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L&D Leader Rob Lauber: Growth Opportunities for 2022 & Beyond

We enjoyed chatting with Rob Lauber on learning trends, technologies, and growth opportunities for leaders. Rob is the former CLO to McDonald's, Yum! Brands, and Cingular Wireless, and recently founded XLO Global LLC, where he helps businesses in L&D thrive. Dive into his responses and insights below. 

What learning trends are you expecting to see in 2022?

My joke is you can make your top 10 predictions for 2022, and nine of them will be wrong. From an L&D perspective, there's this emerging intersection with other parts of talent. With the hiring shortage and staffing shortage, there's a need for L&D to be much more connected to talent acquisition to really understand what the pipeline looks like. And then, conversely, think about what the company's buy or build strategy is when it comes to filling roles.

I think the diversity, inclusion, and equity conversation will continue and will indirectly impact L&D pretty significantly in 2022. And then the third one is around the talent mobility piece -making hiring people inside your business first, then going outside your business - is also going to continue pretty strongly. 

Although, there is a lot of data to argue the talent mobility idea when you have up to four million people a month quitting their jobs and going somewhere else. I think that many people are asking, "Why am I working here?" Maybe more than ever before. If you can't answer those questions about "why should I work here?" you're probably going to keep losing people. And being able to answer that question with clarity is where I think L&D plays a massive role. The answer has got to be around flexibility and providing a roadmap to an individual’s future. That “future” view for an individual is a place you can grow and develop that leads to either something somewhere else or within the organization. 

How can L&D teams be proactive with HR departments and build or foster those relationships?

You've got to get aligned around the strategy. The big picture is where the conversation needs to happen. So, how many people do we need to hire next year? Where will those people come from, and what's our attitude and philosophy about internal mobility? Those are all things that L&D needs to know because typically, you're running new hire and onboarding programs anyway. So you've got some volume prediction there. Still, at the same time, if organizations are switching towards more internal mobility than external hire, L&D has to know what programs it needs to build, put in place, put emphasis on, and prioritize to be able to know what to do next year.

I think that's where the conversation starts, and if I'm in L&D, I'd be walking over and saying, "What do I need to do to support the talent acquisition agenda for next year?" Because they're looking at how they just fill positions, and part of that is how do you do that internally? That's where L&D needs to come into the mix and make a difference.

How can learning leaders have a seat at the table? 

The primary challenge with getting a seat at the table is, are you working in line with this strategy and direction the business is trying to go? Can you tie your work directly with where the business's strategy is and what you're trying to do? 

For example, while I was at McDonald's, if we were rolling out kiosks and restaurants, I'm not going to get into any conversation unless I'm talking about how I'm supporting that deployment and how I'm playing a role in the people side of all of that technology being rolled out. You have to be talking about the language of the business and what the business cares about to get a seat at the table. Once you're there, the expectation is that you're able to take a macro view, beyond just the silo that you work in, to think about the business issue and challenge at hand holistically. 

How can learning professionals get buy-in on adopting new technologies? 

Tactically when you get down to it in any organization, the conversation around adopting anything new is about what advantage it will bring to the table. If it were Arist, for example, I'd be sitting there saying, "Here's how text-based learning's going to help advance our agenda beyond what our current capabilities are." We can reach more people. We can reach them faster. We can have better insight. That's the positioning that has to take place in the conversations about adopting any new technology.

There's never a business case in the technology - there's always a business case in how you apply it. So, the conversation has to be about the advantages around application, more than about the tool itself. 

I think that's a trap that many people fall into - if you don't put a business spin on it, you're probably going to lose every time. 

Are new technologies key for L&D teams to stay adaptable in 2022? 

I think it's beyond the technology piece - it's about people's capability to change. It's a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. The fixed mindset is like, "This is what I do, and suddenly we're not doing it anymore. Now what?" As opposed to a growth mindset, would sit there and say, "This is what I do. We're not doing it anymore. Here is what else can I do to support the new normal.  I need to do things differently." I think it's more of a people thing than a technology thing because there's lots of good technology, including Arist, out there that people should be already leveraging, which by the way, requires even more adaptability as they are implemented.

Also, with that new technology comes new roles. So if you implement Arist somewhere, someone's going to take responsibility then for the deployment, the managing of content, the curation of it. All those different things have to happen - the program management associated with it. So there are multiple people behind all of those things. And I think that getting people to sort of flex that way can sometimes be challenging.

What are the biggest obstacles to learning leaders right now? How can they overcome them? 

There's this agility/fragility conversation that's going on right now. Your organization needs to be more agile, but your people are probably more fragile than ever. So, I think L&D leaders are dealing with multiple new kinds of priorities in ways that maybe they have never experienced before. For example, in the last 18 months, the whole DE&I conversation.  It's not new, but it's amplified dramatically. And then, the entire hybrid work environment has changed and forced people to change the way they think about how they deliver learning solutions. You also have organizations overall that are trying to figure out how we're going to grow our business when we don't have enough employees. 

What advice would you give to learning leaders right now? 

On the prioritization side, stop trying to be a servicer of every request - really focus on the ones that only matter to the business for the short and the long haul.

For example, if you're trying to grow sales by 10% next year, you should be thinking a lot about how you will help the sales organization grow sales by 10% next year. You are sitting down with a sales leader and saying, "What are the things I need to be doing to help you grow sales by 10% next year?" It might be, "I need you to do less training, so people are outselling more." And your response should be, "Okay, great.  I have a text-based solution that will shorten the interruptions compared to how we train people today and can really help drive sales focus for us.  We can still build product knowledge and deliver hints, tips, and even messages from you, the sales leader." 

So I think that those kinds of things are still essential and I think probably more important than ever - it might be doing less, but doing it a lot better and with focused impact.

How do you think the role of the learning leader is going to change in the next five years? 

I have this hypothesis/direction I think learning and development leaders need to be moving from, and it's away from program management and towards enabling. For me, the learning leader needs to pivot to where you can help people learn as opposed to training people. I think the role of the learning leader needs to go beyond maybe the traditional definition, which is you are a program manager, and it moves more towards how you unlock the ability for people in your organization to learn. And some of that might be content that you provide. But some of that might be about how they learn from each other - an area where we frankly have not spent enough time.

If you invest in new technology, how is it helping people learn? As opposed to thinking about yourself as a catalog of offerings. A learning leader that I would say ultimately will be in jeopardy isn't thinking about the big picture and where the business wants to go. For example, learning from each other is a huge component of almost any organization. So, what are you doing to lean into Microsoft Teams or Slack or whatever you use in your organization where you're helping people learn from each other? A simple example is The Lyceum - a great place where people can learn from each other. It is literally simply a Slack channel in place that unlocks people's ability to learn without being a training program. 

As a learning leader, how are you unlocking those tools and getting people to do those kinds of things? How are you driving those kinds of behaviors, maybe more than programs? 

That's my prediction for what drives value over the next ten years. If you're a learning leader thinking less about programs and more about how you get people to learn in your organization, beyond just the programs you provide, you’re probably going to have more success.

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