You can listen to the episode here.
Or watch it here.
L&D professional Dan Gallagher joins Blake Proberts on the Strategic L&D Podcast to talk about how mindset is key to aligning performance and strategy within L&D, how accountability helps improve learning impact by up to 70%, and why being called a ‘performance team’ better shows what you do. Listen to the full episode above or watch below.
Dan, I’d love to start with just a bit about you, your background and what’s lead you to where you are today.
had 22 years in the insurance industry. Doesn’t sound very exciting or rock and roll. But it is quite interesting area to work in. My career has been predominantly working within claims areas of different types of businesses. So that customer service from front of house, part of the business. And then five years ago, I changed roles, different different businesses, different types of companies — large, very large organisations to fairly small organisations within different areas. But then, I moved into the training area, and started off as a standard trainer.
And firstly, I kind of felt like — I’ve felt like I’ve found my niche, really, within, within training. It seems to work well with a lot of the things that I’ve done outside of work as well. So in my, in my spare time, I’ve done a little bit of stand up comedy, I’ve done a little bit of performance. Yeah, I’ve done a bit of performance, singing, songwriting, and I’ve taught martial arts in the past. So I’m not shy, standing in front of people and talking to them. And then bringing in elements of photography, and then a bit of copywriting and things like that — it all seemed to just come together perfectly to suit the the role of training.
Then I became a senior trainer within, within a team and getting involved in bringing behavioural economics into the business. Getting involved in a global L&D group, where built and rolled out emotional intelligence training to a global community. Evaluation amongst the learning and development experts as well. And then — and started working with early talent programs there. And then I got promoted to a learning development consultant, where my responsibilities are early talent and development within the business. So looking after graduates, managing graduates, and also, leadership development.
And I also work with the business from a performance consultancy point of view. So I attend various forums and work with the business and look at how can we improve performance within the business get involved in various projects? Yeah, so that’s, that’s a bit about me.
That’s super varied, but I can kind of connect the dots, like with stand up comedy.
I’m not saying I was any good. But I think I think it does, it certainly helps with just having that confidence to stand in front of people and talk to them. But also, if you can inject a little bit of humour into what you do, it just makes the train that much more engaging, you know? Yeah. Yeah. It’s, it’s a, it’s a fine line to tread, shall we say? It’s got to remain professional as well. You can’t go straight in there with mother-in-law jokes, that’s not going to go there.
You also mentioned that you’re responsible for some of that performance area in respect to L&D. How do you align L&D with performance or business strategy?
Yeah, well, it’s I think it’s about your, your mindset and your approach. Not thinking about training. We’re not training people. We’re driving performance. That’s what’s important. And so our approach, our questions, our analysis of problems needs to come from a performance perspective. What is it that people are doing? What is it that the business needs people to do? What is the fundamental purpose of the business? And then it’s looking at well, okay, so what do people need to do to perform well, to achieve what the business wants to achieve? And it’s focusing very much on task, rather than topic. It’s focusing on what are the fundamental things that people need to know, to be able to do what they need to do.
“We’re not training people. We’re driving performance… so our analysis of problems needs to come from a performance perspective.”
So it’s very much about being a partner with the business, you know, understanding what their goals and looking at how we can support. But it’s also about understanding things from a system point of view. Systems thinking is something that I think is a real game changer in an approach towards L&D, and I’m happy to explain a bit more about systems thinking if you, if you’d like me to.
But looking at things in a more holistic way, looking at the business as a system, and understanding, well, of that performance, how much of that is equatable to knowledge, skills and behaviour, and how much of it is equatable to other influences within the business? And so I think the role of L&D and the strategy of L&D is evolving. Because the traditional mindset is about training, education, you know — whereas actually, the insight that you can offer by asking the right sort of questions and digging a little bit deeper, and doing some of this double loop thinking is, is, is offering insight to the business in ways that they may not actually realise what’s, what’s happening. And that can improve performance still, and you’re still offering value because you’re offering that insight. It’s just not in the traditional, let’s sit everyone in a classroom, you know, training method.
I love what you said about looking at those systems, because generally, a system is something that’s measurable, quantifiable, and very, very much repeatable.
Well, a system, a system is anything that’s made of two or more parts, for a common purpose. So your body is a biological system, your car is a mechanical system. All the parts work together for a common purpose. You can’t take one single part out of your body, you can’t take your kidney out and say, well, that’s life, that is, which is the fundamental purpose of your body. It doesn’t work like that. The kidney only works when it’s part of your body, and your system only works properly when the kidney’s functioning. It’s similar, similar with a car. You can’t take an engine out and say, well, that’s transport that is, well, well, now it’s not, it needs to be part of the bigger, bigger system.
And what you often find is if you tweak one part of the system as a whole, then it can actually be detrimental to the rest of the system, or it actually doesn’t take any effect. Now, when you look at a business, look at an organisation, you have all these different departments, these are all your different parts or your elements. And they’re all working in silos. They’ve all got their own objectives. And when you’re looking at improving performance, you’ve got to look at things from a holistic point of view and understand well, what else do we need in place to ensure the success of this change?
So if you’re — so if you rely on a training session on its own, for instance. If you rely just on that, there’s a 15% chance of learning being implemented and seeing any change. So one of the things that you need is you need accountability measures. What that requires, requires is support from leaders, to have conversations with their people to set expectations. This is why you’re going to call the 505 principle. Five minutes before the training, this is why you’re going into this session, and this is what’s expected. They spend zero minutes involved while the training takes place. But then after the training takes place, it’s another five minutes. What did you learn? How did you find it? Do you need any further support? How are you going to apply it?
“If you rely on [a training session on its own], there’s a 15% chance of learning being implemented and seeing any change. You need accountability measures.”
Now when you have those accountability measures, the rate of applying the learning goes up to 85%. And that’s just one element of looking at it systemically. So what communications do we need to send out? What computer systems, tools, resources do we need to consider when we look at implementing change? And so, when you’re looking at systems thinking, you could break it down into four, four things, really. Distinguishing the different parts, the different elements; understanding what the system is trying to achieve as a whole, what is the business trying to achieve as a whole; understanding the relationships and the inter-relations, interconnectivity between all the different parts; and then looking at the different perspectives of everyone in the system.
A person — so heavily involved in the customer service environment that I am, I have to think about also the perspective of the person here is the frontline member of staff on the phones, what are the, what’s their perspective? What’s the perspective of their manager? What’s the perspective of the centre manager? What’s the perspective of somebody who works in the quality team? So it’s looking at all of these things and bringing it all together. And you have to involve as many of different elements of the system and get them aligned to embed change and make sure that it has real impact.
Out of all of that, what would you say is the most challenging part?
Um, I would say, I would say, a challenge is the traditional approach towards L&D. The mindset. You know, it’s education. It’s classroom-based, you know. So, I think it’s a case of educating, you know, educating the leaders, educating people on what it is that we do, and how we can offer value these days.
I think a lot of it comes down to as well, your perception of role. There’s, there’s a great book, actually from a lady who’s based in, in your neck of the woods. It’s a book called The Insider’s Guide to Culture Change by Siobhan McHale. And within that, she talks about roles and perception of roles, and how we all wear different hats, right? So you’re a best friend, you’re a brother, you’re a son, you know, you might be a father. With each, with each of these roles, there are different actions, different behaviours that you have. So sometimes how you name a role, or how you frame something, will change perception, or will change behaviours to align with that.
“If you call yourself a training team, then people will think that you train. If you call yourself learning and performance, then people will see you as dealing with learning and performance. And you start to shift the mindset towards what you do.”
So I think it’s the same with what we do. If you call yourself a training team, then people will think that you train. If you call yourself learning and performance, then people will see you as dealing with learning and performance. And you start to shift the mindset towards what you do. But it is a, it is about the conversations that you have. And it’s about proving what you can do. I think that’s the, that’s the thing you have to show by doing and demonstrating what you can do to then get people on board.
What other learning activities would you then say have helped you accomplish that holistic approach?
Well, I think it’s considering — we have you considered the learners right. And it might be a little bit of a controversial view, I suppose, maybe. I just have to say, clarify that. But I think the fact is that certainly — from, from my experience when I was working on the, on the handling calls and in that type of environment, I didn’t come to work to learn. You know, a lot of people don’t necessarily want to learn in the traditional sense. People want to do a job. A lot of people are going to work to do a job, because they’ve got bills to pay, they’ve got mouths to feed, they’ve got other things going on in their life. And I think, when you push learning onto people, when you push assessments or push courses, if people don’t know what’s in it for them, or if it seems like a lot of effort, or work, when you push people, people tend to push back.
And that’s why the 505 principle is so important, because people need to understand that they’re accountable for their, for their knowledge, and whatnot. But I think there’s a lot to be said, about people don’t necessarily want to learn, they want to know. They want to know what, what do I need, they want this, they want to do a good job. So it’s about how do we provide that information for people at the point of need? You know, how do we make the information easily accessible, easy to digest?
“People don’t necessarily want to learn… they want to know what do I need [in order] to do a good job?”
And so I know in the last, in the last podcast, you mentioned about self-directed learning, and you felt that it wasn’t necessarily the way to go. I kind of half agree, half disagree. I think it’s about how you do it. Because I think that if you provide, if you provide resources, tools, the information for people, and they can pull that information when they need their learning, the learning — it’s self-directed learning, but the learning is a byproduct of doing the job. So you’ve got those people who just want to know, and it’s about how do you provide that information so that they learn as a byproduct. But then you also need to cater for those who want to learn, who want to progress. So you need to create the environment as well, that nurtures talent, that provides that talent pipeline of those really ambitious people that want to grow and develop.
There was a, there was a statistic I read recently, I don’t know where it was from, so forgive me. But it said that when looking at attrition rates, 54% of people were leaving because they didn’t feel like they were being developed, they didn’t feel there’s any career opportunities. So you have to provide an environment in which people are able to thrive and they’ll remain loyal to you, and you’re building that future talent, pipeline and succession and all that. But also, you can’t forget that not everybody wants push-style learning. They want to learn as a part of doing the role. So I think it’s looking at that, really and taking an intelligent approach towards those two areas, those two types of learners.
I couldn’t agree more with you about attrition. Being a founder of a startup, you feel that quite a lot. We say one reason we’ve got to keep growing is we’ve got all these awesome people and we want to keep them, and they’re gonna grow as well.
It’s really challenging in a large company as well, you know, because you can… there’s only so many jobs. And if everybody’s, if everybody’s scrambling for the next role up, well, that role — you know, they can only move up when that role becomes available, right? And, but you also need people that, that want to come in and are content with just doing a good job. So we need to — not everybody wants to get better.
And the approach toward learning, we need to make sure that it’s always contextual. It’s always relevant, it’s always applicable. And, you know, experiential learning is, is a great thing. You know, that whole 70–20–10 thing. So, stretch assignments, mentoring, you know, job swapping, that sort of thing, I think is a great thing.
I spoke with Kelly from Kathmandu, and their mindset is that they are creating coaches, not managers.
Well, that’s, that’s, that’s touching on the point I made earlier on about the perception of your role. You know, if you, if you, if you call somebody a manager, they will manage people, if you call them a leader, they’ll lead people, if you call them a coach, they will coach people. It’s how you perceive the role. And yeah, it’s, I think it’s something to really consider, you know, especially if you’re doing leadership development programs. It’s understanding from the senior stakeholders, what is it you want your leaders to do? How do they perceive their, their role? So what does good look like?
How do you find the best way to interact with those different leadership teams to find out what success looks like in other areas of the business?
Yeah. Well, I think it comes down to the quality of the conversations that you have. If you work in L&D, you want to have a profile, people need to know who you are. And so it’s about knocking on those doors. And it’s about having those conversations and really getting under the skin of, what is it that you that you, that you want? I was in a conversation this week about a potential leadership development program. And I had to say, let’s just, you know, my role is not to train. My role is to improve performance. So, I want to understand what does good performance look like to you? You know, what are the tasks, the specific tasks that lead to that good performance? And then what skills, knowledge, behaviours are required to achieve those tasks?
And then it’s a case of, okay, so what else within the system is going to help embed that? Are you going to change objectives? Are you going to change, you know, are you going to provide people with resources and tools? What’s the messaging going to be from, you know, from, from the line manager perspective, you know? How are they going to drive that and encourage the changes in behaviours? Something again, from systems thinking there’s a, there’s a philosophy that purpose measures method. Have you heard of this?
Okay, so. So, purpose measures method. The methods that people will adopt within the role will be heavily impacted by how they’re measured. If, if you work in a customer service environment, and you’re measured by how many calls you answer, in a day, then your — the work that you do will be focused on answering as many calls as I can in a day. That means as soon as I answer that call, I’ve got to get rid of that customer, because I’ve got to answer the next call. And the quality may drop, which means that the call is called back, because the customer satisfaction drops. And, you know, you could really extrapolate this out to look at how it impacts things systemically.
“The methods that people will adopt within the role will be heavily impacted by how they’re measured. When you provide targets, you create a de-facto purpose of: meet the target. And it doesn’t always drive the right behaviours and the right actions.”
But — so your measures will impact methods that people people have. But you need to consider when you provide targets, you create a de-facto purpose of: meet the target, however that is. Whether it’s cutting corners, do whatever’s needed, meet that target. And it doesn’t always drive the right behaviours and the right actions, so you have to look at what, what’s the purpose of what you’re trying to achieve? What really matters, what’s really important to the customer or the, you know, the business. How do you measure, what, what are the measures, the right things to measure to achieve that and then the methods will come about to drive those measures.
So when you’re having conversations about performance and and working with businesses about getting under the skin — and again, just about educating. This is not just a case of a one-and-done event, this is not a case of, welcome to a two hour training session! And it’ll be amazing! Let’s get all these resources in place. Let’s support them. What’s the support structure going to be? Do you change objectives? Do you change measures? Do we get insight from the frontline staff about how their leaders are performing, so that we get honest feedback there as well, like a 360, you know? And that will drive accountability, because they’re more likely to carry out and apply the learning, if they know that we’re gonna get feedback from your people, you know. It’s about how you’re getting on.
It’s not meant to be a stick to beat people with. But it’s a, it’s a reality that this is the expectation to apply when we’re going to help you develop and, and build you up and give you the tools and resources. So yeah, it’s really about the quality conversations that you have with, with people and educate them and asking the right questions.
Do you find that data is quite integral to measuring those? And if so, how do you look at the data of those metrics and are there things that you find from an L&D perspective that are really crucial or need to be leveraged from data?
Data is huge. Big data, personal data, sensitive data, it’s all day-to-day data. And I think it’s crucial, because that’s your insight. I think in an ideal world, your learning and performance team needs to be aligned with the same metrics and measures that the business use and be proactive to identify, in this part of the business, we’ve noticed there’s a dip here, right? What’s going on? You’re working with the business in a proactive way, based on that data-led approach.
But I think data is only the beginning. I think there’s so much focus on, on data, that sometimes things can be can be missed. So Russ Ackoff was a prominent systems thinker. Soft operational research was his version of, of systems thinking. And in one of, one of his lectures that I watched, he was talking about the educational hierarchy. And I found it really interesting because his data is your bottom level. You gather all this data, that’s brilliant, that’s your starting point. Then to make it, to make it useful, you have to process that data. When you process that data, you’ve got information, that’s the next level. Okay. Now, to transcend to the next level — which is knowledge — you need to ask questions, open questions; how, what, where, when, who? So that will give you knowledge. But then you take that a step further, when you can understand the reasons why that gives you understanding, which is the next level up. So you understand what’s causing that data. What’s the correlation between things? And that’s where that double loop thinking comes in. Because you, you’re not just taking things at face value and trying to change something. You’re looking beyond that and scratching the surface to say, well, what is what is driving that? What are the influences that’s, that are creating that?
And then the top tier is wisdom. And wisdom is knowing what’s right or wrong. It’s a combination of all those levels below. And it’s asking, well, is this the right thing to do? Or is it the wrong thing to do? Is it? Is this really what the purpose of the system is? Is this really what we’re trying to achieve here? Is this offering value to the customer? Is this driving the right thing? And so, there’s so much emphasis on, on data sometimes that we need to take it, process it, build our knowledge, build our understanding, and then question what is really the right thing to do in this situation?
I think, of course, as well, data is really important, because when you identify the data that you’re looking at, the indicators of poor performance, then straight away, you’ve got the metrics that you want to have an impact on when you come to evaluate. So your evaluation should not be a retrospective thing. You should know from the off, this is the, this is the debt that we’ve seen. Well, that’s what we need to focus on. And if we’re successful in our approach, we will see an increase in that. So I think, yeah, data is crucial, really, it’s the starting point. But it’s, it’s not just taken at face value. It’s, you know, looking beyond that.
“Data is crucial. But it’s not just taken at face value. It’s [about] being proactive. It’s moving away from [L&D] being order takers.”
Is that really the right thing? You know, that the metrics and measures do it? Do we look at lead, lead or lag measures? It’s been being proactive. And I’m sure you’ve heard this a million times. It’s moving away from being order takers.
That sort of bleeds into the technology stack within an organisation. How important do you see those stacks and the different tools that organisations are using?
I think, I think when it comes to tech, I think there’s been a huge shift due to the pandemic, and people have had to be forced to adapt. And I think, I think technology has its place. But I also think we have to be wary of what is really adding value, and what’s offering quality.
So it has his place in terms of obviously, you need to collect your data to give you your, your insight. And to evaluate the success of what you do that’s really important. You can do that with a tech in terms of learning solutions. It’s great from a accessibility and flexibility point of view. You know, I think that we need to be wary — so say, for instance, okay, you’ve got, you’ve got an LMS and it’s an open library. And people can add to it. Okay, brilliant. But there’s, there are some issues with that.
Firstly, where’s the quality control? If it’s, if it’s like the Wild West, and everyone’s just adding stuff, right? Well, okay, so Jeff wants to learn about communication skills. So he goes onto the LMS. And he types in communication skills. And suddenly, he’s got, you know, 100 different things to look at — articles and videos and courses, like streuth, what do I, what do I do? And then which of that is offering quality? You’re, you’re at risk of, you’re at risk of option paralysis, right? So. So, Einstein, when he first went to America, he went into a supermarket and just saw the amount of choice, and you call the option paralysis. I don’t know what I’m what I want, you know, the brain will, will shut down when you offer too many things. Because it’s not easy, you know?
And the other side of it is, well, how can you equate any kind of improvement in performance to, to the — to that LMS? You know, you’re offering all this or you’re offering LinkedIn Learning, don’t get me wrong, it’s great. It’s brilliant. But that, but there’s a lot of naff stuff out there as well. And you’re offering people access to everything? How, how, how do you ensure that there’s efficiency of time, that the knowledge is applicable to what they do, and that you can equate improvement in performance to that thing?
Our role within learning and development or learning and performance, or however you want to phrase it, is offering value, and we need to be able to demonstrate the value that we offer. And I don’t think you can necessarily do that with with an LMS. Okay, people get points. And you can say how many people interact with it? Well, that’s great, but, but what’s the difference in performance? What people do differently? We can’t see that.
So I think there needs to be some sort of quality control. I think tech is great. But if it can be where people get the knowledge at the point of need, and you give them stuff that’s applicable to the job, and the tech is there, where the knowledge is in the cloud, or whatever, or the learning is in the cloud. But when somebody types in “communication skills”, something pops up that somebody has vetted, and have said, this is good. And maybe it’s even been adapted and it can say, it can be applicable to the job. And it talks to that individual about their job and how they can actually apply it to what they do.
I think gamification is something that’s, that’s new. And I think, from my perspective, there are pros and cons to it. You want to avoid the novelty element. Yeah, people will engage with it if it’s if there’s a novelty element, but again, how quickly can that be changed? I work in a very fast-paced environment, a new piece of legislation comes out, everything needs to be changed, you know? So how quick is it to update that? And what are you going to do when the novelty wears off? And, again, where’s the evaluation to say, this behaviour, this metric has shifted as a result of this thing?
So I don’t think that — not everything that glitters is gold. And you have to, you have to ask the right questions. How can you create a simulation? I saw a great example, actually, I went to a learning tech event, a couple of years back, and there was a virtual reality session where you were learning to be a banksman, and you were — there was a lorry reversing and you had to stand in the right place and, and guide him and stuff like that. That kind of simulation is is great. You’re, you know, it’s simulating the environment. It’s, it’s difficult when you’re — you have to be really creative with it, when you’re looking at different types of roles, I guess and apply it correctly. So you have to — it’s got huge potential. But it’s got to be done right. And for me, the question is, if you’re investing a lot of money into it, what’s the impact on performance? What’s the change that we’re going to see?
What do you generally find helps it successfully measure that change or show that ROI on learning?
Yeah. I mean, when you look at things like soft skills, training and all that, it’s like, how do you equate that to — I think ROI is always a challenge when it comes to, when it comes to evaluating learning, because there are always… certainly the environment that I work in, there are always multiple things going on. Always multiple different initiatives. And it’s hard to sometimes go well, how do we actually equate that to, to the training? But I think, again, using, using technology, it’s about how you benchmark to start with. And if you roll out, and if you can, if you can measure the engagement with a certain piece of a material, and then you can look at, you know, historically, the level of quality or, you know — that’s the investigation from from L&D. That’s the challenge. It’s, it’s, it’s looking at the benchmark, it’s applying the solution, then marrying up any improvement or not.
And also getting — let’s not also rule out qualitative feedback, you know, qualitative data. Reaching out to learners and saying, how do you use this? What works well? How can we improve it? How do you apply what you’ve done? So, you know, sometimes it’s always about the metrics and the data, but let’s not rule out qualitative data. If people are saying, do you know what, this is a great tool, and I’d missed it if it wasn’t there. You’ve got to listen to that. You can’t ignore that. So, yeah.
On that note, how do you prioritise the training based on impact? How do you prioritise different L&D opportunities around the organisation?
It’s working with our stakeholders and seeing what’s important to them. You know, it’s the senior stakeholders, you have to satisfy them the day that it’s working with me saying, what’s the priority for you at the moment, having those conversations what’s as business, you know, as things What’s your priority at the moment? And how can we help? You know, and so that’s, that’s key, working with those decision makers.
Yeah, I mean — again, it’s aligned with business, the business carried on full circle back to business strategy, in a way. Understanding what’s, what’s important to you? What’s the direction the business is going? And then again, asking, well, how can we support that from a learning perspective? Or learning is just one of the tools that we can, we can apply. But it’s understanding where you will have his performance driving that or what change in performance do you need to see. And then working with the business to, again, analyse, understand the influences, the drivers of that performance. And if a learning solution can help support it through resources or tools or formal, formal learning, then we have that scope of support.
Or we can say, well, actually, you know, working with it, working with the business, you know, and speaking to pick this up — sometimes needs to be done as well — speak to the people doing the job. What’s the frontline pinch points? What’s the, what’s stopping you from doing this thing? What’s, what are the barriers? And sometimes, improving performance is not necessarily about building a solution, but it’s about removing barriers.
“Speak to the people doing the job. What’s the frontline pinch points? Sometimes, improving performance is not necessarily about building a solution, but it’s about removing barriers.”
So, yeah, it’s, it’s working as a partner to the business and understanding what the key needs are, and the direction the business wants to go in and supporting them with that. And if it’s a case of offering insights, then you’ve still added value, you know. Because otherwise, you could be doing the wrong thing. You know, you could be doing the wrong thing right. But you’re still doing the wrong thing. Yeah. You know, so yeah, it’s being efficient and effective in what you’re doing.
My final question for you would be, do you have any lessons or key lessons that you would share from your 22 years of experience?
I would say firstly, shift your mindset to performance. You are not there to train people, you are there to improve performance. I would say it is crucial that learning and development people are learners themselves. How can you drive learning and be passionate about it if you’re not looking at upskilling yourself, at every opportunity as well? Remain curious. And ask questions to understand. Don’t think that you have to know the answers, because you don’t, you know.
And I would say in terms of things to look into, I would say, research systems thinking. I’d say that’s a game changer. I would say look at behavioural economics, that will help not only in terms of understanding how people think and how people make decisions, but it will — for me, it’s changed the quality of my presentations, you know, and how I design the quality of my presentations, you know, so that I don’t overwhelm people.
And, and also, when you’re looking at potential solutions. Looking at, could you apply some choice architecture,/ Which is about nudging people to make better decisions, rather than this mitigating error route. Creating a reference-based solution rather than a knowledge-based solution. So behavioural economics is really good at systems thinking, so I’d recommend looking into those things as well. And I think that’s a good starter. For 10, they’ve got plenty to go with!
This transcript was originally published on Acorn Labs.
There are no comments for this story
Be the first to respond and start the conversation.