide support to do so.

So how do you avoid an outcome where your efforts to transform learning in your organization aren’t an exercise in futility? Employ thoughtful change management. At Vivayic, we study change management models so that we are equipped to help learning leaders plan and execute efforts to introduce change.

We are familiar with most of the commonly-used change management models, but we most often rely on Kotter’s. When appropriate, we include a change management planning exercise as part of our solution plan. We use the exercise to uncover the potential barriers for adoption and design activities into our project plan that can help address those barriers and drive acceptance.

As you prepare to pitch or start execution on efforts to transform learning, we strongly suggest you lean into Step 2 – Build a Guiding Coalition in Kotter’s model. We’ve found it to be critical to success on organization-wide learning initiatives. And, it’s often the step learning leaders are most hesitant to embrace. It is an investment of time and effort, and there is risk of push-back early in the process. However, when members of your coalition become champions of the effort – especially the skeptics – you’ve greatly increased the likelihood of acceptance across the organization.

From our experience, here are a few insights on how to build an effective guiding coalition:
Number 1

Recruit some of the “unauthorized” leaders with influence. Too often, these coalitions become an advisory committee of senior leaders. That’s not useful for what you need. You need people that understand how people really think: what is motivating, what is causing pain, and what do people really think about the current model/system/approach. You can find these leaders if you ask around. They will need convinced that you genuinely care about their opinions and perspectives.

Number 2

Listen and seek understanding. You’re excited about your ideas and plans and that’s great. You may be defensive the first time you get a reaction that is less than full-throated support. Remember that you’ve had many hours to think through your ideas and plans and see the logic of it all. People learning of your ideas don’t have that luxury. Rather than defend your position with a thorough explanation, stop and be curious about the question or feedback shared. Understanding the perspective of others will make you a more effective communicator and may help identify gaps you hadn’t considered.

Number 3

Invest in developing meaningful relationships. As a client services business we deeply understand that people like to do business with people they know and trust. As a learning leader, it can be tempting to see activities like a guiding coalition as one more transactional activity on the project plan – something you must do to get where you want. We’ve seen guiding coalitions work most effectively when relationships are valued and cultivated by the learning leader. Ownership of the idea and the effort becomes shared and your coalition wants you to be successful in seeing it be successful.

Some organizations look forward to things getting back to normal. Many others recognize a new normal will emerge, and now is the time to consider strategies that build resilience. I hope you are a learning leader in the latter and that you can propose and lead transformation for learning and development in your organization. If so, don’t try to go it alone. Build a coalition that can guide, support, and champion the change you envision. They will improve the outcome and can improve the process of getting there.

If you’d like to learn more about how Vivayic can help you plan digital transformation of your learning and development efforts or would like more insight into how we’ve seen change management be effectively incorporated, contact either of us to schedule a conversation.

Seth Derner
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