As a learning and development (L&D) leader, you’re likely busy working to upskill and reskill employees with the skills they need to be successful in their current — and future — roles. However, when your job is focused on developing others, it’s easy for your own development to take a backseat — especially during times of change.
LinkedIn Learning’s Workplace Learning report found that the rate of change businesses faced over the past two years, coupled with unprecedented expectations (from the business and employees), means that L&D’s plate “is fuller than ever,” says Tiffany Poeppelman, CPTM, director of career development at LinkedIn. L&D “has led the way” through these shifts, ensuring that people have the skills they need to succeed in the new world of work.
The tradeoff, however, is that L&D professionals’ own upskilling has “understandably fallen by the wayside,” Poeppelman says. The report also found that L&D professionals spent 35% less time learning compared to their human resources (HR) colleagues and 23% less time learning compared to all active LinkedIn learners least year.
Clearly, L&D leaders need, and deserve, to hit “refresh” on their professional development.
Follow this four-step process to identify your skills gaps and address them with targeted training that will, ultimately, advance your career.
Assessing your skills as a training manager requires self-reflection, says Amy DuVernet, Ph.D., CPTM, Training Industry’s director of training and development. Start by reviewing the research-based Training Manager Competency Model™, which outlines seven core responsibilities essential to the training manager role:
Be honest with yourself about which core responsibilities you feel confident that you can perform, which you need to refine and which (if any) you need to build from the ground up.
Being a training manager “is a complex job,” DuVernet says. You’re not just a leader; you’re a training leader, and being an effective training manager requires both universal leadership skills as well as L&D-specific skills, which the model reflects. For example, competencies like negotiation, influencing, and strategic thinking are all essential for any manager. Other competencies, like the application of learning technologies, are more L&D-specific.
If you are new to the training manager role but have assumed a leadership role before, you might have solid managerial skills but will need to brush up on training manager-specific competencies. On the other hand, if you’ve worked in L&D before but are a new training manager, you’ll likely find that you need more training on core leadership skills and competencies.
Shannon Herrera, head of content curation at Go1, one of the world’s largest corporate education hubs for online training and resources, says that L&D leaders “have become very consultative in how they work in their organizations.” Skills like communication, negotiation and influencing are critical, along with the ability to be flexible and “think outside of the box” to continue acting as trusted business partners, she explains. Poeppelman echoes this idea, noting that learning leaders need “core HR management and people development skills” to perform their roles.
Other common skills gaps to pay attention to include data analytics, managing learning technologies and other technical skills that have increased in importance due to the rise of remote learning and working, Herrera says. Data analytics skills are also critical in helping L&D leaders prove the business value of training which, for stakeholders, “is about numbers,” Herrera says.
With these common skills gaps and focus areas in mind, use the Training Manager Competency Assessment tool to assess your own skills against the model, before moving on to Step 2.
2. Get the Low-down
Even with a high level of self-awareness, it’s difficult to assess your own skills objectively. The best way to understand what you’re doing well and where you can improve is to ask for honest feedback from your peers, supervisor and direct reports, Herrera says. DuVernet agrees that asking for “transparency and honest feedback” is an excellent way to assess your skill set. If you’re worried that you won’t receive the candid feedback you need, she suggests collecting it anonymously, whether through a survey, a form, a low-tech suggestions/feedback box or another method.
After receiving feedback from your peers, employees and supervisors, compare their assessments to your own. Did they identify any areas for improvement that you missed, or in which you thought you were high-performing? Take note, and be receptive. Then, put together a comprehensive list of your strengths and weaknesses across the key skills and competencies you need to perform in your current role as well as any future roles you aspire to be in. For instance, you might consider the skills you need for your role now, as a training manager, compared to the skills you’ll need to move into a global training director role.
It can be helpful to speak with someone who you admire professionally, or who is in a role you aspire to be in, DuVernet says. Ask them questions like:
- What work assignments helped prepare you for your current role?
- What skills did you need to learn to be successful in this role?
- What challenges did you face along your professional development journey, and how did you overcome them?
Sometimes leaders think they don’t need a mentor or coach because they’re already in a management role, Herrera says. However, “we all have room to learn and grow from others.” Reach out to people who have been where you are — and who are where you want to be — and learn from them.
3. Make an Action Plan
After assessing your skills and soliciting honest feedback from others, you’ve likely identified at least one skills gap to focus on. Now, it’s time to make an action plan to address your gap(s) with targeted development.
With all of the professional development options available, it’s easy “to get lost in all that is possible,” DuVernet says. Creating a realistic, actionable professional development plan (PDP) is “one of the most important steps” you can take after identifying a gap (or two, or three). There are a number of different learning activities you can implement into your PDP, such as reading articles, blogs and/or books, listening to podcasts, watching webinars or short videos, or taking a formal course or program.
For smaller skills gaps, watching a webinar once a month on a certain topic (e.g., how to implement a new learning management system, or how to measure your L&D team’s performance) may be enough to do the trick. For gaps that are more critical to your career advancement (e.g., achieving strategic alignment or building business acumen), consider taking a comprehensive course or program.
4. Follow Through, and Follow Up
With a detailed, yet realistic, PDP in place, you’re set to bridge your skills gaps. However, it can be a challenge to stick to your plan when you’re balancing mounds of training requests and other daily job responsibilities. This is where Herrera says it’s important to “practice what you preach,” and make time and space for learning in your day-to-day role. Doing so not only will refine your skills, but also will show to key stakeholders that you really do value the continuous learning you’re advocating — and asking for buy-in — for.
Lastly, remember that assessing and developing your skills is an ongoing process. With business advancing faster than ever before, keeping pace with (or better yet, getting ahead of) this rate of change and maintaining your status as a trusted business partner starts with assessing and advancing your skills, Poeppelman says. The future of work is about “prioritizing what truly matters.” For L&D leaders, this means “leading by example with their own learning journeys and, importantly, taking care of .”