The Four Traits of the L&D Disruptor

May 09, 2024 by Tim Sarchet

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This is part two of our series defining the L&D disruptor. Check out part one, What is an L&D Disruptor?, to learn more about why we’re doing this series and how these leaders are shaping the future of learning.

Over a decade of creating cohort-based learning experiences, we’ve been fortunate to work with many leaders that we’ve termed “L&D disruptors”: people who are using learning to transform their organizations and solve complex business problems. This includes disrupting a tendency for organizations to under-utilize learning, moving beyond compliance training or straightforward skill-building to leverage learning initiatives much more strategically.

Some of these leaders sit within L&D, while others head up capability building for a specific function, like marketing or sales. But although their job titles and specific roles differ, they think about learning and approach their work in a similar way.

These leaders have a big impact at their organizations, guiding them through times of significant change: for example, a major digital transformation, or reimagining how a globally distributed marketing or sales team collaborates. After seeing this in action time and again, we’ve decided to put together guidance on how other leaders both within L&D and outside of it can follow a similar path.

L&D disruptors: four key traits

In this post, we’ll categorize the four most important traits of L&D disruptors and provide a snapshot of what they look like in action. (These leaders also share similar backgrounds and skills––keep an eye out for a future post where we explore this!)

Trait #1: L&D disruptors are experimental.

L&D disruptors are not afraid of trying new approaches to learning. They explore new ideas with curiosity and are willing to consider novel delivery methods or strategies, even if they fly in the face of conventional wisdom. This includes being willing to shift gears quickly if external circumstances change or if they realize their initial plan isn’t going to work like they hoped.

We’ve seen this in action in our work with a major CPG company, where one L&D disruptor needed to quickly pivot to an online learning solution. When this leader came to us, he had just stepped into a new role leading global marketing capabilities. His goal was to accelerate learning for more than 3,000 global marketers, and he was considering a strategy built around in-person capability workshops.

Unfortunately, the pandemic hit, making this plan impossible. So this leader changed course, exploring digital alternatives while searching for an option that would preserve the collaborative spark of in-person learning. He deployed a flagship program focusing on the foundational elements of marketing leadership, all centered on a digital cohort-based experience.

The organization’s leadership saw business impact quickly. The global team was able to implement a new end-to-end planning process that smoothed collaboration across their distributed team, a key goal of the program. The CMO––initially an online learning skeptic––was pleased with the results.

In summary: this disruptor’s willingness to take a bet on something new paid dividends for his organization!

Trait #2: L&D disruptors are strategic.

Another important trait of L&D disruptors is that they think of learning in the context of wider business strategy. They’re able to step back and see the big picture: how learning outcomes connect to business outcomes, and where their learning initiative fits in. This includes understanding how learning can drive tangible results, such as helping teams navigate a key transformation or ensuring they have the capabilities they need to incorporate new processes and workflows.

When Ryan Verschoor, Global VP of Marketing Culture and Capabilities at AB InBev, was hired into his role, AB InBev had the goal of making its marketing leaders more creative and customer-centric.

“I care deeply about transformation,” Ryan says. “I’ve always been at my best when I’m in a role that’s somehow involved in transforming something.” Now, his task was to transform the company’s marketing function.

In this role, Ryan could leverage his deep knowledge of both marketing strategy and wider business strategy to understand what 2,000 marketers operating in more than 40 countries would need to drive real, transformative change.

Because Ryan grasped exactly how this learning initiative would fit into the larger business, he was able to focus on the goals that would be most important for driving key outcomes: breaking down silos, making the marketing team more innovative, and deepening creativity across the global organization.

In doing this, he not only made an impact on key business outcomes, but also helped AB InBev’s marketing team win a record forty Cannes Lions!

Trait #3: L&D disruptors are results-driven.

In addition to their spirit of experimentation and their understanding of business strategy, L&D disruptors are also defined by their focus on results. They approach their work with a sense of continuous improvement, using frequent and varied forms of measurement to understand the effectiveness of their learning initiatives.

Typically, these results will include both learning metrics and business metrics. L&D disruptors understand the importance of tracking both of these, and of drawing a relationship between the two. Because of this, they’re able to make learning metrics legible to stakeholders across the organization––for example, demonstrating the relationship between learner engagement and employee engagement, or showing how developing key capabilities will make teams more impactful in their work.

To ensure they’re moving toward these desired results, L&D disruptors seek out learning delivery methods that give them access to a lot of data. This enables them to make good decisions about refining their initiatives to ensure they’re on track.

Ideally, this includes different types of data––for example, in our work with the CPG company mentioned earlier, the CMO was particularly pleased that our platform provided access not only to quantitative data like scores and engagement metrics, but also to qualitative data like comments, cohort discussions, and reflection questions that offered deeper insights into what, and how, learners were thinking. A key result for the business was being able develop several of these qualitative insights into pilot initiatives within the company.

Trait #4: L&D disruptors are ambitious.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, L&D disruptors aren’t afraid to think big. They know learning can have a real impact for the business. And they have the knowledge and data to back up this belief.

This makes L&D disruptors very effective advocates for the power of learning within their organizations. They’re community builders by nature: they’re able to get people excited about their goals and on board with their vision, and they’re unafraid to ask for what they need, whether that’s cross-functionally or from their own leadership.

When Ryan was deciding whether to take on this new role heading up marketing capabilities at AB InBev, he had three main requirements. First, the CMO had to care passionately about marketing transformation and make this effort a key priority. Second, he needed a great leadership team working on this initiative alongside him. And finally, the initiative had to be global.

“This needed to be a big swing for the fences,” Ryan says. “We needed to move the entire company or not at all.”

With leadership aligned on all three points, Ryan was ultimately able to drive the results he wanted. This included an 89% completion rate in the initial Program and a strong indication of behavioral changes vital for leadership within the marketing function.

In this way, by outlining his ambitious vision––and advocating for the necessary resources and prioritization to make it happen––Ryan was able to make this “swing for the fences” a reality.

The future of the L&D disruptor

We believe that in the future, L&D disruptors are going to be even more essential. The fast pace of transformation today––with generative AI, the rise of distributed teams, and the ongoing complexities of the macroeconomic environment––means that it’s important to ensure our teams can remain resilient in the face of significant change.

The ability to learn and pivot quickly, as well as lead teams through these pivots, is going to be crucial for businesses who want to thrive in this era of transformation and beyond. It’s a great time to be ambitious about what learning can accomplish. And to think creatively about how to apply learning initiatives within your organization. In one example, L&D disruptors are well-positioned to take the lead in asking the right questions about how their organizations are leveraging generative AI, as well as how to experiment with AI in the learning function and beyond.

We truly believe that we’re entering the era of the L&D disruptor, and we’re excited to work alongside organizations who are solving problems by using learning in creative and forward-thinking ways.


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For an example of one L&D disruptor in action, get a free copy of our case study with AB InBev, where you can dive deeper into how Ryan Verschoor used cohort-based learning to help transform the company’s global marketing organization.

Interested to learn more about how Nomadic works with L&D disruptors, and what this could look like at your company? Get in touch and we’ll reach out to set up a meeting!

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