Why would anyone want to work in a startup? Long hours, little stability, constant changes to an already ambiguous situation … don’t people read or listen to all the stories of absolute insanity of entrepreneurship?

Yet, working in a startup is all the rage — or so it seems by looking at the number of startups hitting the scene and all the job postings. In fact, small startups and large older firms had the highest net gains in employment in 2019 according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The opportunities, at least from my experience, far outweigh the challenges. The opportunity to innovate and create something truly unique, the partnership and the opportunity deliver innovative learning leads to more than a few “I love my job!” moments.

In a startup, you can’t spend months, or even weeks, carefully going through an ADDIE model (sometimes even SAM is a stretch). The time needed to analyze the data and create a complete and comprehensive picture is time-consuming, and in the startup space, time is not on your side.

Besides time, there is a lot of ambiguity and change when working at a startup. So, long development cycles not only introduce additional opportunities for inaccuracy, but a lot is simply unknown until closer to a launch date. So our learning and development (L&D) approach needs to be comprehensive, fast and scalable, and results oriented.

How can you achieve that? Consider these tips:

1. Look Beyond L&D

If training was the answer to all problems, those of us in L&D would never have had issues with getting a seat at the table! Clearly, training is not the answer to everything.

Consider L&D well beyond the boundaries of “learning” and “development.” For startups, processes usually are underdeveloped, so it’s important to help teams work through the process to create more efficiency and reduce rework. Being the partner to come up with the solution, which is not always in the form of training, is the goal. Remember: Solutions are usually not training alone but a combination of knowledge, training, process, management and tools.

At Deel, we have grouped the concept of “knowledge” with L&D to create “knowledge and learning” — because sometimes you just need to know, and sometimes you need to do.

In practice, this means we have talented writers and instructional designers on our team who work directly with our business partners to identify needs. Oftentimes, the need includes process improvements, tool training, convenient access to knowledge (not for memorizing but for quick searches) and more.

2. Speed, Speed, Speed: It’s Overrated

Speed for the sake of speed is a lose-lose answer. However, cutting out key items that are typically found in both the ADDIE and SAM models isn’t always the worst choice.

In a startup, the best answers start with the questions. Generally, we all work with our subject matter experts (SMEs) who know everything about the subject. It’s always a positive challenge to figure out exactly what the target audience needs to know. Start by asking:

  1. Do learners need to know or do?
  2. Why does the audience need to know the information or do the task?
  3. What happens if they don’t know the information or can’t perform the task?
  4. How often does this knowledge or task change?
  5. Do learners need to know everything right away, or can we trickle in information and task practice?

The fastest way to develop something is not to do it at all at once. So. if you identify trends in requests, leverage that. There is a lot of information that people need, and in a startup that means it also changes frequently. Focus on training employees on where to find the information they need. This way, the information can be updated continuously and learners know where to access it.

3. Measurement Matters

While the data may not exist anywhere yet, identifying what will be measured is essential. Starting the training effort with the measurements in mind, we are able to move more quickly to execution and achieve the longer term benefits we are after.

For example, a new feature to a product is big news for the whole company. Everyone needs to be able to describe the feature at a high level … but the sales team needs to know the benefits to the customer and the support team needs to know the areas that may need troubleshooting.

Starting with measurements, we identify that:

  • The training for everyone isn’t actually training, it’s just information. So, the ideal development isn’t actually a training but more of a short commercial. No assessments are involved, which shaves off some development time.
  • The sales and support teams require proper training – and we can identify key measurements in advance, such as the time needed for support agents to close tickets, or the number of new sales with the new feature over the course of the first month post-training.

Despite not having any data to start with, we are able to identify the measurements we want in the future. This works equally well for things that exist, too! Start with whatever you have and make the plan for better data tracking in the future.

L&D life in the startup is amazing: We get to learn faster, innovate more and design disruptive experiences for our teams.

Register for the June Training Industry Conference & Expo (TICE) to hear Cheryl Haga’s session, “L&D Life in the Startup Space.”

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