There are a variety of paths people take to enter and advance in the training profession. Whether L&D is their first job out of college, or whether they switch into a training role later in their career, the paths learning leaders take throughout their careers can offer insights for newer — and more experienced — professionals. In this episode of “The Business of Learning,” Dr. Kristal Walker, CPTM, director of organizational development at Guitar Center, and Alycia Angle, senior talent management consultant at Ochsner Health System, share:
- How they entered L&D.
- Challenges they’ve faced in their careers.
- Advice for recent college graduates or other professionals who are new to L&D.
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The transcript of this episode follows.
Introduction: Welcome to The Business of Learning, the learning leader’s podcast from TrainingIndustry.com.
Scott Rutherford: Hi, and welcome to The Business of Learning, the podcast from Training Industry. I’m Scott Rutherford, head of digital operations and marketing, here with Taryn Oesch, managing editor of digital content.
Taryn Oesch: Hi. One thing we learned at Training Industry over the years is that there are a variety of paths people take to enter and advance in the training profession. Whether L&D is their first job out of college or whether they switch into a training role later in their career, the paths that learning leaders take throughout their careers can offer insights for newer and more experienced professionals. Our two guests today are here to talk to us about their career so far and to offer advice to you.
Scott Rutherford: And we’ll get that conversation started in just a minute after this.
Sponsor Message: Hi, I’m Brandi and I’m the learning program administrator for the Certified Professional and Training Management program. The CPTM program was designed to convey the essential competencies you need to manage a training organization, and when you become a CPTM, you gain access to alumni resources, like monthly peer roundtables and a full registration to the Training Industry Conference and Expo. If you start today, you can earn the CPTM credential in as little as two months. To learn more, visit cptm.trainingindustry.com.
Scott Rutherford: On the podcast today, we’re joined by Dr. Kristal Walker, who is the director of organizational development at Guitar Center and a Certified Professional in Training Management, and Alycia Angle, the senior talent management consultant at Ochsner Health System. Kristal and Alicia, welcome.
Dr. Kristal Walker: Thank you.
Alycia Angle: Thank you for having us.
Taryn Oesch: Let’s start at the beginning. Can each of you tell us how you got into L&D? And, let’s go alphabetically. Alycia, let’s start with you.
Alycia Angle: So, as you mentioned, my first job did not start in L&D. I actually started in a completely different industry. And shortly after I started my first role, I learned there was a lack of leadership and zero communication, and there was no formal or even informal training. And so, as you can imagine, a ton of mistakes were made. And I was so miserable with myself and my performance that I wanted to figure out how to help other people not feel as miserable as I did. So that’s when I learned about industrial/organizational psychology and how I could make this a profession to help other people learn how to be effective in their role, learn how to communicate with others, and provide developmental opportunities to be better every day. So, the rest is history. That’s how I kind of got into L&D and training.
Taryn Oesch: Alright, and Kristal, how about you?
Dr. Kristal Walker: It’s funny, because my story aligns a lot with Alycia’s. I don’t think people of my generation, and I’m a generation X by the way, but I don’t think most people actually sought it out as an initial career in the L&D space. I think we just sort of landed here, given our passion for teaching and perhaps our desire to transform, whether we’re seeking to transform a person, a team or even a business and, I believe that desire to really transform has led us into the L&D space or even the learning and organizational development space. I actually started my career as a receptionist for a finance company while pursuing my undergraduate degree.
And this was my first real exposure to the C-suite. I worked in the corporate office with the owner of the company, I was privy to a day in the life of the owner and the work ethic it took to manage his competing priorities every day as the leader of the company. And that gave me insight on true leadership development, which is what I decided to focus on in school.
I left that company for a property management position, where I landed as an assistant manager, while I was pursuing my graduate degree. And during this time of my educational journey, I noticed that there was a gap, there were many nontraditional age college students who have reached the bump in their careers. And they had plenty of work experience and more personal education, but then suddenly, they found themselves either displaced or wanting to change careers without really understanding how to market themselves or their skills.
And so that actually served as my dissertation topic, because I wanted to find out what resources were available in college career services and for this particular audience. And so as I was pursuing my doctoral degree, I was given a chance to facilitate a few professional development workshops. And with that success came the opportunity to teach as a regular adjunct at Springfield College and then as a visiting professor and director of the Writing Center at Blueberry University.
Unfortunately, that university didn’t have a tenure system, and I decided that after 10 years of negotiating contracts, that I needed something a little bit more stable to support my lifestyle. So I took a job as a corporate trainer, which was a great opportunity, in my opinion, to marry my corporate academic background. And that actually set the tone and exposed me to the training industry.
And so I started doing some research on the Training Industry website, to really better understand that the industry when employers were looking for, and their employees, and I had an opportunity within that role to begin building learning and development courses.
I think by default, I landed in organizational development, which I absolutely love, because it provides a broader focus of the true needs of what employees need. It exposed me to strategy around employee engagement, diversity and inclusion, performance management, talent, leadership, development, and change management. And I found so much passion.
If I had an opportunity to retire right now, I’d probably do so as a learning and organizational development consultant without a second thought. I know that was a long way to answer, but that’s how I landed here.
Scott Rutherford: Well, I think everyone has a journey into their current role, the tendency in the modern workplace is that you have not one career, but a succession of them and L&D is probably no different. I was going to ask what you enjoy most about working in L&D, and I think you may have alluded to it, sort of early on in what you were saying, talking about, really bringing it down to the notion of, it’s a position where you can help people. I don’t want to paraphrase for you, but what do you most enjoy about working in the field?
Dr. Kristal Walker: Sure, so in addition to helping people and transforming people, I enjoy really the challenge of presenting the appropriate business case. So, I believe that as L&D professionals, we work really hard to prove the value of our training programs, and we want to get the appropriate buy-in and support from our senior leaders. And so that opportunity to take a use case, provide a solid solution, even if that solution comes by way of trial and error, and we share what went well, we share what could have been improved, and I think that information is certainly worth sharing. If we aren’t properly measuring the success of our programs, it’s easy to find ourselves and our teams on the receiving ends of criticism. And I don’t think that feels good as a learning leader.
Scott Rutherford: Alicia, what do you think? What do you enjoy? What do you find most rewarding about the field?
Alycia Angle: I really enjoy working with a variety of people and learners and really getting down to the core of their needs. So, especially in health care, we have so many different types of people, we have the clinical, we have non-clinical, corporate, and everyone has a different need.
So I guess my favorite part of this is when I get to work one on one with teams. And maybe this is kind of like their last straw. They don’t know what to do. They’re having issues, they’re running into challenges, and they can’t work productively. And I enjoy coming in and helping them uncover the root of their issues, and then creating a solution that is going to satisfy their needs and help them work better together.
One of my favorite things, one time I was facilitating in one of our learning and development classes, and a woman stood up, and she said, “Whatever we talked about in here, you have to listen to her because she has helped transform my team. She came in, and we worked together and collaborated, and the dynamic of my team has totally transformed, and we all come to work feeling happy and productive and good about the quality of care that we’re providing for our patients every day.” And to me, that was so rewarding, to be able to come in, help people find the root of their issue when they can’t see it. Sometimes you get stuck in one perspective and then help design a solution that’s feasible for them to feel better about the work that they do every day.
Taryn Oesch: Great. Now, what about the flip side? What are some of the challenges that you faced along the way? Kristal, do you want to start?
Dr. Kristal Walker: Sure. For me, I think of a more recent challenge has been creating a team of learning and development professionals with the appropriate skill set. As we’ve been talking all this time, you have people who sort of land in the L&D space. In my experience, I’ve been a team of one. And it can be difficult to support the needs of a business with limited bandwidth.
But I’ve also been a part of a team where everyone didn’t have that foundational L&D background, and in some cases actually lacked the passion necessary to create that positive and effective learner experience. And these individuals actually view the work as more of a job and not … They didn’t really take advantage of the opportunity to really explore and be innovative.
And so that’s presented a great challenge for me: some of the deliverables that I’ve been responsible for delivering, just not having a cohesive team that are either passionate or skilled enough to really trickle down into the requirements of L&D and when, I mean, everything from measurement to consulting, to design in developing concepts around training and working with key stakeholders, those have been some of the challenges that have been experienced, just not really having that team.
Taryn Oesch: Alicia, what about you?
Alycia Angle: So, I completely understand what Kristal said about being the team of one. At one point in my current role at Ochsner, at one point, everyone from our team had left. We had massive turnover, the department director who hired me and all my colleagues went, either transitioned to other roles, or left the company. And it was just me and a new VP that we had hired. And I like to say that we were building the plane as we were flying it. And we were tasked with an initiative to completely redo the learning for the whole system; we have about 25,000 people. And there were two of us, and so that [inaudible 00:10:49] personally, the biggest challenge at my current role is, we’re hiring, we are tasked with bringing solutions to our learners in a variety of ways, and we don’t have any resources.
But I would say once we restocked and we had more people come in, and we were cranking out the learning, we’ve definitely met those needs. But I think overall, the biggest challenge, especially working internally, as an L&D consultant, it’s just making sure that we are providing learning in a variety of methods, because we do have people who are working on the floor in the hospital, and they can’t leave to come to a more traditional, in-class training for four hours. So, how do we satisfy our learners’ needs and scale them up, while making sure that we’re providing opportunities that [are] actually feasible for them to attend and to use, and that they’re going to be able to take this learning and apply it to their day to day. So that’s been a huge challenge. And if y’all have any answers, I would love to get some feedback and suggestions from you.
Scott Rutherford: I think there’s the dual challenges of working in L&D, you both have alluded to them here a little bit, which is, they really both tie back to culture in one way or another. There’s, how do you influence the organization’s culture and build learning programs that move the organization in the direction of adopting and embracing training, but also, as Kristal was saying, it’s managing the culture of your team, whether you’re starting with a team of one or two, when building. So that there’s a passionate commitment around the mission of learning. And I wonder if you could talk about, how do you manage that part of the role, which is essentially being the sort of the evangelist, if you will?
Dr. Kristal Walker: For me, it’s got to be perfectly honest, I’ve taken so many of the key components of the curriculum for the Certified Professional in Training Management program and have adopted them immediately. I just got certified in November of 2018, but I’ll tell you, just being able to use the tools like the portfolio rationalization process, or looking at how to really outsource training, and what was really instrumental for my team is helping them really understand the training process framework.
So for us, it was about … We do a lot of these things already; I don’t think that we knew really what they were formally. But that training process framework gave me a great opportunity, and a great tool to really align my team, and help outline some processes and some procedures, and really solidify an intake process for Guitar Center. We have a little bit over 11,000 associates, but the business is complex in a way, that we have our retail audience, which is our biggest audience; we have our distribution center audience; our contact center audience; we have our music and arts locations, which is expanding even as we speak.
So, we have many stakeholders that have to be involved in this process. So for my team, I felt like we could do to better support the culture was to create a process, a smooth intake process, and have a very transparent L&D plan that we can make available so that even if we weren’t able to meet the needs of the entire enterprise, at the bare minimum, we had a strategic outlook on, what are some of the things that were most important? And what are the things that we can accomplish at least in 2019? And then, what’s going to be our plan for moving forward for how we think about training and what the needs of our people are?
Scott Rutherford: And Alycia, how is your perspective that either similar or different in the health care vertical?
Alycia Angle: Yes, Scott. I would say communication, communication, communication. Going out and talking with people, understanding who needs what, leadership advocation, getting the message crystal clear to the leadership team, and then getting them to go out and to continue amplifying that message to their leaders and their one-overs. And just making sure that everyone has a clear understanding of what’s in it for me, what’s in it for the employees, for the leaders, how are they going to benefit from this framing and reframing that message, so that hits the right people at the right time. And in health care, especially in our large and very hierarchical organization — which, most of health care is like that — for the right needs, but it’s just getting that message escalated up, and making sure that it stays the right, clear message, getting it up there and helping that people understand the why and what’s in it for them.
Taryn Oesch: Now, for recent college graduates who are working in learning and development, or for people who are transitioning into the field from another industry or function, what advice do you have for those people?
Dr. Kristal Walker: I’ll go. I would advise them to learn as much as they can about the industry as a whole, so that they understand the possibilities. And then, once they really understand the industry, then they can narrow their interest to maybe one or two focus areas. If they prefer the consulting side, I’d advise them to get some experience in internal consulting, perhaps, or if they prefer to use more of their creative skills, then I would advise them to look into the instructional design development opportunities. Or, maybe they have an interest in measurement, which is strongly needed, in my opinion; I would advise them to look into some of the traditional models around measurement as well as some of the new and innovative data collection tools.
As you know, there are so many paths in L&D that one can choose from, but I would advise them not to try to take them all on. Because it can absolutely be all-consuming and interesting at the same time. But if you really want to grow your expertise as a thought leader in this space, learn as much as you can, but then try to focus on at least one or two areas that you really want to become an expert in, and offer or add to the body of knowledge in those particular areas.
Taryn Oesch: That’s great, thanks. Alycia, what about you?
Alycia Angle: Just like Kristal said, there’s so many different paths, it can be overwhelming for anyone really to navigate through, “What do I want to do? And how do I get there.” So, I like to think about, just keep it simple, start doing something, start taking some kind of action. And when I first moved to New Orleans, I actually came here to start a startup that was a hub for leisure learning and professional development.
I am not working in the startup now as you can see. But I had no idea what I was doing. When I first moved here, are the resources at my disposal? So the simplest thing I did that could help my myself was, I just started reaching out to people on LinkedIn, or looking at different local associations like SHRM or ATD, and trying to get myself involved with, “What’s going on in the industry. Who can I speak to? Who will meet me for coffee”? To start understanding what different people’s work looks like and find out, “What am I interested in? What pieces of their work am I interested in? And where can I learn more, just by starting somewhere?”
Shadowing is excellent, but I think the easiest thing to do is just start connecting with people. And LinkedIn is such a wonderful resource to start looking at what kinds of jobs people have and then asking them questions. Typically, people don’t shy away from talking about themselves or their journeys. So I think that most people are willing to help and, at least, answer your questions and possibly even meet you for a phone call or Skype interview.
Scott Rutherford: Yeah, LinkedIn is a tremendous resource. I’ll just put a plug in for the Training Industry group, actually, on LinkedIn, which is … We have to request membership, but that’s not because we want to keep the right folks out. We want to make sure that it’s a sort of a neutral and supportive conversation environment. But I would encourage folks to seek out the Training Industry Group and participate in some of those conversations. And there’s also, for those who certify, as a Certified Professional in Training Management, there’s an alumni group, also on LinkedIn, for networking and problem-solving in between CPTMs. So it’s, both of those, but fully support the notion of using LinkedIn and building relationships, trying to find folks who can just give you a broader perspective on what the possibilities are.
So, let’s look at the future of learning and development. Remembering your perspective and, Alycia, you start off with this one. What do you think is exciting about the future of the L&D role?
Alycia Angle: I’m actually most excited about supporting learners in realistic ways. I think that all these new technologies that are coming out in rapid fire are helpful to offer bite-sized learning. In the world that we live in today, long gone are the days when the only option for learning was that half- or full-day in-class learning event, which is absolutely still useful and necessary. But offering less traditional options to meet the needs of our busy society and workers, I think, is going to transform the way that people are working and the way that they’re effective in their roles.
So I’m excited about all this new technology that’s coming out. And if you ask me specifically, which one, I really don’t know if I have an answer for that. So don’t ask me that, Scott.
I think any of the … Just the automation, being able for people to use, kind of to work, I say, at the top of their license, so for us to use things like automation and chatbots and AI to allow people to work at the top of their license so they can do the human things, that automation and that robots and technology cannot do, I think is going to transform the workplace as a whole, today. We can even see where that goes.
Scott Rutherford: Yeah, I think there’s an appropriate level of perhaps vagueness when talking about well, which technology is best? Because the best answer is that it depends. It’s so dependent on any individual company or department’s criteria. So, what your learning technology stack looks like is going to be different than almost any of your peers, just because, on the ground, reality is going to be a little bit different.
And, Kristal, you had mentioned data and measurement, particularly, but when you look at the future of L&D, are you also thinking technology? Are you thinking in other ways as well?
Dr. Kristal Walker: A little bit of both. I remember when video training first came out and how excited I was to be able to access information from across the globe. I’ve not done a whole lot of research on data management and AI, but I’m definitely looking to learn a little bit more in that particular area. But for me, I think what’s also exciting is the emerging of the OD role in the L&D space.
And so, while I think is certainly gained some traction, I think there’s still a little bit of ambiguity around what should be considered as an appropriate title, or even a job function, for OD professionals or consultants. So, some organizations seek organizational development consultants, others, perhaps a director of organizational development or even OD specialist, but I think they all allude to looking for an individual that possess[es] a certain unique skill set, that requires a solid understanding of strategy, execution, change management and all of the things that, again, really deal with the people element.
OD is very broad, and I even when you look on LinkedIn for the job titles or different job opportunities, I’m really seeing more of an emergence of that OD role. And it’s interesting to see how that’s folding into the learning and development space.
Taryn Oesch: Right, now, I’m going to give you both an opportunity to brag about yourself a little bit. Looking back on your career so far, what is one thing that you’re especially proud of?
Alycia Angle: I think that for me, maybe not one thing in particular. I want to say that just having the opportunity to create my own path within talent management and L&D has been extremely rewarding. So, working for a company, but also carving out my own brand, to be able to help people both internally where I’m working, and then also externally, to change their perspective and to learn to work differently, communicate differently and just see situations differently to improve their work-life, has been tremendous. So, I had the opportunity last summer to speak at TICE, and I connected with several people and got to spread a message a little bit, and then having all these opportunities, to do talks with local associations and help people outside of just at Ochsner, but more with a community of L&D and professionals, as a whole has been extremely rewarding for me.
Dr. Kristal Walker: I would have to agree with Alycia. I think the L&D space has absolutely provided an opportunity for me to become a thought leader and create my own path. I’ve been super nervous about putting out a website around my expertise, just because once you break that ground and you consider yourself an expert in something, that, either your expertise is always subject to criticism and all of those things … but I can’t apologize for the things that I’ve learned and the value that I’ve added to the organizations that I’ve worked in.
And so I’m excited about that. I’m very proud to have made this transition, to the learning and development space. Like Alycia, as a facilitator, I’ve shared the stage with many trainers and subject matter experts. I’ve met some amazing people along my journey. I also feel like this is just the beginning. I’m always super excited about the TICE conference, and webinars I spoke last year as well. And I’ll have an opportunity to speak as a presenter again this year.
Being a contributing author to the Training Industry online articles has been awesome. Even opportunities like this, to be featured as one of the speakers on your podcast series. I think it’s absolutely amazing.
When I look at other organizations, like ATD with keynote speakers like President Obama, Marcus Buckingham, Oprah Winfrey and everyone else who have these massive followings, I get really excited about the industry and how it’s really starting to attract attention from the larger society overall, and the possibilities of even expanding.
I think that Training Industry is absolutely a foundational organization, and that I’m looking forward also to partnering with Training Industry however I can, but I also think that it is a much-needed resources for people like me, for people who are looking to create their path within the L&D space, for people who may consider themselves a thought leader already and just really want to remain relevant or find out what’s the latest and greatest in terms of L&D.
Scott Rutherford: Kristal Walker, director of organizational development at Guitar Center, and Alycia Angle, senior talent management consultant at Ochsner Health System, thanks to you both for sharing your expertise with us today on The Business of Learning.
Alycia Angle: Thank you for having us. Appreciate it.
Dr. Kristal Walker: Thank you for inviting us to be a part of this episode. It’s absolutely an honor.
Taryn Oesch: Thanks to you both, and thanks to everyone for listening to The Business of Learning. As always, you can find more resources on our website and on the podcast page at trainingindustry.com/training-industry-podcast. While you’re there, be sure to sign up for our email newsletter to receive the latest training industry content like, Kristal is talking about, straight to your inbox.
Scott Rutherford: Until next time!
Outro: If you have feedback about this episode, or would like to suggest a topic for a future program, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or use the Contact Us page at trainingindustry.com. Thanks for listening to the Training Industry podcast.