Learning through Leadership

A conversation with Jim Trinka, Chief Learning Officer for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Officer of Information and Technology



Leadership is key. HR professionals know concept is fundamental to many parts of a business. That includes learning. But how does a HR professional practice a learning strategy through leadership? Jim Trinka, PhD is the Chief Learning Officer for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Information and Technology. He recently discussed with HR Exchange Network editor Mason Stevenson how his department uses leadership in Learning and Development.

Their conversation is below.

Mason Stevenson

If I were to say to you you're going to give a “State of the Union”-type address talking about developing your talent, what would you say is the number one learning challenge that has to be dealt with? How are you trying to mitigate it?

Jim Trinka

I think the organization is so engrossed in transformation, especially about the IT because all of the changes we will have to make to revolutionize the veteran experience… especially the digital experience of the veteran. I have to have the leadership that would make that change management effort succeed. So, for me leadership development is an important piece of that and that's what we have focused on and that's what we have actually gotten awards for and those kind of things. We got the Cubic Award last year for a Leadership Development; the first government organization to ever get that award.

Mason Stevenson

So, what things in that area you up at night?

Jim Trinka

Do I have leaders that can help implement, sustain and evolve our transformational strategy to deliver the best digital experience for the veteran. That's what I'm trying to ensure through my leadership development efforts. I do that more than trying to teach technical skills, because I think the best learning happens when a manager is focused on creating an environment where learning happens on the job. So, it's not a matter of courses. It's not a matter of anything like that. It's a matter of how work is assigned so people learn on the job.

Mason Stevenson

That's actually kind of an interesting topic. When you think about learning… you're actually working with your managers, putting them through leadership training and teaching them how to be better leaders. So, then they can then help create the atmosphere for subordinates to learn on the job and get that experience.

Jim Trinka

Exactly!

We just transitioned… all the disability claims for veterans have all converted now to digital. So, they all used to be, within the last four months even, submitting paper-based disability claims. Well, we don't do that anymore. It's all digital now, so that's the kind of change effort that we've had to sustain. I mean it's monumental. You can imagine going from a paper-based to a digital based system was a phenomenal change.

Mason Stevenson

What kind of an effort, what kind of leadership is required to make sure you can sustain that effort and evolve it as it needs to and implement the strategy?

Jim Trinka

I call it purposeful leadership development, because it has to be very, very closely aligned to the strategy of the organization. People always say that, you know, learning strategy has to be aligned with the strategy of the organization, but this is actually taking it to another level. I take it to another level by saying my leadership development creates the environment where we figure out how to implement, sustain and evolve the Office of Information Technology (OIT) transformation. All my courses are project-based and I force project teams to come up with projects that will implement, sustain and evolve the OIT transformation. So, I'm creating my IT transformational strategy as I'm going along through my leadership development efforts and they're learning a heck of a lot more because of it. They're actually doing strategy design in the development course. You know the 70/20/10 model? They're there they're living it.

Jim Trinka is a speaker for HR Exchange Live: Corporate Learning. The free-to-attend online event is set for September 19 & 20, 2018. Dr. Trinka will be discussing this topic in more detail. Click here to register.

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