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Apr 2017

How do in-house teams become the go-to place for learning?

Blog posts

Mark Harrison

Mark Harrison

Senior Consultant at Kineo

Internal L&D teams face many challenges when it comes to creating and delivering in-house learning. Working with clients to develop their internal capabilities for over a decade, we've seen that the struggle is real. But we've also seen many who have achieved great things and so we teamed up with Gary Spring, Head of Learning Design at Barclays UK (who represents one of those success stories), to share insights on how to make your in-house team the go-to place for learning.

Common challenges for in-house learning design teams

In the three years Gary Springs has been Head of Learning Design at Barclays UK, his leadership style and design vision has helped his team become high-performing elearning professionals. His learning team aims to behave and deliver to the standards of the best external suppliers. He bared all in our webinar, ‘How in-house teams become the go-to places for learning’ and many in his team joined along in the chat to make for a lively tell-all discussion. 

At the start of the webinar, we asked everyone in the audience if they had a single burning question in regards to the challenges of being in an in-house learning and development team. Quite a lot were answered in the session, but a few of the questions were not, and so here are some thoughts on each of the topics raised. I wanted to share some additional thoughts on the questions put forward and I hope the replies are helpful!


How do you rise above the internal politics?

How do you deal with internal politics regarding making them understand deadlines, implications, need for planning, "breaking innovation and benefits", etc.?

Internal politics usually arises when factions are competing for credibility within an organisation. The answer lies in the wording of the first question itself, you simply have to ‘rise above’ things to have the chance of diffusing the situation. The teams that create great reputations and get things done, don’t just do what people tell them to do. If you play things straight and just tell the truth, the actions of others start to reveal themselves as they are i.e. blatant political manoeuvring. I personally think if you start to play the same games you lose your proper focus and start failing to deliver what is most important i.e. learning resources and initiatives that work.

The second of the related questions also touches on the need to educate your stakeholders. They need to know exactly what it takes to put together learning solutions to be more empathetic to your needs. Often you will also get pushed for innovation or ‘wow’ – if they know what it takes to deliver this (and the costs), they may temper their demands. More often these ideas are whims rather than based on genuine ‘fit for purpose’ analysis. Talk through their ideas and get them to see they are not necessarily a good use of your business’ money!

What are key success factors to be good designers?

Assuming this means interactive designers, I’ve noticed the following key traits of great interactive designers:

  • They write really clearly and well – simple English as it is spoken. Unfortunately not all great trainers are great writers – it’s really hard to teach this skill
  • They understand that learning is not telling – all learning content must be ‘sold’ to learners so they instinctively know how to engage their learners
  • They have a good eye for detail – you shouldn’t need to proof their work EVER
  • They always think about what it will look like on screen and feel like as a digital experience
  • They think in terms of a meaningful and adult dialogue with the learner – interactivity should be included to help the learner, not just because you feel you have to include it

Colleagues keep going external for things we have expertise for in our team, how do we stop this?

We covered this a lot in the session. The key is to be valued first. It’s never a good idea to force people to use your services. I’ve seen this done in the past and it has always ended in tears. Instead, ask to see them and share what you are doing (and your goals and aspirations as a team).

Stress the fact that working with your team may not mean ignoring externals (the overall team can include you and the agency) but it will provide greater risk management (as long as you just don’t sit in there as an extra layer of bureaucracy). Find out where you can add value and initially just provide that. In time, you will gain their trust and get a greater piece of the action.

How do you get stakeholders to involve you earlier in the process? Based on your experience what is the best way to get upper management more involved in training and development?

Educate your stakeholders before each project on how long things will take and roles and responsibilities of everyone. This will get them to realise the decisions that they make early on can adversely affect the outcome, if they are not sensible. Explain that, having you involved early on, can help them avoid embarrassments and additional costs later in the project. That should get their attention!

How can we make ourselves seen as critical to the firm?

How do you prove your credibility? How do you get to be seen as more than just an 'order taker' and be recognised as adding REAL value? How do you promote what you do and raise the profile? What is the marketing strategy for this success? How do you promote your internal team?

This was a big chunk of the session and the best thing will be to listen to Gary who explained how he managed to do this by delivering and acting highly professional as a team at all times. As mentioned earlier you can catch the recording on here.

My view is you just need to closely align what you do and the way you talk to your key stakeholders at the same time as asserting your expertise as learning professionals. They may know what they want to say but you are the ones skilled to get the right solution. Of course, then you need to deliver the goods - and on time.

As a parent company, how do we get buy-in from our operating companies?

A challenging question. I suppose it is an extension of all the comments above. You have to find out where they have gaps and try and fill them. They will know their business much better than you, so you have to ensure your team can genuine fill the gaps – which will possibly be in learning consultancy, audio-visual capability and maybe evaluation services.

Any tips for competing 'against' professional e-learning development houses?

Obviously I would say you should be partnering not competing with externals (a bit of inevitable Kineo bias there!) but I know what you are saying.

What digital learning consultancies bring to the table generally are confident learning designers, experienced and innovative graphical designers and A/V specialists and smart software developers. If you genuinely want to ‘compete’ (or at least compare relatively favourably to external suppliers), you need to have those kind of people in the team.

It’s a challenge to have everyone in your team hit this standard but templates and re-used designs (maybe supplied by external resources) can build a high degree of professionalism in your team. Indeed Kineo really started doing exactly that for internal teams using authoring tools like Articulate.

I think in the end, you will succeed as much in building your reputation if you act as very professional and knowledgeable learning consultants, advising your stakeholders early on and setting out sensible and effective learning solutions. It might be that some of the work is done by external companies or freelancers. It doesn’t matter. You are in there and being trusted.

Why do you think some companies value external providers more than in-house?

When is it beneficial for an in-house team to use external suppliers? When can in-house teams partner with consultants?

This really follows on from above. If you have an in-house team and don’t do a lot of outsourcing, you should think about using external agencies or consultancies to do the heavy lifting when you haven’t enough pairs of hands or to handle the projects that – at the moment – are beyond your team’s capabilities.

Use suppliers to set yourself up with professional templates and models to copy and re-use. Here at Kineo we have successfully done this with a wide range of internal teams. It gets you credibility in your first outputs and speeds up your ‘time to market’.

How do you create specialisms when you have a design/delivery model?

 A demanding design/delivery model doesn’t mean (if the team is large enough) that you can’t develop specialisms within your team. This is the norm in consultancies and is the only way in which you can get really high quality components in your learning. It can often be more cost effective having specialists than all-rounders, even if you feel you have a simple design and delivery model that you have to follow.

What’s the best advice for beginner instructional designer?

There’s not much out there regarding formal courses so Kineo has put together a self-study programme on exactly this. Check out our Art of Design programme. But sales pitch over, what else can you do?

There’s a lot of stuff you can find on the web by turning to Google. The e-learning Guild is a good place to look as is our own site—we’ve recently posted an article about the top digital learning podcasts you might find useful. My colleague, Cammy Bean, also has a great little read called the Accidental Instructional Designer

I feel the best way though to learn is, rather like the advice given to filmmakers, is just look at good stuff and work out why it works. Check out supplier’s case studies, demos on Adapt and authoring tool sites, as well as course review sites.  

Also, get some coaching from good people and just have a go and check out your first scripts on colleagues to see if they feel they would be engaged and would learn from your content.

How do you increase staff buy-in beyond their mandatory training?

Now we get into the territory of the voluntary learner. It’s not easy to get their attention. I always advocate a simple model used in Marketing: AIDA.

A is for Attention. Make it clear what you are offering and make it easy to be seen.

I is for Interest. Research you audience what really ‘interests’ them, not just what your management wants them to be interested in.

D is for Desire. What is going to make them give up the next 10-60 minutes? It has to be a real pay-off and you need that right at the beginning of the learning to trigger either positive or, often more powerfully, negative motivations. They need to be personal as well.

A is for Action. You need to make it really easy for them to get in there straightaway. Do not now force them to click several times in a disheartening path through your LMS.

How do you connect with other trainers when there is not an internal training team?

I recommend joining forums like Kineo Elearning Professionals. There are many LinkedIn groups that would give you access to people who are most likely to be up for connecting with you.

How do manage peaks and troughs in terms of resourcing in-house?

How do you tackle with the growth of volume and team? Which ‘magic’ tools/tips would you advise? How do you manage to flex your capacity with your design team so you don't turn away work from the business? How do you develop quality content quick enough for the business?

Have a core team and network of freelancers. Do demand and capacity planning up front. Carry out reviews of the plans of your stakeholders/departments. When will they have commitments?

You should try to have honest partnerships with your internal clients – so you can share your need for long-term planning.

Flexibility is always the key in these situations. Try and hire creative thinkers who can come up with different ways of working. This was a proposed series of options that I shared in the session:

If growth alone is your issue, keep teams small (ideal size 10-15) so you scale up without risk and keep team spirit. A strong project manager who talks design could be paired with a less experienced designer. Train people now to be good coaches.

Protect your people so they don’t get burned out. Keep time for coaching and training. Let them write blog posts and ensure they always have an interesting project somewhere in the mix.

How do you ensure the learning is up to date with regulations changing regularly?

Carefully separate volatile from stable content and use a simple development tool to update the content. Often it is best to focus on the behaviours you want learners to show (to avoid breaking the rules) rather than the rules themselves. Then you probably don’t need to update things that often. You don’t need to mention the legislation just say: ‘To stay the right side of the law you need to follow this best practice’.

How do you bring the team with you on a journey and making sure you're going in the right direction?

Listen to Gary on this one. He summed it up really well in the webinar!

How do you come up with new things, stay creative and innovate?

That’s a question and a half! We could spend a whole webinar talking about this, and in fact, we are. Make sure you watch Kineo’s webinar: Innovation at work: unlock creative potential and make business impact.

In my opinion though, creative people will come up with their own ideas but often the key is just to be on the lookout for what others have done and try it out. A warning though, not everything that is new is good. Don’t become someone who just follows the trends to seem ahead of the game and don’t just follow the whims of a stakeholder who thinks like this either. By all means bring in genuinely powerful things like social media but make sure it is just part of your overall solution, which should still be embedded in great learning methods like coaching and, yes, face to face training sessions!

How do you measure it's working? How should we do for in-house evaluation?

I briefly touched on this during the end of the session but the key principles must be simplicity and relevance (in terms of the evidence you are gathering). You need to create baseline data (such as absence levels, productivity levels) over a period of time before the learning is implemented. So, just when you are tempted to focus only on creating the content, you need to get out there and get the data you need to compare against.

Happy sheets are fine but we are long past the days in which happy learners is the ‘be all and end all’. Learning is an investment and it has to prove it pays its way. So, only Level 3 upwards is good enough! And it ideally needs to be gathered and assessed independently – which of course adds an extra cost which you should build into your budgets right from the start.

By all means get learner feedback on your content. But only use it to help you make the content better not to prove how worthwhile the whole learning initiative was.

There is such a lot to say on evaluation that it may be best for you to chat further with experts in the field. We partner with a really good independent evaluator, Boost Evaluation and recently hosted a webinar with them on this very topic. Make sure you watch the recording to discover some real hands-on methods that will help you achieve results.  

What about curation?

We did a really great webinar on this topic. Listen to the webinar recording Adding value through content curation .  

How do you push against the 'this is how it's always been done' mentality?

How do you get a balance between learning new skills and just doing the job in hand? How do you balance planning and research (such as needs analysis and developing a new L&D team's competencies) with delivering something right away (quick wins)?

You want to do new things. Your team wants to do new things. But your stakeholders may be slow to change and will provide challenging deadlines which they feel demands a tried and tested model that they are comfortable with. The way you get out of this is to talk with them when there isn’t an immediate project. Show them things that are being done outside the organisation or somewhere else in the organisation. Get them to think there is maybe another way to crack the egg. But they won’t do that when they are under stress.

To get your team ready for new things, allow space for training – one to ones should be maintained even in the middle of massive projects and the R&D interests of individuals should be followed up always.

Also try to have a core team with responsibilities for future gazing. Ideally task them with exploring innovations that can be re-used.

What is the best way to train for SAP modules?

Obviously you can turn to SAP themselves – they do offer elearning solutions. These are linked directly to the real functionality of SAP and can be used even if you have a customised version of SAP.

If it involves simple tasks, you could use something like Camtasia to capture the flow of tasks (with added voice over). That’s a cheap option.

How can we ensure that client SMEs meet the timescales they have signed up to?

Educate them and set expectations – often deadlines are missed because the SMEs underestimate what they have to do. Point out the consequences of delays i.e. extra costs, slipping deadlines and missed training slots and delayed reaching of competencies.

Make it easy for them to review your content (both scripts and final outputs). Often this really works if you do it face to face as you don’t let them out of the room until it is done!

You need to ensure one sign off (who has time to do it) and check out their availability right from the start.

SMEs will inevitably still let you down so you need to find out the escalation route right at the beginning of the project. It is too late if you need to do this at the last minute. Ultimately, it is all about buy-in from their bosses to ensure the project is a priority.


Over the years Kineo has provided a lot of general advice in these areas, so go to the Kineo website check out the resources area - it will provide more in-depth advice and guidance. 

Find out how we can help up-skill your L&D team

Mark Harrison

Mark Harrison

Senior Consultant at Kineo

One of Kineo's founders, and the Director responsible for our consultancy services, Mark also looks after our growing network of international offices. With 30 years of experience in the elearning design and development world, he often provides strategic and design consultancy and support to our customers across the globe.

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