How Can L&D Deliver When the CEO Delivers a Capability-Led Business Strategy
Julie Fitzgerald, Organisational Learning Manager at Z Energy New Zealand, joins Blake Proberts on the Strategic L&D Podcast to talk about how to work with business units to ensure their requests are aligned with business strategy, the best way to do bottom-up and top-down capability assessments, and why more data isn’t always better for your L&D strategy. Listen to the full episode above or watch below.
Julie, I’d love to start by just getting you to talk a little bit about yourself and what you do.
Awesome. I’m excited to be here. So yeah, Hi, I’m Julie. I’m Julie Fitzgerald. I’m the Organisational Learning Manager at Z Energy and New Zealand. For those of you not from New Zealand, Z Energy’s what Shell New Zealand used to be. So we’ve got retail service stations, and we have wholesale customers and aviation customers. So yeah, that’s, that’s our industry.
So I’ve been there for 19 years. Yeah, I’ve been at Z since before we were Z back when we were shell. And I’ve been working in learning and development for—kind of full on learning and development role for three years. And prior to that, I’ve done quite a lot of other things across the business from, you know, retail to sales to all sorts of things. So yeah, I’ve got a bit of a varied background.
How do you find the energy sector? And what do you think is different about it from other sectors?
Yeah, I think, um, probably the risk that we deal with is probably a big one for us. So a lot of the activities that we’re involved in are quite high risk and high consequence, if those things don’t go well. So from a learning and development perspective, it’s really important that we get things right iIn those parts. Like if I make an error in my job, nobody dies. But if somebody’s working in the frontline—who’s unloading a ship with fuel and it’s going across a pipeline into a terminal—makes a mistake, then, you know, that can have dire consequences on humans and the environment. So—and I think that’s common across the energy sector. I think if you’re working in electricity, and things like that, as well, you have different risks, but it’s a big game that you’re playing. So I think that’s an important part of our culture and also important part of, you know, what, as L&D professionals we’re thinking about.
I think that’s probably the main thing, I think, otherwise, we’ve got customers, just like lots of other industries. And we’re really trying to focus on creating great experiences for customers. The largest team in our businesses, our digital team. So in a lot of ways, we’re not dissimilar from a lot of organisations out there that, you know, digital experiences are really important. And, you know, enabled by digital is a big part of our business as well. So, you know, while there’s things that are different, I think we’ve got lots in common as well.
What do you reckon are some of the biggest lessons learned in your career?
Yeah, well, it’s interesting because my undergrad degree was in psychology, and way back when I originally wanted to get into training was what we kind of call it back in those days. And I couldn’t get a job in training following university. So I ended up working at Hungry Jacks in Australia. Management traineeship, which, you know, everybody said, would be a great starting point, because you learn great skills. So—and I did, I was 20 years old, and I was running a restaurant and I had 60 staff and I learned so much.
But what I also learned was, you know, the training that we had was awesome, and it really set me up for success. And then what, what I guess has been common throughout my career and every job that I’ve had—so I’ve been in operations, I’ve been in sales, I’ve been a business development manager, I’ve been a category manager. I’ve worked in aviation as well. In all of those roles, the bit of my job that I’ve enjoyed the most is bringing other people on and training and developing others. So that’s always been thing for me.
And I think that’s been really important, getting connected to what I really enjoy doing and what really matters to me. And then a few years ago, I’m like, You know what, actually, the bit that I’ve loved the most about every job that I’ve done is the learning and development sort of training part of it. So that’s when I started to dive deeper into bringing more of that into my role. So I did a bit of a job crafting, I think, so whenever there was a new development opportunity, I put my hand up, ended up facilitating some leadership workshops and things like that. And then just gradually, you know, worked my way closer and closer to the point now where that’s all I do, and I’m loving it.
But I do think that there’s a real strength that I bring from understanding customers and understanding the frontline and understanding how our business works. And in any business is I think I’ve got a good empathy for the audience, just from all that experience that I’ve had. So, yes, I’m kind of glad I didn’t get a training job straight out of university, that I got to do all these other things. Because I think that, plus my operational understanding of the industry that I work in, is a real strength when I’m trying to grow the people that work in that part of the business.
You mentioned you really fell in love with bringing people on board with the organisation and its culture? How do you do that at a place like Z Energy where you’ve got such a high level of risk and a low risk tolerance?
Yeah, it’s, it’s different in each part of the business. And then there’s some threads that we went through that are the same for everybody.
So, in our operational parts of the business, we actually have—so I don’t actually deliver training to operational parts of business, we’ve got specialists, subject matter expert capability leads, in retail and in in supply, which is where those kind of particular high risk parts of the business are. So they are the ones that craft the onboarding experience for the people that work in those parts of the business, to make sure that they’re learning what they need to learn at the right moment in time. So there’s a structured induction that those people do, that covers off all the technical skills that they need, you know, the health and safety, all of that kind of stuff. So there’s that part of it.
For our office-based employees, or our, like our corporate employees, we have a similar—we have an onboarding experience, but it’s much more flexible, because there’s a lot more variation in the roles that are, you know, corporate office, people do—who work in supply this, especially in a terminal, there’s only Terminal Operator to Assistant Terminal Manager and Terminal Manager. So they’re quite a modulus in the roles. So they can create quite a, you know, standard experience. Whereas, you know, there’s very few people that do the same job in our corporate office.
So that’s very much manager-led. They craft the onboarding with some templates and things that is right for that person. So they’re meeting the right people, connecting with the right people, and learning what they need to learn. And we’ve got some compliance training and stuff, which I think is pretty common for everyone.
I think what’s really distinctive about the onboarding experience that we create, though, is everybody who joins there does this experience called Getting Connected and Getting Connected is about getting connected to our Why. So our Why is a published document that said, and so we’ve stated what our purpose is, what our strategy is, our values, our leadership framework, the ways, the ways of working, it’s all in this document. And we spend one day over two days, every person that joins Z comes in to the Z head office in Wellington, and we spend a couple of days really diving deep into what our Why means. Including helping people get connected to their personal values, how those values linked to what matters at Z, and then you know what that means for how they would call it, perform, behave, learn and enjoy.
I’ve actually just finished a Getting Connected yesterday. I think what’s great about that is I co-facilitate it, but it’s run by our CEO. So our CEO takes that timeout to have that experience with everybody new that starts. And I think that’s the really distinctive part, is that you can say that safety is really important, but when the CEO is connecting with you in your early days working for the organisation and say, You know what there is these things that really matter to Z. Safety and wellbeing is one of them. This is why it matters. This is what I expect of you. It’s very powerful in terms of rapidly onboarding people into the culture, I guess, and having them empowered to elevate the culture even further. I think there’s a real invitation there. So that’s, that’s kind of how we do it. So whether you’re a terminal operator, or, you know, a general manager, everybody has that common experience as well as their individual ones.
What kind of training do you deliver after somebody starts in their role, and does that look like a strategy that’s built to align with business impact?
Yeah, I think, we’re—I think, in the operational parts of the business, which I’ll probably speak to less, because I think that’s pretty similar to how lots of operational parts of the business do. There’s, you know, learning pathway basically, that you follow over a few years that teaches you all the things that you need to learn and gets you the proper certifications and everything and you get the on-the-job experience and the assessments and all that kind of stuff. I think that’s pretty standard experience.
“The way we talk about our strategy is that it’s a capability-led strategy. So the thing that’s going to enable our strategy is capability. We look at what is it that we need to achieve? Where are we at now? And then what are we doing to build that capability?”
I think in our otherwise, we, we link our capability building very closely to our strategy. So our strategy is we—the way we talk about our strategy is that it’s a capability-led strategy. So the thing that’s going to enable our strategy is capability, which makes it a really exciting place to work for someone in my job. And so we’ve identified for the enterprise the capabilities that we think are really going to help us realise our strategic objectives. And so we’ve identified innovation, digital customer experience, leadership, safety and wellbeing as really strategic capabilities. And so then we look at, well, what what is it that we need to achieve? Where are we at now? And then what are we doing to build that capability?
We do a mixture of things, where we will do a piece of work to change the whole organisation. So very closely working with change management, where it’s like, well, this is where we’re at now. And this is where we want to be. So we’ll do a piece of work that’s kind of like, well, let’s move the organisation forward, or a whole bunch of people in the organisation forward. So for example, we did a piece of work around customer experience a couple of years ago, where everybody did an experience on customer experience. And then what we do is we go, so what does that mean for onboarding new people. And often, what it means is that we update Getting Connected. So the Getting Connected experience connects you into where we’re at now, as opposed to putting everybody who joined through the same lengthy learning experience, because when you enter the culture, and it’s at a certain point, you don’t need to do as much work to catch other people up.
And also, if these capabilities are strategic for us, the people we’re recruiting and bringing in often have those capabilities already. So you know, it’s very, it’s kind of tailored. So that’s kind of one way that we do it.
And then the other thing is then business unit by business unit, we’re also looking at what are the capabilities that are critical for delivering the strategy of the business unit? And then how are we building those and embedding them? And I think, capability building doesn’t just happen about building people’s competency, right. So you build capability by also having great tools, great systems and great governance. And that’s all the role of leadership in an organisation. So really having our leadership teams thinking about capability is something that enables how they deliver strategy, and then making sure that they’re weaving that into how they do things, and then my function supporting that essentially, is kind of how we think about it.
You know, in some other ways, we’ve done quite a lot of work in tools and systems in order to deliver on strategy. So we identified customer experience and innovation. And we did a whole lot of work around that. And then what we realised is that strategy is great, and the direction we’re going is the right direction, but we’re not really executing on our strategy effectively. So we did a bunch of work to create a ways of working kind of principles that we’ve called the Z How, which is how do we prioritise? How do we decide which things we’re going to invest in? We reorganised the company into investment streams, to really make sure that we had the right resource in the right place to deliver on the things that matter. Now that’s in that systems and processes kind of side, but it’s a capability as well. So that’s kind of how we think about it.
Once you’ve got your capabilities and your proficiencies, how do you then manage your learning activities? And what activities do you find work really well in an environment like you’ve got at Z Energy?
Yeah, so we do a, we do a blend of things. I, the way I like to think about the learning, the learning experiences that we create is that we create the right experience to get the outcomes that the business needs. So while I have learning frameworks and ways of thinking about things, what I really try and do is design things that are fit for purpose for the problem that’s in front of me or the problem that we’re trying to solve. So somebody asked me the other day, W hat’s your learning strategy? And I’m like, my learning strategy is that learning is engaging and enables the business outcomes that we want. And then what that looks like, kind of depends on what you need, right? So try not to go oh, we do this via eLearning. And we do this in the classroom. While I’ve got some experience and principles that I apply, I try not to limit the thinking in that way.
So yeah, so but we do a blend of stuff, right. So more, more virtual than we’ve ever done before, I think. But you know, we do have a learning management system. And we do push out things through the learning management system, it’s largely for compliance training. But whenever it matters, that I know that somebody’s had an experience, then I’ll use a learning management system to track that, but only track things that where it matters that I know that a person’s had an experience. If it doesn’t matter, I won’t necessarily use a learning management system.
We do things like lunch and learns where you can learn from experts. And those are great because they evolve and change as the business changes. So they don’t require a lot of design, you can get those things off the ground quite quickly. And it’s much more about what’s on people’s minds at that particular moment. And then you can run them again, you know, when the appetite’s there. So we do, we do a bit of that kind of stuff.
And we have got some facilitated workshops that that we run, and we tend to run those virtually now. And again, we will run them when they’re needed. So some examples, might be we’ve got some stuff that we’ve done on, you know, productivity. So we haven’t run those in a while because we did a whole bunch of work around being more productive using digital tools. And we kind of, you know, elevated people and then people teach each other. So then you don’t need to run that stuff centrally. But actually, we’re just kind of looking at our digital capability again now and going, actually, there’s probably some more work to do there. So we’re having a think about how we can sort of elevate it again.
But one thing we do do is every year as we focus on individual development planning. So we have a quarter two, which is we’re in it right now, where we ask everybody to take a step back. And so what we work with people on is how to think about individual development planning, how to reflect on where you’re at right now, how do you build self awareness? How do you set great development goals? How do you think about how you might build capabilities for yourself? And then what resources do you need? And then we kind of go, Okay, what do people need, and then kind of produce things that people are asking for. So we really want to build that learning agility capability through that, I think, but also, that commitment to your development and constantly learning, I think was particularly important, given the pace of change, right? So even if you stay in the same job for five years, it does not look the same at the five-year mark as what it did on day one. So you know, even when you’re sitting still, you’ve got to be constantly learning and moving. So I think probably the greatest gift we can give our people is to help them and support them learn how to learn for themselves. So put a lot of focus into that.
“The greatest gift we can give our people is to help them and support them [in learning] how to learn for themselves.”
I think that staying current is getting harder and harder, given the tools that pop up every day.
And it’s a constant challenge because, you know, we’re constantly constrained. You know, there’s never enough people to do all the things that you want to do. You’ll see you’re constantly prioritising, and so having people prioritise their learning in the to do list of other things that they’re trying to deliver is a constant challenge. It’s a constant challenge.
How do you baseline assess the capability of the organisation? How do you get a good feel for where it’s at now so that you can measure it going forward?
We’ve got a bit of, we’re not that mature in some ways on that. And then I think in other ways, I think we do some really good stuff. So at an individual level, we’ve got kind of capabilities that are required for each role. And we use a system that kind of you can go in and see what capabilities are required for your role, self assess, ask for feedback from others, and kind of get a sense of. So that supports that individual developing skills and capabilities that are required for your role. And what it also means that if you’ve got aspirations to move across the business into other roles, there’s some visibility and transparency of what’s required for other roles. So you can use that to inform your development plan.
So because we do that, we have a sense of what’s needed from a technical skills perspective. And also, you know, from that perspective—and also, we’ve got a bit of a sense of what we’ve got. Not everybody does that activity, but we’ve got a bit of a sense of the bench strength that we’ve got across the business. So that’s kind of the bottom up kind of thing.
And then the top down kind of thing is, well, where are we headed, and what capabilities are going to be important for the, for the future? And that’s where we work with the business, you know, and our leaders across the business to go, Well, how well are we doing at that stuff? And I like the BCG framework about capability that talks about competence, tools, systems and governance. And so when we’re assessing capability, we asked leaders across the business to think about where you’re at on all of those quadrants. And therefore, then, what’s the gap? So it’s kind of like, well, if this is the aspiration, in terms of strategy, what would the, what would great look like in terms of the capabilities that we need, and then where are we at right now? So it’s kind of like, what’s the goal? Where are we at? And then we can figure out the pathways to build.
And the reason I like that is, I think, you know, when I first started in training, I was in sort of retail training. And whenever there was an incident that happened, so something went wrong, the solution in the sction plan was like, oh, we need more training. It’s like, we need to, you know, we need to fix the people. But actually fixing the people—we never fix the people, because people always make mistakes. So they always, you know, kind of do things differently. And then they go rogue in good ways, as well as bad ways. But I think by thinking about what governance and what systems have we got, and what processes and tools have we got that are really enabling our people to perform in the way that’s required, really helps us to take a more holistic view. So that’s, yeah, so we’ve kind of got a sense of the individual, and then we’ve got a sense of what the organisation needs, and then we kind of do a bit of a gap analysis and then try and close that gap is kind of how we approach it.
When you started, did you have the capability framework? Were these things in place?
We don’t have a capability framework really. We do have—so we’ve started to standardise those individual job description-ey kind of level capabilities. But that’s mainly through putting them in a system, right. So you start calling business acumen business acumen in every job, rather than business acumen here and commercial acumen here and stuff like that. So we’ve got descriptions of what those things mean. But we, but it’s by no means sophisticated. And by no means, you know… yeah, as I’ve like other ones I’ve seen when I worked for Shell, there was like, five levels. And you know, there’s all this kind of stuff. It’s nowhere near that. It’s just basically one sentence description of what we mean by that.
And we’re not planning on doing any more on that. And the reason for that, I think, is that stuff changes so rapidly. You can invest I think a lot in building all of that stuff. And then it goes out of date so quickly, I think and I think a one sentence description of actually, you need this for this. People get it like, you know, I think they understand what that means. It doesn’t need to be terribly sophisticated.
But one area where we have put a lot of effort in is our leadership framework. And I wouldn’t call our leadership framework a capability framework necessarily, but it is a set of behavioural expectations around leadership. And that’s an area where—because if you think about leadership, it’s like leadership is causing something to happen that wouldn’t otherwise happen. That’s broadly how we define leadership. So everybody at Z is a leader, and then we’ve got very clear behavioural expert expectations for everybody at Z around how you connect, how you act and how you learn. And if people are connecting, acting and learning, then the rest of it kind of comes together. Like you do that in a way that’s appropriate for your role. If you’re learning, you’re learning the things that you need to learn. And actually, often people in a job are far better, especially at the pace of change, to tell me what it is that they need, rather than me tell them. So I really just want to build that behavioural bench strength. And then I think if we’ve got leadership, the rest of it does kind of take care of itself.
“Often people in [their] job are far better, especially at the pace of change, to tell me what it is that they need, rather than me tell them.”
Of course, we need technical experts in those high risk areas and engineers and all that kind of stuff, you need the experts. But again, I’m not an expert in that. I’m going to rely on the experts to tell me what they need, and then we’ll wrap some support around it. So I think that’s how we think about it more. And I think that makes us much more nimble to respond to change.
How important are you finding technology in your capability development and how much do you leverage technology?
Yeah, it’s such a great question. We’re actually quite small. So we’re about 478 people. So there’s some constraints that come with that on how well we can leverage technology. So I think there’s, there’s some really sexy stuff out there where there’s just no way we’re investing in that kind of stuff, because we’re just not big enough. And we just wouldn’t get the return on investment, right. And we don’t have the resource internally to manage the sexy stuff. And, you know, and all of that.
So I think there’s some constraints to being small, around technology, particularly when it comes to learning technologies and things. But I also think there’s some real upsides because it means that we can be quite nimble and creative and do things a little bit differently.
So the LMS, we’ve got, it was one that we were using in the retail part of the business. So we’ve just piggybacked on that one for use in corporate. It’s pretty simple. But it does the job that we need. And it’s not too expensive to run. So we use that. The other portal that we use, we’ve used for a number of years. It’s around career development, we call it Career Drive. And again, it’s a standalone portal. So there’s some problems that come with that, because we’re trying to get data to talk to each other. But in other ways, it means that we’re quite happy having a standalone portal, and we’ve only got 470 people to update in it anyway, so it’s not too big a deal. So I think that’s quite good.
But then we just kind of use what’s available to us in a lot of ways. So I use Teams quite a lot. I use Teams breakout rooms, I use Flydo quite a lot for building interactivity into online meetings. I use Miro, for a lot of online learning, you know, the facilitated kind of stuff, I’ve learned to video in it. So I record stuff, and I video with it, or I screen recording a video at it. I try and do that when I create experiences—because you can do a lunch and learn that’s 45 minutes, nobody’s gonna watch a 45 minute recording. So I’ve learned to video edit, to grab little snippets of things out and give people bite-sized chunks. And we’ve got some good partners that we work with who can do, you know, kind of sexier versions of that for us if we need to.
But I think if anything, you know, COVID and lockdowns has kind of built with our people an acceptance of, actually, it’s good enough, like you’re getting the outcome that you need, and I can deliver it in an afternoon. So just pushing things out kind of quite quickly that are fit for purpose. And I use SharePoint quite a lot. So an intranet quite a lot. And create, like knowledge management tools, and, you know, embedded videos on a page and articles and push sort of stuff for people. But also making sure that things people can search for things in the moment of need, you know, and people can access things digitally. So the good thing is that everybody in our business has a laptop, so everybody can access all the materials that we produce for people. So in that way, I think we were kind of fluid and nimble. And yeah, and in some other ways, you know, you see really great, you know, virtual learning environments and stuff like that where you go when that’d be amazing, but we just don’t have the scale to to warrant it.
And the other thing is that I’ve just found that some of the things that I’ve spent the most money on in terms of developing learning experiences over the years, they just go out of date so quickly these days, it’s just not worth it. So you’re just better off learning to video edit and chucking something together that does the job in the moment because in six months it’s going to be different anyway.
“[Recognise] how people learn outside of work, and kind of bring that experience into the workplace as much as you can.”
I think too, just recognising how people learn outside of work, and kind of bring that experience into the workplace as much as you can. Like, if I want to learn something, I’ll Google it. And I’m more of a I like to read rather than watch YouTube videos, but most people are happy to watch a YouTube video. So why wouldn’t I have, we’ll just search for it on our intranet? And here’s the process and here’s a video, like, go find it yourself, in the moment that you need it sort of thing, and just try and use comms and stuff to let people know what’s available. So they know what they don’t know and they’re searching in the right place. Yeah, I think there’s a little bit of searching on Google with where I’d rather they searched on our intranet first, but you know, they’re getting the answer. And they’re getting an outcome kind of doesn’t matter as well.
It’s really impactful when you make videos of the actual workplace too, because the context is there. It is your workplace.
Yeah. Yeah, I would love it if we did more of our own created and curated learning internally. I’ve had a crack at it a couple of times; I haven’t, I haven’t nailed it yet. You know, I would love our people to be creating their own videos, and you know, sharing them and stuff. When we did our customer experience capability build, I really tried to get people to tell stories through video to share across the business, and I could not get them to do it. So I use a lot of video of our people, but I have to control and, you know, yeah, yeah, kind of film them myself and call them into a Teams meeting and ask them questions and do that, and then edit it sort of thing. But I’d love to get to the point where people are doing more of that to share their stories. Yeah, we’re just, we’re just not there yet.
Yeah, and I think, too, we’ve got a more mature workforce. So, you know, given the nature of our industry, I think, and, you know, a lot of the kind of engineering-based kind of jobs that we’ve got, we’ve got a more mature workforce. So, you know, I’m hopeful that as the next generation start coming in, who are more digital natives, that we can start to sort of do a bit more of that. And kind of, once we get more people role modelling that hopefully we can get a bit of cultural change around that. But I think that is a challenge for us.
You briefly mentioned data. How important do you find data to L&D strategy? Is it something to be leveraged a lot or would you like to leverage it more?
Yeah, I think, I think data is really important. And I think that you can collect a lot of data that you don’t use. And there is a cost on the learning experience of collecting some data I find so I could, there’s lots of surveying, I could do with people to find out things. But I’m very careful about when I asked for feedback of people about learning experiences, and about what they’re learning more about what people’s team members are learning, because I’m just really conscious of survey fatigue, right? So if I’m not going to use it, and it’s not going to inform me of anything, I’m not going to collect it. So that’s that’s kind of one thing. I think it’s just being mindful that just because you can collect data doesn’t mean that you should and doesn’t mean that it’s going to be useful.
It’s really—if you can collect it without the cost on the humans, then you know, potentially if, if we’ve got something sophisticated in the background that just grabs it for you, then, then great, we don’t have that. So if I’m collecting data, it’s—there’s a, there’s an impact in terms of people’s time on that data.
However, I think data is critical for us in terms of measuring the success and effectiveness of learning experiences that we create. And so when I do collect it, I find it really helpful. And I try and build measures of success when I create learning outcomes. So then I know what I’m measuring at the outset. So there’s one of the things I kind of try and do is go well, this is what the learning outcome’s going to look like, this is what the behaviours are going to be and this is how we’re going to measure whether those behaviours are happening or not. And trying to find things that we already measure that we can use as proxies, and then filling the gaps is kind of how how I would go about it.
I find, you know, transfer to job is really tricky to measure. And I think anybody in learning and development will tell you that the best way that we’ve done that is through doing like a triangulated survey. So when we’ve created some learning experiences, we’ll have the facilitator answer some questions, the learners answer some questions. And then the, the learner’s managers and peers sometimes answer some questions about the learning experience as well. And they do it a few weeks after the learning experience, depending on what it is, we sort of move the time out, just to get a sense of what people are doing differently once they get back to work.
And I find that has two impacts. One, it gives you a really good sense of—you still get the happy sheet feedback, like what what did you think of a learning experience, and if there was catering, was it delicious, and all that kind of stuff that matters to people like that’s useful. But you also get a sense of like, oh and actually these are the things I’ve done differently since I got back to work. And those, you can quantify those things. But also, those qualitative pieces of feedback are really useful in playing back to the stakeholders who spent the money on, on the solution. It’s like, this is what people are saying about the impact that it’s having on their performance. And then you can kind of correlate that with business performance and go and we’re getting the outcomes we said, and this is what people are saying. So there’s some way of kind of giving some, I guess, meaning to the correlations that you get. So I find that really helpful.
But that’s quite a, that’s quite a load in terms of surveying. So I don’t do that on everything, like I’d love to. But people don’t want to fill out that many surveys. So I’m just really careful about when I do use that. And I might not use it all the time for the same learning experience. I might just do it when we roll it out, then I’ll make some changes. And then I might do it again, six months or a year down the track, kind of do that again to kind of check in and see how it’s going to kind of refresh. So that’s kind of one way that I use data. And then obviously we’re using completion stats and stuff like that, like anybody else.
But to be honest, I think that’s more about assuring stakeholders, but it doesn’t really tell you anything. Like I can tell you that everybody’s completed a piece of learning, but I don’t know what they’ve learned. You know, but sometimes that’s what people are asking for. And I think there’s a real responsibility on people who work in learning and development to both give people what they asked for. But it also it’s also to give them what they need. So it’s like, you realise when you’re asking me that question, this is all you’re getting like this—you’re not getting, you’re not getting assurance about learning, you’re getting assurance about completion of a task. So why don’t we take a step back and think about, you know, what the impact of the learning is, and maybe ask something a little bit different.
But I do think the upside to have, you know—anecdotally, I can’t prove this—but I have a hypothesis is that if I go back to somebody a month after a learning experience, and ask them half a dozen questions about that learning experience, what also happens is they’re reminded about the learning experience and about the learning outcomes they’re supposed to achieve. So if they haven’t done anything, I’ve had people say, Oh, it prompted me to then apply the stuff I hadn’t yet but gosh, you asking me about it made me think about it. And then now I have applied it. So so there’s a there’s an upside in terms of the measurement being an actual kind of, you know, nudge or so I don’t know if it’s a nudge but you know, kind of a prompt for people.
On a little bit of a different note, how do you come to the decision to procure or build training, and is that something where you put together a business case?
Well I’m, so we’re kind of, we’re sort of semi-agile, agile and the way that we work. So we’re not full on agile with a capital A. But we’ve implemented our version of agile ways of working, which we call the Z How. And so I’m a, I’m a shared resource for the business. So there’s a, there’s like a, there’s a high level strategy, then there’s a roadmap of activities that need to be delivered by the end of FY24. And those are prioritised, right. And then for each of those, we’re kind of clear on which ones require capability resource to build those.
And at the moment, I’m the sole capability person. So some of the, some of it’s about how much capacity I’ve got so. So if there’s things that I can do myself, and I don’t sort of require anything other than my time and stuff, then it’s very easy to say yes to requests and go, yep, that’ll take me a day, a sprint, and I can get that done by the end of the quarter. But if there’s priorities that all need to be delivered within a timeframe, and there is not enough capacity for me to support them, that’s where we might require some investment to support the delivery of something. Or where I don’t think I’ve got the capability to deliver the solution myself, I would support the business to do the initial piece of work and go, What is it we’re trying to build? What do we think the solution looks like? Actually, I think the solution looks like this. And I can’t build that by myself. Either I don’t have capacity, or I don’t have the skills or capabilities, I couldn’t build a learning, for example, that’s just not in my bag, right?
So then, then we would use a way of kind of asking for that investment, we use a process called DVF. So desirability, viability, and feasibility. And so the piece of work overall would do a DVF. So sometimes the learning and development components, just part of the overall investment to do the piece of work. And sometimes the lnd component sits on its own, but we kind of go well, how desirable is it? So what’s the impact going to be? How feasible is it to do it? And then how viable is it to do it? And then, you know, that’s kind of how we do it, and what results are we going to get?
Now, the results bit’s the interesting part so—because with learning and development, like you can describe a product that you’re going to deliver, but that’s not necessarily engaging to people who are deciding to spend money on some L&D or on an upgrade to the app that’s going to get us 20 million new customers or something? Not that many, don’t have that!
And so what I really try and do when, when we’re describing learning outcomes is that I’m really clear with stakeholders about so what’s the strategy? What’s the outcome that we’re trying to achieve? And then behaviourally, what’s going to deliver the outcome and I get stakeholders really, really clear on the link between these behaviours are going to deliver these outcomes. And it’s not my job to prove that link. It’s their, their job to go yep, I know, based on my expertise as a SME, that this is going to get us that. And then, then what I can connect to in the L&D kind of component is well, okay, how do we get those behaviours? So that’s the bit I’m trying to prove.
“I get stakeholders really, really clear on the link between [what] behaviours are going to deliver outcomes. And it’s not my job to prove that link. I can connect to L&D in the component of… how do we get those behaviours? That’s the bit I’m trying to prove.”
I found whenever I’m trying to prove the outcome, we go around in circles and get stuck, like because like, you know, so I can actually, yeah, that’s not my job. Actually, I’ve decided, I don’t know, I don’t know if that’s right or wrong, but I’ve just gone no, that’s not my job. It’s like you as the SME; what behaviours do you want? Show me why you think those leads to the outcomes? What experts have you spoken to? Okay, great. Cool. Well, those are the behaviours. Okay, how do we get there? What systems do we need to support people to behave that way? What processes, what governance and then what kind of capability? And then measuring how people behave is kind of simple—not simple, simple, but way simpler than trying to link learning outcomes to sort of business outcomes. So, so that’s kind of how I navigate that. Yep. So yeah, but DVF is kind of the framework that we use.
Tell you, I’m a, I’m a big believer in well-articulated learning outcomes that describe how people behave. Not what they understand—what is it that they do is what I’m really interested in.
I agree, I think the focus on behavioural change really needs more spotlight overall, rather than just this this sort of knowledge checkbox training system.
Well, absolutely. And I think the other thing about being really clear on the behaviours that we want is we can communicate those to the business. And then the leaders know what they’re looking for in terms of the behaviours. So they’re reinforcing the learning and the coaching conversations they’re having with their people every day, if we talk about what people understand, that’s very difficult as a, as a manager of someone to go, what do you understand? You’re not, I’m not getting the outcomes I want. Whereas if you’ve described things as behaviours, you can go, oh, well, this is the behaviour that we’re looking for. Here’s the gap for you. So how do we get you there?
“It’s naive to think that one learning experience is going to get us… business outcomes.”
Because the the other thing, I think, is, it’s very naive to think that one learning experience is going to get us there. It’s like, so much more of it happens in the conversations with the leaders, and, you know, the systems that that have it and the governance around it, the measurement of the results, and all those sorts of things are far more likely to cause the outcomes. So if we, you know—I think that’s a real impact that L&D functions can have on business outcomes, is really helping the business to understand that whole picture and how much of it actually happens on the job, how much of it actually happens in the flow of work. We can do stuff outside the flow of work that sets the scene, but it happens in the flow of work. And if you think you’re going to send someone away to do some learning, and they’ll come back, you know, transformed, that’s not the way it works. So yeah, I think understanding that and, you know, having managers on the hook for delivering those outcomes as well, I think really helps to get where you’re trying to go.
Do you prioritise learning activities by what you can measure on behavioural change?
Yeah, so I would like to think that I do that really, really well. But I know that there’s some compliance training stuff where I tick the box, right? So there is some stuff that we have to assure somebody else that something’s been done. And so we just do it, even though I don’t know that it necessarily delivers the outcome in the way you know—there’s so there’s some stuff that just gets done, because we have to provide assurance to somebody else.
But largely the way I prioritise it—and we’ve got, we’re lucky—not lucky, because we’ve created them—but I’m lucky in that we’ve got very, very clear business priorities. And we’ve got very, very clear roadmap objectives. And we’ve got a prioritisation framework. So I’ve got very, very strong frameworks to support me to make really good decisions about what, what we’re going to prioritise.
So you know, the things I’m at work on at the moment, our leadership development, women’s leadership development, you know, I’ve got a piece on risk, I’ve just done a great piece on supply chain. All of those things are on our roadmap objectives and things we need to deliver. So the priorities kind of already set for me. So those are the things that I’m going to deliver, it also makes it really easy to say no to other stuff. So it’s like, well, which roadmap objective is this supporting the delivery on? Oh, well, no.
The other thing that helps me prioritise is the load on our peoples. So, you know, I think, if, if I may, if I’m a woman in supply, and I need leadership development, like, I’m going to be hit with all three of those things. And I’ve got a day job to do as well. So what, what I really try manage is the load on the impact of our people as well. So I don’t want learning to land on people, like they’re being, you know, hit with a fire hose and knocked over. Like, I really want it to land with people like something that’s enabling them to, to deliver the things that matter to them. So that’s the other thing you need to kind of balance, is it may very well be three things are on the roadmap objective, but if all those three things are going to hit the same audience, then we need to reprioritise on you know how we’re going to do it.
And, you know, I’ve got examples every quarter of where I’ve realised I’ve planned to do something, the audience I want to do it with, it’s like nah, actually, I can’t touch them this quarter. Yeah, and just you just got to get okay with that.
And I think the, you know, the other thing is that if nobody’s going to die, then it’s okay. You can move things around. And I think just because you’ve made a commitment doesn’t mean you can’t renegotiate that and go, this isn’t the right thing to do right now. And these are the reasons why. And sometimes it’s because we need to prioritise something that could kill someone, right? So actually, that’s a higher priority. We need to deal with this thing over here because we’ve identified a risk and we’ve got a bunch of work we need to do on that. So yeah, I think having good frameworks really is helpful for that. Yeah. And if you don’t have them, I really recommend working with the business to get really clear on what matters most. So then you can kind of slot in where you have the biggest impact.
To end, where can people find you?
Yeah, I mean, I’m really happy to get in touch with anybody who wants to chat more. So I’m easily found on LinkedIn. So I’m Julie Fitzgerald, and I work at Z Energy. So I’m pretty easy to find, I think on LinkedIn. But also, you know, through the Z website, you know, our call centre would would put people in touch with me as well.
If you follow me on LinkedIn, recently published a case study on a really nice piece of learning we did around our supply chain. So we built this kind of really cool gamified experience. It’s a board game simulation of our supply chain to help people understand the change. So yeah, that’s a that’s a nice case study, all over my LinkedIn profile. So if anybody is the bit interested in a bit of the detail about sorts of things we do, then, then that’s a goodie. But yeah, I’m really happy for people to reach out and connect with me. I love talking L&D. And, yeah, I just learn so much from the questions that people asked me and from other L&D practitioners. So yeah, that would be great. I welcome it.
This is a transcript from the Strategic L&D Podcast, where we venture through what key L&D opinion leaders are doing today to ensure they’re delivering a strategically impactful L&D function. If you want to stay up to date with our latest releases, subscribe to our podcast. We’re on most common podcast platforms, including Spotify and Apple. You’ll also find us in video form on our YouTube channel.
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