How a consultative L&D strategy can drive learner engagement

Mar 23, 2022 by Erin Becker

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I recently spoke to my colleague Natalia Gonzalez Chavez, VP of client solutions at Nomadic. Natalia has led comprehensive learning transformation strategies both at Nomadic and in-house at companies including IBM, PepsiCo, AB InBev, and more.

Natalia had a lot to say about how L&D can take a more consultative approach to crafting learning solutions, and how this approach can have an impact on both business transformation and learner engagement. (And how those things are deeply related!)

I really enjoyed this conversation––there are great takeaways whether you’re looking to increase stakeholder and learner engagement in learning initiatives at your organization, seeking to move toward a more consultative approach to learning, or simply exploring the idea of using learning as a key part of your business transformation strategy.

Here’s part one of our discussion.

Consultative L&D for business transformation and learner engagement

Erin: Today we're talking a little bit about consultative L&D and how this can both help L&D drive business transformation and foster high learner engagement. First, just from your experience––because I know you've been on both sides of these kinds of learning initiatives at various organizations––how would you say you know an organization is ready for L&D to take a more consultative role?

Natalia: Honestly, I think you should always be taking a consultative approach. At the end of the day, what a consultative approach means is having a business challenge or business outcome in mind. It's also learner-centric, so it's putting the learners at the heart of the learning experience. To me, any learning strategy that isn't following those two principles might not actually help you achieve your real goals.

Erin: And how does this approach affect the learning?

Natalia: It really helps you design a better learning experience. You're designing it with a real goal in mind, and you understand who your learner is and what challenges they face. If you're not thinking about who that end user is, then by default, you're building something for a broad audience that may or may not actually cater to the specific learners who actually need to apply these skills.

How to move toward a consultative L&D approach

Erin: We know that at some organizations, in some cases, L&D may have played more of an order-taker role in the past, or had more of a focus on compliance training. How would you advise someone who wants to shift more into that role to a place where they’re really a part of driving business transformation? Especially with how pressing reskilling is at so many organizations now, how we’re hearing that managers desperately need new skills with hybrid work, all of that.

Natalia: Ultimately, I think it starts with really becoming a true partner to the business. You need to become an internal business partner to the audience that you're trying to serve, whether it's a whole function, or the entire organization. I think what happens with a lot of learning initiatives is that L&D goes off on their own and creates a communications plan about the learning, but hasn’t really conveyed the importance to the learners or the business leaders, who should be brought on very early in the process.

Erin: What does getting that stakeholder buy-in look like?

Natalia: It’s important to start having a really strong relationship with the business leaders in that function, even before you're planning any sort of learning initiative. Sit down with them. Have coffee with them (or a virtual coffee). And ask them questions: what's happening in their organization, how does their business work? How do they make money, what are the business challenges, what are the organizational challenges they're facing, are there any cultural challenges they're facing?

Erin: It sounds like the key is making people across the organization feel like they're a part of the learning initiative, feel like they understand how this is created, and that they understand the purpose and really feel invested.

Natalia: Exactly.

Driving learner engagement

Erin: Jumping off that idea of getting stakeholders invested and making them feel a part of the process, I wanted to talk a little bit about learner engagement. I know that at Nomadic, in a lot of our conversations with people who are interested in learning more about our Academy, there is the concern of, everyone's too busy to learn, people are burnt out, people are overwhelmed. How would you say this consultative approach can play a role in moving past that hurdle? Especially when it comes to learning and development for managers. Right now with hybrid work, with remote work, with all the different things on managers’ plates, what role can this approach play in really getting these learners engaged?

Natalia: It plays a huge role. If you already have a culture where learning is seen as something that's continuous––and not something that you do at the end of the year to check a box––then learner engagement is already an easier thing to promote. Typically, however, that learning culture is a work in progress. And you have to take steps to move toward a culture where learning is seen as something that is more transformational versus transactional.

Erin: How do you see that culture shift happening? Toward a more strategic role for L&D and, within that, higher learner engagement?

Natalia: It takes baby steps. It takes some time. But it's a significant and worthwhile shift, because again, you’re starting with that business outcome, that business challenge. And that’s important, because your true goal when it comes to learner engagement is not completion percentage or quiz scores. Instead, your goal is to fix something that's broken in the business, for example, or to grow your revenue, or hire 1000 people in the next year, or cut costs or increase efficiency. Whatever that business outcome is.

Erin: So through designing the learning to meet the business goal, you create learning that’s much more tied to these managers’ day-to-day work. And through that, you drive learner engagement, because they see how it’s relevant to their work and why it matters for their leaders, too.

Natalia: Exactly. Here’s an example. Let’s say you are helping to build some sort of program for a learning initiative for the sales function. Taking a consultative approach, let's say that the business outcome is, we're trying to double our sales in the next two years.

Erin: That’s the North Star.

Natalia: Yes. So everyone in sales is focused on doubling their numbers in the next two years. This means anything that they have to do in their professional life that doesn't help them accomplish that goal, they're not going to be motivated to do. Your job as someone in L&D is to help the learners understand why taking this learning will help them reach that goal. It may not even be direct. It could be to say, this learning initiative is going to help you cut down your proposal time by 50 percent, or this program is going to help you increase the number of qualified leads that you get, or it's going to cut down the amount of time you spend with follow-ups. Whatever it may be, the important thing for learner engagement is that they're able to see how, "Okay, this program isn’t just something I’m forced to do––it’s actually going to help me achieve my goals."

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Thank you to Natalia for sitting down to chat with me! We’ll share more tips for creating a consultative L&D strategy and driving learner engagement soon. In the meantime, to learn more about what this approach looks like in action, you can learn more about one of the consultative learning initiatives Natalia helped design with PepsiCo. Check out our case study to read all about how PepsiCo used a consultative approach to drive real transformation for their team of 3,000 global marketers.

Note: this interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

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