I don’t know about you, but our family has been spending more time in the kitchen recently. Early on in quarantine, we dabbled in baking bread before migrating to other foods we never had the time – or interest – to make from scratch. Maybe that’s why I’m looking at life and learning with an eye toward new recipes these days.

When it comes to the learning and development (L&D) landscape, it’s become increasingly clear that there are a few common ingredients making a delicious difference in learning organizations. While the current crisis has left some training departments immobilized or consumed with technology-related challenges, others appear to have effortlessly stepped up to the plate. They pivoted quickly, adjusting their approaches and offering meaningful and collaborative solutions.

When I asked an L&D leader from a particularly effective organization how her team readied themselves to adjust to dramatically changing conditions, she jokingly responded, “We were born ready.” In reality, they had cultivated a set of competencies during stable times that were serving them during these unstable times. And other L&D organizations that are thriving today possess these same three ingredients for supporting success.

Risk Tolerance

The L&D organizations that are partnering effectively and producing results today are leveraging sensibilities and skills honed long before the pandemic. They continue to embrace these skills while simultaneously accelerating experimentation, understanding that success may not follow a direct trajectory. They know that they might not get it right the first time but persevere, understanding that failure isn’t fatal. They engage in rapid prototyping to offer an 80% solution to those in need – and then iterate to achieve the remaining 20%. They assess the risk, weigh it against results and mitigate where possible – never allowing the pursuit of perfection to stall progress.

Outcomes Focus

Another ingredient distinguishing those who are actively helping their organizations move forward involves an unwavering attention on outcomes. After all, most L&D initiatives begin and end with a set of learning or performance outcomes defining success. Yet, once those outcomes are established, we shift our focus to how we’re going to make it happen – discussing technologies, methodologies and modalities. Will it be virtual instructor-led, simulation-based, eLearning or on-demand?

The “how” takes us away from an aerial view down into the pine needles, and it’s easy to lose perspective. It’s easy to double down on existing technology solutions or fall in love with a great new application. It’s even easier to reiterate the way we’ve always done it – particularly under stress and pressure.

However, L&D functions making a difference today remain ferociously focused on what they seek to achieve rather than how they’ll achieve it. In the process, they have discovered new – and often easier – approaches, earned credibility from executives and delivered aligned results.


L&D departments that are thriving today appear to share one final ingredient: A genuine and enduring commitment to collaborating broadly and including a variety of diverse perspectives in the planning and evaluation of their work.

This plays out in numerous ways during times of crisis and calm, including:

  • Deep, empathetic listening to employees, leaders, executives, customers and other stakeholders.
  • Authentic commitment to partnering with other departments and functions to achieve results.
  • Engaging early and often with subject matter experts to understand the reality of those needing to perform differently.
  • Finding meaningful ways to support and promote user-generated content that meets the learning and information needs of employees.

It’s no coincidence that the first letters of each of these ingredients – risk tolerance, outcomes focus and inclusivity – spell out ROI (return on investment). L&D professionals who cultivate these qualities will be poised to cook up success as we emerge into the next normal.