Leaving the Rules Behind for a Brighter and More Capable Tomorrow

DerekHann | CLO | PayPal

PayPal’s Chief Learning Officer, Derek Hann talks with IQPC Exchange’s Kristen Schipfer-Barrett about the future of learning and development, organizational structure, and the rise of the gig economy. 

KSB: What do you think learning and development will look like in 2020?

DH: 2020 is not that far away. Given that it’s only about 3.5 years from now, things will look different; but not necessarily a wholesale change from what they are today. 

Some of the things that I would expect for organizations to be doing differently would include things like: 

• Embracing continuous learning and providing platforms for learners to drive their own development
• Recognizing learning content from internal and external organizations equally for less-prescriptive directed learning
• Doing more enabled learning as individuals are finding and refining their own career paths

KSB: What are some of the best ways to prepare an organization now?

DH: First, reevaluate everything that you are doing and everything that you are delegating out from the center. Historically, too much traditional learning development has assumed  the ‘let me go offline, design it and deliver it - and you will all be better for it’ approach. That is not what organizations need going forward. It’s not what learners are expecting nor what they have grown-up having access to.  The workplace is better served by having a platform upon which learners can guide their own learning and bring together all of the resources that they are already using. 

Then, take what you love today and throw it out because that is what’s going to need to be done to attend to the learner’s needs of tomorrow. Take your platform out from behind your firewalls and get it on the cloud so that it’s intuitive and user-friendly. This will have people wanting to use it instead of having to use it. Recognize that learning happens well outside of our scope of control.   Accept that the best that we can do is to provide an arena in which people can share learning, learn from each other, and grow together in both their personal and professional development.

KSB: Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach it’s a more personalized experience to the point of where someone can internalize learning in their own way. Something might work better for a particular person or group of people and be more applicable to them.

DH: Personalization in the spirit of having multi-modality solutions for each learning challenge, or each learning opportunity, is just table stakes now. If organizations aren’t doing that today, they will catch up in the next few years.  A variety of modality options such as traditional classrooms, virtual classrooms, flipped classrooms, raw social networking platforms, asynchronous learning  and 5 or 6 others –some of which exist today and some that will emerge, will allow for true learning on the go. Having modalities in each of the learning styles, that are all attendant to the same concept or content that you are trying to convey and get out to your employee population, is the best type of personalization.

KSB: I do think that personalization is where everything is headed - especially learning and development. Sitting in a classroom being shown and told information is not always the best way to make concepts stick and doesn’t work for many people, yet, it is how we continue to approach it. 

DH: I wrote an article a couple of years back about being attendant to the needs of learners and meeting them where they are. It’s about giving them what they want when they want it and where they need it. This comes with an expectation that they may only complete ten percent of it at any given time and come back ten times in order to finish it. We need to be equipped and ready to meet them with that need. Instead of trying to dictate to a learner that ‘you’re going  in a room for 8 hours, we are going to pour information into your head and then you are going to leave’,  tomorrow’s learning teams need to be more flexible. The “old way” is an easy model for the learning team to manage; the “new way” puts the learners’ needs first.

KSB: As you said earlier, I am sure that many considerations will emerge within the next few years. What do you feel is the ‘next big thing’ in learning and development innovation?

DH: The next big innovations, which ironically already exist today, are the aggregator platforms that bring together multiple points of entry and count or qualify as part of continuous development. I think we will see those become more ubiquitous in the near term. These allow you to pull together learning elements from different sources, whether it be video, articles, or the exchange of ideas with colleagues, and collect them to be a part of the learner’s profile and the learner’s history. This allows you to remain current and relevant in your industry and in your skill set.  That’s a radical departure from the model of going to an LMS and clicking an object, clicking complete and it being recorded as being “done” as the one thing that counts towards learner development. This goes along with attending to learner needs and justifies the ways of staying current.  People want to get credit for the things that they have done and for the time that they put in. 

KSB: I can definitely understand why people would want that. Many skill sets tend to come from or are strengthened by, experiences in external channels. 

DH: In addition to acknowledging the reality of how learning really works, these environments present other opportunities too like the comparison of skills and experiences to other people and the larger business-driven needs of the organization.  An open learning platform can serve as the tip-of-the-spear for a wholesale change in managing Talent.  

KSB: What are some of the best ‘first steps’ to maximizing the three key enablers of continuous learning?

DH: It is all about how you leverage your stakeholders, your content, and your technology.  

Leveraging technology to the point that everything counts is helpful to create continuous learning behavior. Like the examples we talked about earlier, you need to leverage your technology to contribute to a continuous learning environment.

Leveraging content is recognizing that there are a thousand different ways that people learn and there are a thousand different ways that they are willing to go about it. Some people are happy to lean-in and do it in their off hours. Some are happy to listen to something in their car. Some engage in learning as it suits them and suits an immediate need that they have. For example, if they have an immediate need on how to write macros in Excel, they’ll take exactly two minutes to go and learn how to do exactly that. They won’t wait two weeks to go and take an online course, or spend two hours to go the genius bar to be taught, but they will happily  go to YouTube and type ‘teach me how to write Excel macros’ and learn in two minutes. Creating continuous learning is about knowing that content is both portable and malleable and leveraging it to the benefit the learner.   

Leveraging your stakeholders is keeping your customer at the center of everything you do Truly knowing what your stakeholders want can help you create the environment in which the learners can be successful. Leveraging your stakeholder group by knowing what they need and how they measure success will help you create and accelerate the success of continuous learning environment.

KSB: What do you envision for the future of organizational structure and the average career path?

DH: This is probably a little further out, but I think we are moving towards a more sustainable gig economy than we have today. Over the last 40 years, we’ve gone from getting hired by a company, working for that company for 25-35 years and ultimately getting a gold watch and a retirement package. That was the accepted and excepted model. About 20 years ago, we dramatically moved away from that and moved towards making your way as best as you can. This is done by proving your worth to a company, staying as long as you can, gaining as much experience as you can and moving on when you are asked to, need to, or have an opportunity to go do something bigger better or more exciting. Now we are moving to a place where we have a gig for a fixed amount of time for fixed reasons; we behave as true specialists. Companies will be thinking about their headcount differently and people will be thinking about the balance between their work and leisure time differently.  I believe, going forward, we will find a more natural place where companies stop having mass numbers of employees and are rather more adept at leveraging specialists on an on-demand basis to meet forever changing business needs.

Early adopter companies will reduce the number of people working for them and the vast majority will be contract/gig resources who are brought on for a fixed length of time and for a certain need. Once the need is fulfilled, sustained and running, the expectation will be that most of the team will go away. Workers will manage gigs so they have enough work to keep busy and enough time to keep their life in check.  I think the organizational structure within the next two decades has the opportunity to be completely dismantled. I think everything will come down to your capabilities as a knowledge worker and your capabilities to demonstrate your value to the different organizations. Transparency will be heightened greatly as to what you’ve done, what fingerprints you’ve left behind, and what you can do better for another organization.

KSB: I can certainly see this as a reality as people look to gain more experiences and become well-rounded. Members of the emerging workforce and even those in the current workforce are incredibly multifaceted and won’t be satisfied sitting in the same place for very long.  

DH: Since people have multiple interests they can bring multiple skill sets to multiple organizations. The challenge right now is that organizations are not equipped to receive them in meaningful ways because they have that mentality of ‘you’re an employee -- you are now blessed with a desk, a badge, and access to the building. You’ve made it to the other side.’ That’s going to be the toughest transition for the population that is capable of providing multi-level services. I think that it is ridiculous that people think that they can only work for one employer at a time.   If you have the bandwidth to hold down one gig at a company and simultaneously another with a non-competitor and you can do both, then why shouldn’t you do both?   The problem is that if anyone ever found out you were doing both, there would be an outcry from both companies. Even if you were providing fantastic service to both, one – or both, would feel slighted. I have difficulty wrapping my head around this being an issue if that is what you choose to do. From an engagement perspective, we have this very old and broken model of locking people in and establish a holding power over them. I think we are going to get over that at some point and be in a much healthier place.