Every so often, we will feature interviews with clients and Learning & Development professionals from all over the world. In the spirit of social and collaborative learning, we want this blog to be a place where Learning & Development professionals can informally teach and learn from one another.
If you would like to suggest an interview candidate, perhaps a top-performing employee or world-renown colleague, please don’t hesitate to contact Nemo Chu at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lisa Downs is a Leadership Development Manager for T-Mobile USA, where she facilitates communication, manager, and leader skill training. She also serves as a coach and curriculum developer as part of the company’s Integrated Customer Experience Group.
Author of three books published by ASTD Press, Listening Skills Training, Time Management Training, and Negotiation Skills Training, she writes to help learning professionals and others conduct training sessions in their organizations.
Lisa is currently serving as the Immediate Past President of the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) Puget Sound Chapter, after having been its President in 2008. She is also a current member of an ASTD National Committee.
She received her Master of Science in Education degree with a concentration in Adult Education from Western Illinois University in 2000 and completed her undergraduate degree in Speech Communications in 1991 at Augustana College in Rock Island, IL.
Prior to working at T-Mobile, Lisa worked as a consultant and Training Manager in the accounting industry and spent five years as a high school Language Arts teacher both here in the Puget Sound region and in the Midwest. She also worked in both commercial and public radio prior to discovering her passion for learning and development.
Q. Lisa, thanks for making the time. Simply by glancing at your biography, I can see that you’ve been deeply involved in training & development. Talk to us about some common challenges that many T&D professionals face today.
To me, the greatest challenge is keeping up with and adapting to technology and the needs of learners. The industry is changing so rapidly that it is critical that organizations not only stay informed of the latest trends, but also develop ways to infuse new technology and methods into their learning programs to meet the demands of learners.
Q. Seems like technology and adaptation is a common theme here. Could you expand on that?
The speed is so much faster than in past years, I think, as far as how quickly change occurs. Also, the learners entering the workforce today need and crave ways to stay connected, to collaborate, and to be immersed in learning that is engaging and directly applicable to what they need to know to be successful in their work. We have at least four generations in the workforce now, so ensuring that learning programs meet the needs of a diverse audience and delivering learning on-demand is vitally important. The skills gap that exists between what organizations need and what employees bring to the workforce will continue to be an issue, and we as learning professionals must do our best to be strategic business partners to keep pace and help solve for this.
Q. I agree, we’re definitely living in a fast-paced world. As we keep pace with what’s going on around us today, what might be around the corner? Where is all this technology taking us?
I think we’ll see that trends such as virtual learning/immersive environments, collaborative learning, communities of practice, social networking, and mobile learning will continue to grow and have a large impact in the future. Some organizations are just now beginning to get their feet wet, so to speak, with these trends while others have already been very successful in implementing initiatives that use these and other creative ways of engaging learners. Learning and development is an exciting industry to be in, to me, because of the innovative ways technology is being used, and will continue to be used, to develop others and help improve human performance.
Q. Speaking of the learning and development industry, what might it look like 10 years from now?
Well, that’s a tough question, as it’s always hard to try to predict the future, but I think we’ll continue to see learning programs be focused on providing on-demand learning and employing a variety of tools and strategies to reach an increasingly diverse workforce. People want information and training that is at their fingertips when they need it, and I don’t see this decreasing. While some have predicted that classroom training is dead or on its way out, I think there will always be a place for face-to-face interaction and learning, especially in the areas of leadership development, coaching, and other interpersonal communication skill areas. I do, however, think that blended solutions and other initiatives that focus on a variety of methods to get people the learning they need will only be more prevalent.
Q. Great thoughts—that’s very helpful. Switching gears a bit, let’s talk about online learning communities. We’ve seen online communities proliferate, from online communities just for friends (Facebook.com) to communities just for tackling complex R&D challenges from Fortune 500 companies such as P&G (InnoCentive.com). What do you think of organizations supporting their own learning communities?
I’m in favor of it, and think that the more outlets people have to collaborate, share and gain best practices, and learn about their industry and others in their organization, the better. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about working in learning and development, it’s that people have a wealth of ideas to share and there is no need to work in a vacuum or be in a silo. So many times, I’ve seen people within organizations work in silos when if they had an easy way to, and stepped back and thought to, reach out and participate in collaborative environments, it would make their jobs so much easier and provide more of a sense of community by building relationships with colleagues.
Q, But with new technologies such as collaborative learning platforms and online learning communities, trainers and training managers sometimes need help getting buy-in. What advice would you give our readers for forming a business case which they can take to their boss?
For any business case, regardless of topic, my recommendation is to first learn about what the critical goals and outcomes are for the organization, to go through a needs analysis process, and to then ensure that the recommended solution/initiative will positively impact progress toward those critical goals. If it isn’t tied to the goals of the organization, it shouldn’t be done. For collaborative learning, I would want to make sure I had supporting research, case studies, and best practice details to support it as an initiative. I would also want to ensure I had a way to tie it to business metrics/desired results and had recommendations for how it could be implemented.
Q. Fantastic. Lisa, thanks for making the time to connect. To close, let me ask you a question I ask every interviewee: what books, blogs, and/or magazines would you recommend?
My own! But, kidding aside, I am a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell’s work, primarily for his unusual and interesting approach he takes to dive into a topic, whether it’s how we make decisions or how we innovate. I also have all of Marcus Buckingham’s books in my professional library, as I think there’s a lot of truth to focusing on and building our strengths as opposed to focusing continuously on what’s wrong. Magazines I enjoy are T+D Magazine from ASTD, Training Magazine, and Chief Learning Officer. Also, my colleague and author Lisa Haneberg has a great blog, Management Craft.
[Editor’s note: Since this interview, Lisa has left T-Mobile to join Intrepid Learning Solutions as a Learning Consultant.]