Interview: David James @ Looop

This week I spoke to David James, who was at Disney 8 years, leading first the UK L&D department before becoming Director for L&D across EMEA, and now is a Digital Learning Strategist for Looop (we’ve mentioned them a couple of times before, as they supply the platform for ASOS and Learnitect’s digital content).

Ed: You spent 8 years at Disney in various L&D roles. How does Disney handle L&D? What can other companies learn from it?

David: I loved my time at Disney. Although, there’s a misconception that Disney is a fun place to work. It’s challenging. Disney attracts smart, driven people and expectations are high. But it was incredible. Most noticeable is the complexity of the business. You’ve got the parks, stores, films, TV, consumer products, media distribution… it’s an incredibly broad portfolio of products and therefore challenges. From a L&D perspective you need to think about the corporate functions (sales, marketing, etc.), industry divisions (retail, entertainment, and leisure), and geographies [in his final role David covered 27]. Take all that into account and you still haven’t covered how dynamic the industry is. An example of this is, when I first started in 2006, we thought we’d won the format wars with Blue-ray, but within 2 years streaming was beginning to disrupt the physical home entertainment market..

As in most organisations, the L&D department is small, so you need to plan where you can have most impact - it’s an enormous remit to cover with limited resources. It was in my role as Director for the EMEA region that I realised that my role was not accountable for delivery, of training or programmes, but about really enhancing performance and building organisational capability.That means affecting the work in a way that the business cares about, rather than focusing on the traditional L&D metrics of attendance, completion and satisfaction.

Ed: There are lots of learning platforms on the market, what was it about Looop that made you get involved?

David: Ben [Muzzell, Looop co-founder] demoed it to me at the CIPD exhibition. I realised then that it was the first piece of corporate learning tech that I would use myself. And that was after years of pushing elearning out to people and it being largely rejected or ignored. Google has changed the way people think about learning at work. If they can’t find the content they are looking for they can search the whole internet. Looop performs a similar function in organisations, quickly and easily turning local expertise into actionable resources that affect the way the actual work is done. For this reason, you can develop content that people really want to engage with.

Ed: What is a "Digital Learning Strategist" anyway?!

David: Josh Bersin said “digital doesn’t mean learning on your phone, it means being where your workers are”. Digital doesn’t mean putting content on computers, it means really helping people with the work they are doing and preparing them for future roles. People research and learn things through Google everyday, it’s ridiculous to expect that they won’t take similar ownership of their learning in a corporate environment.

I work with learning teams to understand what they are really trying to achieve, who is affected, and work with them to design resources that meet those needs. In this regard, our work means making workers better and faster at their current role, as well as preparing them for future challenges. The new approach we facilitate is like building bridges between people and their collective know-how - opening up the organisation, and helping people get to where they want to go. Workplace learning isn’t about inputs and activities, it’s about outputs and results.

Ed: What are typically the quick wins for businesses in L&D?

David: The most important thing is to understand is the goal - what the business and its people are trying to achieve. For example, induction can increase speed to competence, so people are performing confidently and delivering results faster, as well as positively affect engagement and reduce churn, but all too often, this is all overlooked when it’s becomes an event that runs on Monday? L&D departments can get trapped in polishing content they already have. That’s no use unless that’s delivering the desired business results. Every organisation has its own journey. You need to understand the challenges that your people face, and then give them the resources they need to overcome those challenges and perform with more confidence and competence.

Ed: What are the top companies doing in terms of L&D?

David: Sanoma is a great example of how to do L&D today. They are laser-focused on what the organisation needs and they work with distinct departments and employee groups to understand what they need to do before equipping them with the digital tools (resources) to be able to do that. Face-to-face events then supplement everyday digital support to do what people do best: discuss, question, challenge, practice and relate it to their situation, whilst removing what people aren’t good at, which is absorbing huge swathes of content over the period of a few hours (or days). At first, Sanoma worked with one publishing brand to understood the work, their challenges and what digital would mean for them. By mapping individuals onto their scale of capability, it became clear what they needed to master next, and gave them an individual learning pathway. They captured what local experts knew, in relation to helping this distinct group of people do their jobs, and made these available in the form of resources - not to be learned, but to support them through doing the job differently. Once this approach was honed for this group of people, they scaled it out to rest of business, iterating along the way. Too often in L&D scaling means launching generic content or programmes to broad groups of people. What Sanoma are doing is integral to how the business performs and they are responsible for building the capability the business requires.

Further reading

Looop blog on digital learning

David James on twitter

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