Breaking Through While Making Do –
If you’ve achieved a sort of equilibrium, then you’re doing better than most. Maybe you’ve cobbled together a plucky team of professionals. You may have even had some relative success—possibly with the day-to-day needs of compliance, safety, or onboarding. It’s unlikely, however, that you have quite enough headcount, and it’s also unlikely that that team is fully up-to-date on the latest solutions.
You’re making do, and admirable as that may be when you first achieve minimal, operational competence, the thrill fades quickly over the longer term. You go to conferences and look with envy at the virtual reality solutions that it seems everyone is doing. You long for cohorts and learner experience platforms, but you’re stuck with presentation slides and participant guides. You have started avoiding podcasts and blogs because they make you feel left behind. And, although you long to break through and introduce something new into the mix, the same pressures that created the status quo persist with enough momentum that the new ideas keep getting postponed.
Unfortunately, making do just isn’t enough. A McKinsey study showed that 70% of leaders view innovation as a top driver of growth in their organizations.[i] If we’re not innovating within learning and development, we’re out of alignment with the top priorities of our organizations, and we’re not able to flex, change, or grow. The same McKinsey study also showed that 65% of leaders indicated a lack of confidence in their ability to execute on innovation priorities. So, although we know it should be a priority, we don’t know how to always make it happen.
Ironically, the very challenges that you think may overwhelm you and your team can also provide your biggest opportunities for innovation. These types of game-changing needs come with such high stakes that they are recognized by the entire organization as disruptive. I’m talking about these types of enterprise transformations:
What these all have in common is that the disruption is significant enough that it will impact large portions of the business, carry new levels of risk, and catch the attention of those with the power to authorize spending.
What Not to Do
So, what do you do when one of these huge opportunities comes your way? The temptation to stay with the tried and true, though understandable, will likely undercut your credibility and leadership efficacy for the rest of your tenure. The need to do something different will probably be obvious to everyone—in fact, if you opt for the same old thing, you’ll find yourself building a case for why you think the everyday strategy suffices in the context of large-scale change. Being open for new opportunities is a prerequisite for building innovation on your team. Let’s work through some of the most common objections.
Rather than just waiting for the moment of truth to arrive, wisdom tells us to prepare. So, how do you get ready for that which is hard to foresee? First off, try to put yourself in a position where you can see the big changes coming. This means continually building those stakeholder relationships. Secondly, you probably have a good grasp of your team’s weaknesses, and you can anticipate the types of needs that will challenge your team. Having a contingency plan can give you more flexibility in the moment, even if you can’t anticipate all the specifics. The nature of this type of big change often requires agility and innovation in the midst of delivery pressure. This is a lot easier if you have given the hypotheticals enough thought that you have a backup strategy.
To better equip yourself, familiarize yourself with these typical vulnerabilities below and think through any advance considerations that would increase your readiness.
Being prepared allows you to react with an innovative approach and not a survival approach. Under the right circumstances, those big and complex changes in your organization can invigorate your team members and give them opportunities to learn. Some of the most innovative solutions in our industry were created because of the big challenges that inspired them (and probably scared them a little). Recently, Josh Bersin called for HR professionals to become “the new disruptors.”[ii] To make this happen, we need to embrace the big, moonshot opportunities facing our organizations—leveraging them to demonstrate the strategic value of learning. When this happens, the enterprise breakthroughs become personal breakthroughs for your team and for you as a leader.