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Podcast | How To Structure Modern L&D Teams That Drive Performance – Ross Stevenson

Should we even be describing it as L&D? You might have more open and productive conversations with stakeholders if you ditch the jargon, and Ross explains why in this episode. 

You’ll also learn who L&D should work with and how, the roles you need to build an effective L&D team today, how to communicate L&D value to the rest of the business and loads more.  

Ross Stevenson is the founder of Steal These Thoughts. Senior Learning & Talent Development Manager by day, Steal These Thoughts is his vehicle for sharing all his L&D tips and experiences once he clocks off. 

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Running order

1:40 > The purpose of L&D today.
2:51 > The makeup of a modern L&D team
9:06 > Skills a traditional L&D team can develop to adapt.
14:03 > How Ross built these skills himself.
15:46 > Communicating L&D’s value to the wider business.
19:37 > How L&D can become a profit centre, not a cost centre.
21:22 > Who L&D should be working with.
24:51 > How individuals can understand their skills gap.
32:06 > Quickfire questions.

Six takeaways from this episode

The purpose of L&D…

Is to look at the performance people in your organisation, help them get better at what they’re doing and grow their contribution to the business. Whether they’ll continue their career with you or somewhere else, L&D has a responsibility to develop people.

Structuring a modern L&D team

  • Content curators: people with an eye for finding the great content that’s already out there.
  • Learning architects: people that know a bit of everything and can strategise, build and deliver frameworks for others to tap into. Typically tech savvy, they can walk into a business and help you understand the learning tech architecture, build your culture and use tech mindfully. Because they know how product and tech work together, they’re key in building the right stack, understanding who the audience is and what they need.
  • Comms and engagement: You can find loads of great tools, but you need someone who can communicate the value and engage the audience around its importance. These people help you create plans and strategies where people see the value and engage.

The skills a traditional L&D team can develop

L&D teams should position themselves more as partners than order takers. But they need consulting skills to have those conversations, ones where they can ask probing questions to get to the root cause of problems. They should also think about developing their understanding of how tech works foundationally, how to sell themselves better and how to use data effectively but in a streamlined fashion.

How to communicate L&D’s value

Don’t call it L&D! If you only had three minutes to explain what you do to your CEO, you’d be better off talking about building talent and high-performing teams that drive the business. To get stakeholders on board, you need to present the value to the bottom line and showcase how you affect performance, productivity and skills. 

Who should L&D be working with?

Normally they’re trying to drive behavioural change, which requires you to work with the rest of the business. It takes buy-in from senior leaders to set examples and drive it forward and, similarly, you’d need marketing buy-in to communicate it effectively. These discussions help you understand the problem and, a lot of the time, it might not even be an L&D issue. It might just be that a mechanism of L&D is being used to fix it. 

How people can find their skills gaps

Work out the what, why and where of who you are today. There’s a few questions that can help:

  • What are you great at and why? 
  • What do you enjoy doing and why?
  • Where is that combination most-valued/what’s the right environment?
  • What does the world need right now and what can you be paid for?

How to connect

Find Ross on LinkedIn, Twitter and Steal These Thoughts.

Find Nelson on LinkedIn and Twitter

Find HowNow on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram.

Where to subscribe

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Episode transcript

[00:00:00] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:00:00] Work is changing. The question is, are you welcome to 99 Problems But Work Ain’t One, the new podcast series from HowNow that will help you prepare for the fast changing world of work. I’m your host Nelson Sivalingam, and I’ll be talking to disruptive startups, contrarian thinkers, global leaders, and real game changers and asking them the burning questions about the challenges we face at work from scaling cultures and adopting technology.

[00:00:28] To improving wellbeing and building fast learning organisations that are prepared for the future of work. We get the insights, tactics, and actionable nuggets of knowledge to put to work. In this week’s episode, I’m joined by Ross Stevenson. Founder of Steal These Thoughts. If you thought you were passionate about L and D wait until you hear from Ross, a senior learning and talent development manager by day, steal these thoughts is his vehicle for sharing all his tips and experience once he clocks off.

[00:00:58] Ross talks us through how you should structure your modern L&D team, how to communicate its value to stakeholders, how to work out your skills gaps, and so much more. If you want to talk about anything from this episode, you can search for Ross, myself, or HowNow on all of our socials and the links in the show notes.

[00:01:16] So without further ado, here’s my chat with Ross. I’ve been following your stuff for a very, very long time, and I’m super excited that I’ve managed to get you on our show. So welcome. Welcome to our show.

[00:01:32] Ross Stevenson: [00:01:32] Thank you for the kind words as well. That’s really, really nice to hear.

[00:01:44] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:01:44] Let’s dive straight in, a lot of the content you’ve been putting out is talking about the structure and purpose of a modern L&D team. Um, so before we dive into what a modern L&D team looks like, what do you see the purpose of L&D in today’s day and age? 

[00:02:00] Ross Stevenson: [00:02:00] Yeah, it’s a good question. Um, probably controversial in some ways in my opinion, but, uh, I think, you know, L&D is for me, it’s all around looking at the.

[00:02:10] performance of people in your org. So how do you help them get better at what they’re doing in terms of the contribution to the business? And also on the side of that, I think there’s a responsibility on helping people to become better to humans and developing them in the time that they are right now.

[00:02:27] whether they continue their career with that business or whether they go on, I think there’s a responsibility of an L&D team to do that. But I think for me, it’s very, if you break it down to its bare bones. It’s really around that performance element, you know, how do we help people get better at what they’re doing, especially in that it’s a very on-trend way of saying this in their kind of daily workflow.

[00:02:51] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:02:51] And what do you see as the makeup of this modern energy team who are really focused around for, from your words, kind of driving performance and making people better at their jobs? What, what does the kind of makeup of that team look like? 

[00:03:03] Ross Stevenson: [00:03:03] Yeah. So it’s always shifting for me and I don’t think. Unless someone is going to come out after this,

[00:03:12] I don’t think there’s any organisation where they’re probably kind of doing this approach with an L&D team right now. And it comes in different waves. There’s going to be people who are kind of solo teams. And then there’s a lot of individuals out there who are just the L&D team. And there are some teams that are gigantic at mega corporations, with people left right and centre, which is great.

[00:03:31] But I think for me, it kind of breaks down into four key areas. If someone was to say to me right now, go out and build me a modern L&D team. I would tell them, you know, it looks like this with these kind of four key areas of: one having people to focus on content curation. I think we’re. You know, very lucky in terms of, if I steal a line from Drake, what a time to be alive in terms of the kind of 

[00:04:00] technology and the content that we’ve got.

[00:04:02] I think really now there’s so much content that already exists. So you’re not having to take this approach of 15, 20 years ago where you were saying, right. If I need to build specific resources for my business, I need to create these from scratch. You know, you’ve got YouTube, you’ve got Google, you’ve got.

[00:04:18] Social media. There’s so much stuff already out there that you can curate. And I think with curation, you really just need to find the right people. Who’ve got that eye to be able to curate the right content and they can turn into kind of learning playlists for people. I mean, that is really important.

[00:04:34] That’s kind of a foundational level of, you know, a learning team and those people bringing into curation. And then the other elements to this, you’ve got content creators people, probably a bit more familiar of that, but I’m looking more at things like individuals that can come in, you know, film and build videos.

[00:04:51] They can do podcasts. They can write blogs if need be so. Probably not, if we look at an old school L&D model, you know, it’s not the people who are 

[00:05:00] writing 50 page PDFs or they’re writing, you know, massive e-learning modules. It’s very, you know, digitally focused, very quick, it might be a couple of paragraphs getting people the information they need, getting onto a hosting tool where people can pick that up and being quite easy with that.

[00:05:17] And then what I would say. And again, up for interpretation, what’s the crown jewel of this team is what I call kind of learning experience designers or learning architects. Um, and the reason why I say that they’re a crown jewel was because I see them as, this is this role I’ve played before.

[00:05:34] And as individuals where they kind of know a bit of everything and they’re able to strategise or they’re able to build and they’re able to deliver. So if I unpack that a little bit, these people are what I call individuals who are very tech savvy. They can come into a business and they can sit there and they can say, right, how do we build your learning technology architecture?

[00:05:58] How do we apply technology mindfully? How does this work with our culture and building that learning culture. So they’re kind of like this strange hybrid between kind of user experience designers, L&D people. They understand product, they understand tech, how does it all work together? How do we build the right stacks?

[00:06:19] But also they’ve got a really good understanding of the audience and what the audience needs as well, so there’s a little bit of marketing there as well. So I kind of call them architects because they kind of lay that gigantic kind of framework that then the rest of the team goes in and starts to lay down in different portions.

[00:06:38] And again, they are people who can design experiences. And when I say experiences, I don’t mean classroom learning for four or five days. And then, I mean, design in probably very short form, 60 to 90 minute experiences so they can facilitate, but they’re not facilitators. So I think, you know, really having a strong set of 

[00:07:00] these people, you know, we, whether we’re going to call them architects.

[00:07:01] So I’ve seen people call them kind of learning experience consultants, individuals with that skill. And those experiences are really beneficial for the whole team. And then the last part of this is all around. Very trendy. Again, the kind of marketing side, comms and engagement. And I think this could be shared for our team.

[00:07:20] Right. And I’m happy to build upon that if you’d like me to, but the comms and engagement side is, you know, it’s been going on for years. You’ve always heard people saying L&D needs to be more like marketing and needs to get closer to marketing. You know, it’s everywhere nowadays. And, um, you know, there’s definitely truth to that, but we do that from all areas.

[00:07:36] So you can take stuff from product design, you can take stuff from UX, from tech teams and marketing. And, but I think, I always say to people, you know, if you build it, they won’t come. And I think it’s a big fade in of a lot of teams where, you know, they’ll go and buy a hundred pieces of tech or, you know, it may be a few pieces of tech and they could be great pieces of technology and they could really change what their team’s doing.

[00:08:00] But if they haven’t got a function who can clearly go out to an audience and engage them and tell them why that’s important and how it can help them, I’ve seen it fall apart so many times at so many different organisations because they’ll get something shiny new. It will go out the door. It will be a six week wonder, and then there’s no comms and engagement team to say, Oh, okay, let us develop micro campaigns, let us develop a 12 month engagement strategy.

[00:08:27] How do we embed this? And that’s where I see a lot of stuff fall down. I think even in, you know, the kind of old school L&D world, where it’s quite common to go away, build a solution for six months, throw it out, becomes obsolete in a couple of weeks and actually people never use it again. And then the company goes back and does the same thing over again, but they don’t need to do that.

[00:08:50] It’s just the fact that they’ve had no one communicate that or build a plan to say, how do we engage people with this? So those are the kind of the four 

[00:09:00] key elements for me. If you were to say to me, Hey, build me a modern L& D team today. That would be it. 

[00:09:09] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:09:09] So, Ross, that sounds like a complete paradigm shift from, from what we’re used to, from a traditional L&D team.

[00:09:15] Um, quite a few, you know, quite different from the days of,  top down your real focus is kind of mandatory compliance training delivered through an LMS. And then your main requirement is organising classroom sessions and afternoon training sessions. So it’s quite different from that model of L&D.

[00:09:36] So what skills can teams like that? So L&D teams who’ve been doing what we would consider say that, like you mentioned, the old school way of doing L&D, what skills do you think they need to acquire to be able to, to move to what you’re talking about in terms of a modern L&D experience? 

[00:09:53] Ross Stevenson: [00:09:53] Yeah. So there’s a couple of things.

[00:09:55] I mean, a lot of this model relies upon being more partners than order takers. So I think the first thing around there is a consultative approach. So looking at yourself as a bit of a consultant, and I suppose, you know, again, more trendy terminology for this is kind of, you know, user experience design and having design thinking and a design mind to that kind of thing.

[00:10:18] But the ability to have consulting conversations with your stakeholders and actually ask them probing questions to get to the real cause for a problem, you know, that’s going to be a big skill difference which L&D teams probably haven’t had to do before because it’s been very much, as you said, like a funnel where it’s, here’s a requirement go off and do it.

[00:10:39] There’s never been that: well, let me ask you a few questions as to why you need that or how that’s going to be applied and who that’s going to work for. And then the other areas I would say, you know, technology, I think, um, it still amazes me to this day in 2021, where I think there’s a real lack of understanding of basic tech and how digital technology works and [00:11:00] it’s even foundational sense of.

[00:11:01] So, you know, how does different tech speak to each other? How can you connect this piece of tech with that piece of tech? You know, what’s an API, just real basic stuff for me. Like, you need to understand that because if you’re coming into a business today and you’re leading, in most areas like that digital learning element.

[00:11:18] And you really need to understand how different bits of not only learning tech work, but how does tech like Slack or Microsoft Teams or Zoom work? How do they build into that ecosystem? I’m not saying you need to be Bill Gates, but it’s like, you need to be tech savvy to an extent. You need to understand the baseline of how things work because that’s the industry.

[00:11:37] Where we sit now, people are used to social media, they’re on their phone all the time. You know, the, the days of the classroom aren’t gone, but it’s very, very different. And so having that tech knowledge, I think is really paramount and it’s really going to help anyone in the industry really kind of set their stall and set their credibility as well, and I’m going to mention two things.

[00:11:59]that straddle along and I’ve kind of mentioned, you should have a comms and marketing person, but quite honestly, the whole team should have. Some form of marketing capability. This is not just L&D, I think, any role you’re in. You really need to understand how to sell yourself, how to sell your work, how to promote.

[00:12:14] So I think it’s not like an L&D thing. It’s in any single role you do in your career, It’s really good to understand how to be a good communicator and how to do marketing as well. And again, that’s not needing to be, you know, a marketing genius. It’s just really understanding the kind of basics of, you know, human behavior, what we’re driven to maybe bits on neuroscience for learning which out there and quite easily accessible.

[00:12:39] And then the last bit we were on data, right? Data is, um, very hot right now. It’s a bit hot right now for a while in terms of L& D using more data and being evidence led, which I think is fantastic. What I don’t think is always needed. And I see as a bit of a faux pas with a few organisations in my opinion, you don’t need to go out and recruit a [00:13:00] massive data team.

[00:13:01] You know, you don’t need people coming in and designing Tableau dashboards and all this kind of stuff. Actually, what you really need is to really understand basic data capture techniques, data interrogation techniques. So I’m talking to stuff like. Yeah, Google Forms and Microsoft Forms, asking the right questions, gathering feedback, creating basic dashboards.

[00:13:21] And again, that’s, that’s really all you need. And, you know, using Google analytics, interpreting data from there, you don’t need to be creating. Now. I’ve been in some people teams over my career where massive analytics teams create really over complicated funnels. That don’t really mean anything, but having that data and an understanding of what’s the right data to.

[00:13:43] Collect and how do I use that is incredibly powerful and those kinds of elements, they all, they all sit through together. So it’s not just choosing one. It’s about really investing in all of those different skills. And that will bring you around to, you know, what I would call a [00:14:00] modern L&D professionals kind of skill set today.

[00:14:03] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:14:03] So obviously apart from being an L&D thought leader, blogger forecaster, and your day job is as a senior learning and development manager. So I guess, how did you acquire these skills? What’s how did you go about building these skills that you referred to around? You know, where it’s the curation skills or the marketing and comms space or technology and data. How did you go about acquiring these skills 

[00:14:27] Ross Stevenson: [00:14:27] realistically? I was really just practicing what I preach to an extent. And it’s using my own curiosity to go out there and say, you know, these are the things that are on the horizon, and I need to look at it in terms of my industry and invest in what I’ve always been, you know, a techie geek and, and my actual background is I was educated to be a software engineer and, you know, going into that and product designer kind of fell into the world of HR.

[00:14:51] So I’ve. Go on a little bit of a headstart where I have that head on me already. However, it was just cultivating that real [00:15:00] basic need for growth. And I, you know, I’m looking back five or six years now, when I got specifically into the world of learning from the kind of bigger realm of people development, it was saying, you know,

[00:15:13] What are the technologies that are available right now and who can I go and speak to to help me with that? So, you know, quite quickly I was able to identify, right. I need to get a marketing element to my skill set. So I went and found a head of social media at the company I was at at the time. And I had a mentoring relationship with that individual for six months to understand, you know, the ins and outs of.

[00:15:35] Social media and marketing, the kind of techniques they use for advertisements, which is fantastic. And you know, same on the data part. I sat with an analytics team for about a year. 

[00:15:48] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:15:48] So just picking up from there, we come across a lot of, um, L&D teams who are trying to transform the way they drive performance in a way they develop people but often one of the major hurdles is convincing the business, um, where the business looks at L&D’s primary requirement is to make sure people are compliant. Um, and we’re doing, you know, to some extent leadership training. Um, and therefore there was an element of convincing the business that we need to change the way we’re approaching things and building that business case.

[00:16:24] How would you suggest teams can do that effectively? Uh, communicating the value of L&D to the business? 

[00:16:29] Ross Stevenson: [00:16:29] Yeah, really good question. Really good question. And a consistent pain for many people. I know. I think again, it’s going to be controversial for some, but don’t call it L&D. Would be my first thing.

[00:16:43] If you need to go speak to your CEO in three minutes and you need to go and tell them what you do and the value to the business, do not mention a word about learning and development. I think for me, something that I’ve been crafting more recently is the concept of performance [00:17:00] engineering.

[00:17:00] Or some people called it performance consulting. And what I do is if I’m talking to any kind of senior stakeholders and the business is talking to them more about performance and talent, how do we help your team perform? How do we build high performing teams? How does that benefit the business? And, you know, a lot of that is disguising across the kind of banner of learning.

[00:17:22] And the way to, I found to get stakeholders on board and senior leaders on board is showing the value to the bottom line of what you’re doing, because in all businesses, you know, it is about the bottom line as, um, as rubbish that can be to say to sometimes, but it’s, yeah, it’s really around that and showcasing if we’re able to

[00:17:43] affect people’s performance and provide resources and experiences that improve their performance through the case of, you know, knowledge and skills, then actually, you know, we’ll get better productivity for the organisation. You’ll get a more engaged workforce, you’ll get a [00:18:00] better skilled workforce. And you can see in the research from organisations such as.

[00:18:04] Gardner and Deloitte and McKinsey, they’re always talking about reskilling and upskilling, and I think that performance way is a great place to do it. And if you use that kind of terminology of right, we’re focussing on your team’s performance, how do we help them build better performance? How do we help them get better themselves?

[00:18:22] And if you don’t go down that kind of, let’s say L&D terminology that I found you get far open and far more engaged conversations. Cause I think sometimes L and D can be seen as very fluffy. Very much like, Oh, well, you know, it is compliance training or it’s a day out of the office to kind of sit around and not do anything.

[00:18:40] Whereas if you show a real return on investment to the business and say, if we do X now this will produce Y which would then make help, enable our performance on, you know, building whatever it is, we’re doing whatever we’re looking to achieve as a business. You know, we can actually do that by doing this, but you [00:19:00] have to take people on that journey.

[00:19:01] And that’s where I think a lot of people fall down in that engagement with the brand of a learning team and stakeholders is to tell a story to those people, take them on that journey. So if you do this, now, this can do X, Y, and Z. If you just turn around and go, you know, we’re going to do some communications training

[00:19:21] and then that’s the end of it. I mean, they’re not really going to understand how that affects their business and affects their bottom line and affects what they’re doing. So, yeah, I think it’s more of the performance lead, I mean, they can open many doors and many conversations in real buy-in. 

[00:19:39] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:19:39] I completely agree.

[00:19:40] I mean, we often talk about the idea of L&D should be positioned at the very least as a value centre, but where they should be going forward is to be a profit centre. And exactly what you said. If you’re driving performance, then you will see an impact on the bottom line. But too often, what we see happen is L and D gets stuck as a cost centre.

[00:19:58] And when you’re a cost [00:20:00] centre, Uh, you’re almost restricted by the resources that you have available to yourself. Um, and, and people were just expecting you to tick the box. So, you know, as if you were to suggest one thing that L&D teams who are stuck in that kind of cost centre, they can’t break free of that kind of positioning.

[00:20:18] What would you recommend they can do? What’s that first thing they can do to start to take that first step in the journey towards becoming a profit centre.

[00:20:25] Ross Stevenson: [00:20:25] Yeah, I’d recommend they look at the branding of their team and how they position themselves in the business. So when I say that I’m talking about how they collaborate with our teams, what is the brand proposition out there, are you going out and basically just saying where L&D come and talk to us about any training needs, you might need to request stuff from us, then you’re probably not going to get too far.

[00:20:49] It’s I always liken it to the McDonad’s Drive Thru analogy, don’t come through and have people asking you for a burger and large fries, but you, that, you know, it’d be that team is going to go out and set the stall and say, look, [00:21:00] this is what we do. We’re focused on helping the performance of your team, building high performing teams, you know, helping you to be better people in your career here.

[00:21:09] And this is how we do it. The number one thing for me is, you know, focus on that brand because if you haven’t got the right brand internally, you’re not going to get far. Because that’s the first touchpoint with people. 

[00:21:22] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:21:22] You, you had a great blog post and it was, um, which was about how L and D can’t do everything alone. And what do you mean by that? When you say L&D can’t do everything alone, and if so, who should L&D be working with?

[00:21:38] Ross Stevenson: [00:21:38] Yeah. So with that, I think maybe people will understand where I’m coming from on this. I think there’s a real generic  thing in businesses where they think L&D or sitting in a training program or classroom program will solve any issue that a business has, whether that’s from a cultural standpoint, a lack of.

[00:22:00] [00:22:00] Technological knowhow, anything at all. And it’s very much like, right. Well, you know, we’ll train people up and it’s like compliance as a prime example, we’re going to send people something about right. How to be security conscious at a business. This is how to do it. And people go to the session, and think, right.

[00:22:17] Everyone must know now what they’re doing and you know, that’s going to be the end of it. Whereas actually that never happens. And that L&D solution that they think is going to change the world. It means that everyone now understands how to be security conscious, never happens. I’ve been doing this for 14 years and not once have I ever seen any of that work?

[00:22:34] It’s all in my career. I think realistically, what it is is that they can’t do everything because there are many parties involved. A lot of the work that we do is around behavior and culture. If you’re trying to change behaviors, it takes buy-in from senior leadership to role model the right behaviors in that change.

[00:22:53] If you want to craft particular skills, you’re going to need help from people, you know, marketing and communication teams [00:23:00] to help you with that. And I mean, L&D actually plays a far smaller part in this, with the rest of the business. And it’s about collaborating with the rest of the business to say, all right, if we want to make this change this is actually what we need to do.

[00:23:13] We need help from all quarters. It’s not just going to be, let’s push out an email that says here’s a new learning module that you need to complete. And then we do the box ticking exercise. It really is a business-wide effort to sit there and go, right. What is the problem that we have right now? And then what are the potential solutions to that?

[00:23:33] Um, and again, this might be controversial, nine times out of 10. It’s nothing to do with L&D uh, I’ve been in many situations with, you know, stakeholders and business leaders over the last 14 years where I can clearly see, it’s not an L&D issue, but a mechanism of L&D is being used to try and solve an issue, which is not that, it’s a far wider problem there.

[00:23:58] And I mean, that’s, that’s where it falls down a lot, right? [00:24:00] I mean, L&D gets a bad rap for that because there are two loads of problems, which is just, it’s impossible for them because they need the rest of the business to do that. And it’s not a one and done event. It really is a, if we want to make true and powerful change, it takes time and it takes lots of nudging.

[00:24:15] It takes lots of effort to do that. So yeah, for me, I’d say to L&D professionals, you know, you can’t do it alone. You need to be working with other areas of the business to, um, to bring them onboard and do it. So, you know, do as much as you can to cultivate that environment and collaboration and showcase that.

[00:24:35] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:24:35] No, it makes sense. It’s almost that layer or the glue that brings the organisations together and making sure that you’re collaborating with the different functions. And like you alluded to earlier that kind of consulting approach of understanding what different parts of the business needs. Um, I just want to change tack and kind of go explore.

[00:24:56] Upskilling. And you often find us at HowNow [00:25:00] preaching about measuring skills, identifying skills, but we often talk about it from an organisational perspective. Um, but you wrote a piece about re-skilling through a new world and, and i’s actually about how individuals themselves can understand what skills they need and determine their skills gaps, and kind of make a plan for how they can close those skills gaps.

[00:25:24] So can you tell me a bit more about that? 

[00:25:26] Ross Stevenson: [00:25:26] Yeah, definitely. So, um, It’s interesting. Because there’s this part to career development overall, and it’s a few things I’ve picked up from random places and my career to be fair. So it’s simple. Really. So one of the approaches is really trying to challenge yourself and understand the, kind of, what, why and where of where you are today.

[00:25:48] Pretty much. And I kind of shared these three questions even today with everyone I meet, where if they’re looking to kind of have a philosophy or really understand where can they go next in their career and what do they need to do? [00:26:00] I always say to them, so, you know, one is, you know, what are you great at?

[00:26:04] And what do you enjoy doing? You know, extremely important. And then what do you enjoy and why? So why do you enjoy it? So the first question, sorry, is what am I great at? And why am I great at it? Because I think people are very hard on themselves. I can’t do this, so I can’t do that. But you know, we’ve all got a.

[00:26:22] Select amount of skills, and there’s a reason why we’re good at that. So remind yourself of why you’re good at that. Look into what you enjoy at why and where is that combination most valued. I mean, that’s really, really important. You will not flourish unless you have the right environment and it’s very common for really talented people to be in the wrong environment and then not succeed.

[00:26:44] And it’s, you know, there’s a combination of that and you need to understand that, you know, where can you take your talents and where can you enjoy your time and where can you flourish? And that’s extremely important when you’re looking for career development [00:27:00] overall, and a flip side of that. And something that’s becoming very, very popular, I would say in the kind of coaching realm, if we look at L&D and the kind of coaching side, is that something I actually found during some.

[00:27:12] Random wandering and a kind of a Japanese adventure a few years ago. Um, another story over time in terms of how that happened, but basically there’s a concept in Japan called icky guy, think I’m saying this correctly. And it struck me because I think as a society, we’re so focused on the pursuit of happiness and the destination of happiness.

[00:27:35] And I need to have X to be happy or do Y to be happy, whereas. I think being happy is a very fleeting emotion. You get it in moments. And a lot of people attach it to their career and their work. It’s like, I need to be consistently happy in my work to be successful. And I, you know, I think for me, it’s not actually attainable and it’s not a reality in terms of always being happy in your work.

[00:27:57] There’s going to be tough times. There’s going to be good [00:28:00] times. I mean, what I came to and I talk about this a lot now and even being creative and the stuff that I do today is. Is look for meaning. So try and find your kind of meaning for being,  icky guy basically means in English, a reason for being and in Japan, an icky guy is very important as effectively your purpose for getting up in the morning.

[00:28:20] I say to people now that scares the hell out of them. I say to them, you know, why do you rise in the morning if we’re having a career conversation and people are trying to understand. Why they do what they do? That kind of standard Simon Sinek why. I say to them, well, why did you rise in the morning?

[00:28:34] What, you know, what, what is it all for at the end of the day? That’s a real scary question for a lot of people because it’s quite deep, but you know, what I discover is that through that kind of coaching approach, people really start to challenge yourselves and understand, yes, why am I doing, what am I doing?

[00:28:49] And, you know, do I enjoy it, is it helping me? What’s my purpose with that. And it can be different things for different people, right? Some people want to climb the corporate ladder. Some people, you know, do stuff for their family, it’s [00:29:00] different tricks for different people, which is great. But again, the icky guy concept is very similar to the concept I mentioned before, where it’s looking at, you know, what are the things that you love?

[00:29:09] What am I good at? You know, what does the world need? So what can I actually do in the world? You know? Because I think some of the most foolhardy advice I’ve ever heard is follow your passion. And it doesn’t always work out that way. Because some people’s passion can’t actually be applied in the real world.

[00:29:25] And then the kind of final point is, you know, what can you be paid for in terms of that? So what do I love? What am I good at? What does the world actually need right now? And what can you be paid for? I think the reason why these two concepts work for me is that especially now, you know, careers are coming and going, there isn’t a job for life anymore.

[00:29:44] People were changing careers three or four times in their lifetime. So it’s really high on the agenda now to understand and consistently review. You know, where am I right now? Where do I want to go? Why am I doing it? It’s very deep questions, but you know, some of those are the things you [00:30:00] really need to ask yourselves at different stages in life.

[00:30:03] You know, even with me, what I was doing in my early twenties, to what I’m doing now, closer to my mid thirties, is very, very different and they’re different chapters. So they’ve acquire different understanding. So those two concepts for me are I think very beneficial and just a final thought on that is something.

[00:30:23] I do share with a lot people is, and it’s very, very simple. I call it the three E’s of looking at your expiring, evolving and emerging skills. So in any role that you do, you know, consistently look up. What are the skills that are expiring in my field of work? What are the skills that I need to evolve?

[00:30:44] So what do I need to get better at? And then what’s emerging in my industry. If we talk about lifelong learning quite a lot, but then I’m also looking at lifelong employability. So how do I get rid of the stuff that doesn’t help me anymore? How do I get better at the things that I know I [00:31:00] need to do right now?

[00:31:00] And what’s coming up. So what are the new things that I need to add to that kind of talent stack? So, yeah, that’s. That’s kind of my approach with that. 

[00:31:10] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:31:10] So Russ, why do you rise in the morning?

[00:31:12] Ross Stevenson: [00:31:12]

You got me with a curveball there. Um, so I rise in the morning for me because I want to help people. It sounds really corny, but it’s true.

[00:31:20] I do want to help people believe in the enormity of the possible. So all the things that can be done, you know, regardless of your background, your situation and where you are now, um, and just be kickass humans, you know, just, I think that’s a big thing in L&D. It’s why I got into L &D and the world of people, because I really enjoy, you know, working with other humans of course, and really seeing people develop and thrive.

[00:31:44] And I think for me, Um, you know, even if you know my own background and where I’ve come from, I think, you know, if I can help people believe in the enormity of the possible for them and the potential and the things that you can do in this lifetime, I can rest easy at [00:32:00] night. So for me, that’s what kind of gets me up in the morning.

[00:32:02] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:32:02] I like it being a kick-ass human. Before we wrap this up, we’ve got a quick, quick fire round. Um, so I’m going to throw a few questions at you, short, succinct, to answer, are you ready for this?

[00:32:12] Ross Stevenson: [00:32:12] Go for it. 

[00:32:17] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:32:17] Alright. One thing I think L&D teams can do today to improve workplace learning at their company?

[00:32:22] Ross Stevenson: [00:32:22] [00:32:24] Uh, stop calling it L&D and invest in performance engineering/consulting. 

[00:32:34] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:32:34] And the trend that you’re most excited about?

[00:32:36] Ross Stevenson: [00:32:36] Uh, people making better use of digital technology in the time we are now. I think it’s great to an extent, not Corona virus. Of course, I think it’s great.

[00:32:48] We’ve had an overnight digital transformation and are really challenging people to take stock of all the great innovation we’ve got. So I’m really excited to see more people taking advantage of that. 

[00:33:00] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:33:00] So you’ve got experience creating engaging content. What tips would you give others to be able to create content that genuinely captivates people?

[00:33:07] Ross Stevenson: [00:33:07] 

[00:33:08] Um, I’d say, firstly, don’t be afraid. Get out there, you can’t be seen unless you’re doing stuff. Um, and just be real. Write about what interests you and, you know, get out there. You never know, right. You honestly never know who will pick it up, how it will connect with people and, um, yeah, just go from there, but you won’t, you won’t get anywhere unless you try.

[00:33:30] And my friends. So get off that starting line and see where you go. 

[00:33:36] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:33:44] You regularly speak about curiosity being an important factor in learning. What’s the best way for someone to develop curiosity as a skill?

[00:33:37] Ross Stevenson: [00:33:37] Um, yeah, simply just being more curious. I think there’s more that it’s just being more open minded, I think have a, have more of an interest in terms of.

[00:33:54] You know how things work and, you know, I think you, you open yourself up, we all know about growth, [00:34:00] mind, fixed mindset, just to be a bit more open-minded in terms of things in the world and, you know, let your curiosity flow a little bit. 

[00:34:08] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:34:08] What’s the one book you recommend the most to fellow people, developers, leaders, talent developers?

[00:34:18] So I’m reading a book called, um, radical candor by Kim Scott. He used to work for Google and Apple. She used to call for that kind of leadership development program. Um, it’s really great in terms of looking at how you can care personally about people, give better feedback and develop people in the business.

[00:34:37] And I think, you know, it is from the kind of world of big tech, but I think it’s a really refreshing, honest look, uh, you know, how that can be done. So I recommend picking that one up. 

[00:34:50] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:34:50] One skill you’d like to develop and why. 

[00:34:53] Ross Stevenson: [00:34:53]

I mean, I love to sing personally, but that ain’t going to happen anytime soon.

[00:34:59] I think my singing [00:35:00] career has gone from that, but, um, in terms of me in the kinda professional world, I think for me personally, I’m really interested in the world of coaching. Um, you know, looking at performance coaching and coaching in general, obviously again, it’s a bit of a trend, a bit of a buzzword more recently, but I think, you know, there’s some real grounding to it and I I’m really interested in my own journey on that.

[00:35:28] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:35:28] And your last one for the quick fire round what’s in store for 

still with these thoughts in 2021?

[00:35:30] Ross Stevenson: [00:35:30] It’s probably well, domination, more random thoughts. Um, lots of controversial topics and, uh, yeah. Yeah, just more stuff, more kind of stuff that interests me is, again, going back to my whole kind of purpose that I said about helping people, but even though they are possible, you know, being kick-ass humans.

[00:35:57] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:35:57] Well, I’ve been looking forward to this conversation for a while and [00:36:00] it’s been worth the wait, thank you very much for your time and thanks for coming on the show

[00:36:01] Ross Stevenson: [00:36:01]. Thank you very much. Appreciate it. 

[00:36:05] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:36:05] Alright. So there you have it. Thank you for tuning into the episode. Hopefully Ross shared some tips that you’re now itching to put into practice.

[00:36:12] You can keep up with Ross, at stealthesethoughts.com and you can also learn more about what we do at gethownow.com. If you want any of the links that are mentioned in the episode, please check out the show notes. If you enjoyed this episode, please do think about subscribing, sharing, leaving us a review or telling a friend.

[00:36:33] It goes a long way in helping the show grow. Thanks and see you next time.