So, you’re in a new global learning and development (L&D) role. Congratulations! You may find yourself with a fabulous job title but a few steps behind a business running at full speed that was doing OK without you (or so it thinks). As you start having conversations with stakeholders, the complexity and enormity of your situation is sinking in.
There’s good news: You don’t have to do everything at once. You don’t have to dive deep into every nook and cranny of a specific problem to have an impact. You and your professional happiness (and the happiness of the people who work with you) are likely better served with a solution-focused approach.
Focus on the Solutions and Nuggets of Excellence
Start having conversations, find out what works well, who the friends of training are and how you can contribute to the business from your global angle. As you build your sense of what is going on, and what tools and processes already exist, you are setting up the structures, networks and communication lines you will need later.
Resist the urge to climb all the way down each problem hole and drag everyone down with you. In a VUCA environment, nothing is as linear as you’d like it to be. You probably won’t be able to neatly map out a change road map in your global system and immediately implement it.
Focus, instead, on:
- What would “good” look like?
- What is already going on that people find useful?
- Where is the energy (in line with the overarching strategy and situation of the business)?
This approach doesn’t mean you ignore issues or wear rose-tinted glasses, but the change in framing makes for much better conversations and will give you more support.
Organizations are growing more complex, being matrixed within an inch of their lives or going agile (whatever “agile” actually means). “Ownership” of different areas might not be clear, and there might be the weight of history, existing structures and personal fiefdoms to deal with.
Particularly if you sit in a global administrative building separate, be aware that, in many ways, you will know and see little unless you make an effort. Start gathering your tribe. The local L&D professionals, the human resources business partner, the brilliant executive assistant of the country head, the super-networker communications person with a heart for talent … some will be obvious based on their job title or the organizational chart, but others might not be. Ask around. Start with whomever you can find, ask for recommendations of whom else to speak to and issue a standing invitation for the willing. For most of these initial conversations, you won’t need a budget, a signoff or a mandate. Start with ideas and conversations, and see where they go.
Often, you will need to ask others for extra time beyond their day-to-day work. Make it worth their while. Give up-and-coming talent a chance. Help them to look good in front of their peers; any sort of “global exposure” can work wonders. Share gratitude loudly, and make sure people receive ample credit where it’s due.
Find constructive ways for benevolent cynics to engage. Give them a constructive avenue for that pent-up energy that is in line with your goals. When somebody tells you what he or she thinks is really going on and trusts you enough to say it out loud, it is a privilege — and it is part of your role.
Global training organizations are set up in a myriad of different ways. Not everything will make sense, and not everything is changeable — or it is not directly changeable by you, or it might take a year or two to start shifting things around. Keep going. Start where you are with what you have.
You might find that just that one region of one of your biggest countries has several times the resources than your entire global L&D budget. You might have all the technology (and everyone else might be a lot less enthusiastic about it than you are). In some regions or locations, people might do things differently, but they might be hesitant to tell you out of fear you might stop them from operating that way.
If at all possible, don’t kill the seeds. Take a good look at them: What is sprouting? What is that sprout serving, and what drives engagement? How does it fit into people’s lives and flow of work? Learn, share (give credit!) and amplify what works. You can prune later.
Global functions can land in the “Ministry of Saying No” role quickly. There, you will lose friends and, as a result, will stop hearing about what’s new, interesting and innovative. You can’t influence or shape what you can’t see, and this Ministry of Saying No undermines the spirit of community you are building. A solution-focused, open mindset will serve you a lot better in the long run.
You might have to find support for everything you want to do (“support” meaning “other people’s money” and “other people’s capacity”). You might not have any formal authority on an org chart, which nobody even dares to draw up in an organization that is matrixed to the hilt. You might have 100 people, or it might just be you and an ecosystem of contractors, vendors and collaborators.
Find ways to add value to the business. Help it reach its goals, grow people and make a difference. L&D should be doing that anyway. Think like an “intrapreneur”; if your solution will tap into a need and add value, it is much easier to find money and people who are willing to help. Do pilots, iterate and learn quickly. You will develop a reputation for being part of the solution, for accomplishing goals in journeys people want to be a part of.
Use your network and emerging overview to broker awesomeness. Who knows what? Who has tried something in the past? How can you scale it? What can you modify for other localities or cultures? Who could pitch in on a project for a few weeks or months?
In a global, complex environment, nobody has all the answers. We are all making it up as we go along. The vibrant community of practitioners — and the openness to share the good, the bad and the ugly — you are creating will help everyone grow and make the most of these experiences.
As a global community, create asynchronous ways to share. Why not become the pilot group for a new communication tool and shape it to your needs? Create synchronous touchpoints, and work with your network to make them work for them. Vary times, give people a chance to prepare and contribute in different ways, and be patient with bad connections and each other’s language skills.
Issue a standing invitation to share, and give ample credit and limelight to the people who do. Share your own learning as well (including your failures). Are there any networking events, industry fairs, conferences or vendor meetings you could attend? What are some relevant books, articles and webinars? Support this research as much as you can, and then invite people to capture and share back what they learn. Discuss together the implications for your business. Use social media to tap into events you can’t attend.
Make an effort to focus not just on English-speaking countries, events or thinkers. Invite others to share, and develop a more genuinely global view. In an environment yearning for innovation, the most helpful answers often aren’t in English or a part of the mainstream discussion. Support everyone who is willing to help broaden the conversation to create a true learning community. Then, everyone will grow as you support your organization.