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Award-Winning L&D: What Does it Take?

Thursday, September 29, 2016  
Posted by: William Dunmyer
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Sidley Austin has won many Learning & Development awards. Jody Rosen Knower (pictured), who leads the firm's Lawyer Development team, appeared at ATD NYC's Monthly Chapter Event on September 7 to try to explain why. 

In a well-crafted, concise presentation titled, How to Build an Award-Winning L&D Team, Ms. Knower focused on four elements driving her team: Mission, Mindset, Culture, and Focus

Mission: Ms. Knower's team has a mission statement of its own. Not the firm's mission: a separate mission for the L&D team. This is essential, Knower says, because it keeps the team aligned, with a shared line of sight. The team's North Star, if you will. 

Specifically, it enables team members to show judgment. If something is aligned to the mission, it is probably the right thing to do. It also helps frame feedback sessions with internal clients. The mission articulates what the team wants to accomplish. They then periodically ask colleagues: "Are we living up to our mission?" 

Their mission statement is as follows:

To help Sidley lawyers become:
- More skilled
- More self-confident
- More satisfied
- More successful
- And feel more supported throughout their Sidley careers.

Moving to Mindset, Knower explained that her team looks at its own development through the lens of a "hierarchy of contributions." Teams contribute differently at different stages in their evolution. She depicts this in pyramidal form.


As a team‰Ûªs experience, knowledge, understanding, skills, and ambition build, contributions should move up the pyramid. 

When it comes to Culture, Knower provided highlights. Example: The team has its own onboarding process. As part of this, Knower has one-on-one time with every new teammate, no matter the rank. At these sessions, she discusses many things, including the team's culture and values. 

On a personal note: As I listened to this part of Knower's presentation, I tried to remember when I had had conversations of any kind with my supervisor's boss. On my last L&D team, my supervisor's boss never expressed interest in meeting with me, my peers, or any of my direct reports. What message does this send about hierarchy, and how does it impact a team's culture? Disturbing questions to contemplate.

Finally, Focus, referring to how the team prioritizes. All potential projects are subjected to a cost-benefit analysis with the help of a grid measuring Impact and Investment.

Every proposal is placed on the grid based on impact and investment (time, resources, difficulty, relationship capital, etc.). Most desirable, of course, are projects that are high-impact and low-investment. More challenging are projects that are high-impact, high-investment. Knower believes every team should green-light one or two of these per year, but choose very carefully. 

Of course such grids are familiar. We've seen them a hundred times. But how many L&D teams actually use them?

You could ask the same about everything Knower discussed. She didn't say anything revolutionary. What sets her team apart is that they actually do the things most of us only talk about. Knower's team implements sensible things, rather than just talking about them -- rather than just teaching about them in Leadership classes. 

It's ironic that we as Learning & Development professionals teach these kinds of practices all the time, but a fair number of us don't live by them -- or don't do so consistently. Knower's visit to ATD NYC inspired me to practice what I preach (and practice what I teach) in a more rigorous way. I'm reasonably confident many other attendees walked away similarly inspired. 


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