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Positioning your L&D team for success
Marketing advice for learning professionals.
As an L&D professional, what do you want your team to be known for? Mandatory training? Or helping people develop skills and thrive at work?
This week, your L&D Dispatch correspondents headed to Turing Fest, a cross-functional tech and marketing conference in Edinburgh.
While the event is geared towards product managers, start-up founders, and marketing executives, we occasionally like to venture beyond our L&D ‘beat’ and see what we can learn from other fields.
As I’d expected, Turing Fest 2023 featured a lot of talk around artificial intelligence and its implications for the world of work.
But my favorite session from the two-day event was April Dunford’s keynote on ‘positioning’. According to Dunford:
‘Positioning defines how your product is a leader at delivering something that a well-defined set of customers cares a lot about.’
There’s a lot to unpack in that sentence, and it got me thinking about how we position ourselves at Mind Tools, and how L&D positions itself more broadly.
In her keynote, Dunford broke positioning down into five key components:
⚔️ Competitive alternatives – If you didn’t exist, what would customers use?
In Dunford’s framework, positioning starts with identifying your competitors. For L&D, those competitors might include online resources like Google or ChatGPT, or consumer course websites like Coursera, Udemy, or Masterclass. They could also include other internal teams or even ‘doing nothing and continuing to struggle’.
🥇 Key unique attributes – What features/capabilities do you have that alternatives do not?
If those are your competitors, why would a learner choose to use your product (a course, a workshop, a job aid, etc.) over an alternative? Here, one of the key advantages L&D has is an understanding of the learner’s context. Instead of offering generic solutions to generic problems, L&D can target interventions to the specific needs of its audience.
🤑 Value – What value do the attributes enable for customers?
With those features/capabilities in mind, the next question is ‘So what?’. Sure, L&D can tailor materials to the context of the organization. But why should I care about that as a learner? What’s in it for me?
Well, if done effectively, targeted interventions that address real learning needs can help colleagues overcome thorny problems. They can help them improve their performance, develop in their roles, and be recognized for their contributions. That sounds pretty valuable to me!
❤️ Customers that care – Who cares a lot about that value?
While L&D has a responsibility to serve the whole organization, some customers will inevitably care more about its products than others. These customers might include new starters who are keen to get to grips with their role, first-time managers who are nervous about motivating their direct reports, or high-potential leaders who are eager to develop in their careers.
🚀 Market you win – What context makes the value obvious to your target segments?
The last piece of the puzzle is choosing the ‘market category’ for your product, or the context you position that product in. As L&D, do you want to be known as the ‘training’ team? Or would you rather be seen as the team that helps people thrive at work?
Need help developing learning content that positions your team for success? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or reply to this newsletter from your inbox if you want to chat about our approach in more detail.
🎧 On the podcast
Speaking of venturing beyond our regular beat, our guest on last week’s podcast takes that to a whole new level.
Author, adventurer and coach Sue Stockdale was the first British woman to trek to the Magnetic North Pole, and returned with insights into how we in L&D can inspire others to perform.
What was the North Pole like, you may ask?
‘It was cold and it was white, as you might imagine. Think 30 days of mindfulness, all crammed into one period. Because essentially that’s what it’s like! You’re dragging a sledge that’s weighing the weight of an average person. Although you’re in a team, you’re skiing on your own, single file, for 8-10 hours a day. There’s nothing to focus on, so that really forces you to look inside your head and realise that your thoughts drive your behaviour.’
A terrifying prospect! Check out the full episode for more.
📖 Deep dive
Speaking personally, I feel much more productive when working from home. But am I actually more productive? Or does it just feel that way?
A new working paper from the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research suggests that fully remote work is associated with approximately 10% lower productivity than fully in-person work. This, the researchers argue, may be down to the challenges of communicating and innovating in a remote environment.
Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that increased communication and coordination costs can crowd out productive work time when fully remote. If you’ve ever spent a day in back-to-back Zoom or Teams calls, this may resonate with you.
On the other hand, there are several organizational benefits to fully remote work, including cost reductions from space savings, opportunities to recruit globally, and potential benefits related to staff retention.
Combined with advances in technology, the researchers expect these benefits to drive continued growth in remote working over the coming years.
Barrero, Jose Maria., Bloom, Nicholas., Davis, Steven J. (2023). ‘The Evolution of Working from Home’. Working Paper No. 23-19.
👹 Missing links
Another standout session at Turing Fest came from Shannon Vallor, Baillie Gifford Chair in the Ethics of Data and Artificial Intelligence at the University of Edinburgh. During her talk, Professor Vallor briefly shared this infographic, described as ‘an anatomical case study of the Amazon Echo as an artificial intelligence system made of human labor’. For someone whose experience of AI has been through consumer-facing products like ChatGPT, DALL.E and Midjourney, the graphic was a stark illustration of the materials, infrastructure, and people behind these systems.
Imagine a world where everything - from the movies we watch, to the books we read, to the messages we send one another other - is generated by AI. In this world, where every last morsel of human-made content has already been used as training material, what will the owners of these models do? Could they use synthetic (that is, AI-generated) data as their primary training set? According to recent research, maybe not. Over time, using synthetic data to train future models could lead to the amplification of errors in existing systems, ultimately resulting in what the researches call ‘model collapse’. It seems the AIs still need us, for now at least.
Despite the growth in WFH, many of the world’s largest companies are desperately trying to get people back into the office. Whether it’s factoring attendance into performance reviews, or offering to make charitable donations for every day an employee spends at the office, there’s a real drive to return to in-person working. After three years of experimenting with remote and hybrid, many business leaders seem to have concluded that it’s tough to replicate the value of the psychical workspace in the virtual one.
With Wimbledon starting today, here is a reminder of what I believe to be the greatest moment in sporting history.
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