“The recruitment of talent is more competitive than ever. Employer branding and being able to understand and connect with prospective employees requires a marketing and communications mindset as well as all of the knowledge and expertise that the talent and development side of the house brings.”
This is the among the perspectives shared by Melissa Taylor, Global Learning and Development Director for the public relations firm Porter Novelli, on episode 10 of the Learning and Development Stories Podcast.
Melissa explained that in order for companies to be successful and with the world becoming increasingly complex, we need an agile workforce. Both marketing and communications and learning and development have to constantly evolve. Melissa recommended that marcomm and L&D look for common goals and figure out how to bring the right people to the table.
“It’s about changing behaviors and mindsets,” she said.
Porter Novelli has about 1000 employees worldwide and Melissa is responsible for developing content across all of the firm’s offices. She assumed her role as an L&D leader two years ago after having worked on the business side as a Managing Director and Partner for almost 20 years.
“My job ranges from helping to develop leaders, building skills in terms of client service, understanding financials, business development, and tactical skills around communications, media relations and digital,” she said.
Melissa works with L&D leaders in the company to make sure that the needs of individual offices are being met and that together they are addressing key organizational priorities.
She shared her recent success developing a leadership development series called Generation Next, targeted at emerging leaders within the firm.
She introduced a highly interactive curriculum that is based on the case study approach. The curriculum focuses on the discovery of learning together. She believes that it is through diversity that you find innovation and that if you can figure out how to bring out the best in one another, you will then get the most creativity.
Melissa thinks that it is important to always ask, “What is the mindset or behavior we trying to get to, where are we currently, and what are the barriers that are keeping people from progressing?” She believes in giving people the space to discover those barriers for themselves.
Tying learning to business objectives
Through the development of Generation Next, Melissa shared that she was able to work with the COO as well as the head of HR. They identified key business challenges together which has been critical in the process of tying learning to business objectives.
Another critical experience for Melissa was the opportunity that she personally had to attend a program called Omnicom University.
“It is an intensive almost mini-MBA program that delves a lot into leadership development,” she noted.
This program helped inform Melissa as to how she would put the Generation Next program together.
Melissa recalled how building a “train the trainer” component into her programs has allowed knowledge transfer across the company to be easily achieved.
The Generation Next trainings are set up so that the participants are equipped to easily take the information and materials that they have received back to their teams and offices.
“The program is really meant for our high performing, high potential colleagues, but we don’t want the information to only stay with them,” she stated. “We equip them to take that information with them and teach others.”
Lessons from mistakes
One of Melissa’s initial challenges when creating Generation Next was trying to fit too much content and material into a short amount of time.
She has learned to stand back and allow room for absorption and reflection. She saw the benefit in cutting back on different sections and modules of the trainings, and instead provided more time for the participants to process the information they received.
“When I implemented these changes, I noticed that people didn’t feel rushed and people had more energy. I started to think about the right condition and environment for learning,” she said.
The link between training and employee engagement
It is important that employees not only have access to great learning materials, but also the permission and freedom to leverage such resources. Melissa experienced this first-hand when she saw the feedback from the quarterly employee engagement surveys. She noticed that although employees had access to trainings, they lacked the infrastructure and the support needed to feel encouraged to participate in the trainings.
One of the ways she and her colleagues addressed this core barrier was by giving everyone 24 hours of professional development hours a year. This has been a positive development that has been reflected in an uptick in the latest employee engagement survey scores.
In the past, available trainings were decentralized and the logistics and cost made it hard to impact a large amount of people.
“I wanted to reframe our L&D opportunities, so we created Uncommon Ground. That was our platform for L&D,” she said. “The idea was that I wanted people to think very broadly about L&D. It is not only the trainings in a formal classroom setting or webinars that you participate in. It’s the on the job and outside the classroom opportunities, as well as the peer-to-peer opportunities to share best practices.”
Melissa introduced “Uncommon Ground Reps”. Their job is to promote L&D and keep it top of mind for their direct reports.
“When you can be authentic and personable it is more engaging,” she said. “I think Learning & Development is such a personal venture and journey. If it reads like this is ‘HQ telling you what you need to learn’ then it feel like there is an agenda. I deeply care about people unlocking their own potential and I want that passion to come out.”
Whether it is a newsletter or a town hall, key is effective storytelling, according to Melissa. It is not only about the L&D brand communicating messages, but also engaging employees to share their personal reflections and stories around learning.
Tool every L&D professional should leverage:
Melissa explains that having a collaborative mindset and being able to influence in an L&D role are incredibly important.
“You have to be willing to give, help and build relationships in order to gain influence,” she said.
She recommends that you always start by asking these questions:
- How can I help you?
- What are your goals and needs?
- How can we work together?
Melissa recommends Blinkist, an app that lets you read key lessons from non-fiction books in 15 minutes or fewer.
“I dream of one day having an office with wall-to-wall books, but I will never have time to read them all,” she concluded. “Blinkist has a lot of business and professional books and each chapter is summarized to just the key points, and I love it.”
You can connect with Melissa on LinkedIn.
Kevin Anselmo is the founder of Experiential Communications and host of the Learning and Development Stories Podcast. He is the creator of the Global Innovators Academy and course instructor for Interview an Innovator, an experience in which students and young professionals, based on their own interests, interview innovators. He helps organizations instill a continuous learning approach through content learning. Contact Kevin to have him support your organization.
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