L&D's Call to Action

 This blog is excerpted from the Performance Matters Podcast episode where Bob Mosher and Brandon Carson, Vice President of Learning and Leadership for Walmart, sat down to discuss L&D’s current responsibility in today’s world of work.

Bob Mosher (BM): Today, we are hosting yet another experience matters podcast, our most popular series, and I am honored to have a longtime friend, hero of mine, and a remarkable learning leader in our industry—Brandon Carson, vice president of learning and leadership at Walmart, join us today.

Brandon Carson (BC): Thank you, Bob. It's great to be here. Thanks for having me.

BM: Of course, and I know this will be a well listened to podcast, my friend. I don't do the bio thing, but it does helps us tell the story. So, tell us a bit about your journey in learning how you've arrived at this remarkable new role.

BC: It has been a long, strange trip. It is for all of us. I'm now a quarter century into my L&D career, and every moment has been rewarding. I fell into this accidentally. But it's been a blast, primarily just because it's about building capability. I transitioned from designing college textbooks, to interactive media, which then got me into corporate training, because we put together some, what we called interactive CD ROMs, for the books that I was helping to design.

And that's when I got the box that was on the shelf. I got the authorware box. And we worked together to build this whole CD ROM supplement for one of our top selling biology books. He built all the animations and I built the structure.

But I did get to the point where I realized I didn’t really have a programming mind. And I truly believe what Bill Gates said once about programming. He said, “either you have it, or you don't, there's not a lot of gray area there.” So, I then began to focus more on instructional design and then over time, took on more responsibility and eventually moved into learning leadership.

But I've been fortunate to really work with some great committed teams and companies over the years. I've learned so much on this journey. So, if you're lucky to have meaningful work, you've hit the jackpot. And I feel like I've won that jackpot many times over.

BM: Remarkable and I love the pivot and meaningful work. That leads me to my next question. I've seen you do many things. You just released the L&D playbook for the digital age. You are a digital advocate. You're digitally literate and you have a wonderful learning mind. And, obviously technology has, and should, play a remarkable role in L&D. But what inspired you to take on that project? And what were your learnings for our listeners?

BC: The main reason I wrote the book really comes from my feeling that our practice, the practice of corporate learning and development, we're at an inflection point. I think, and for over half a century, we've been stewards of performance. And for more than half a century, we have developed the systems, the infrastructure that's necessary to operationalize what John Hagel refers to as “scalable efficiency”. I really stress to your listeners that they look up “John Hagel, scalable efficiency”, it's a great video.

But it’s the optimization of human performance within the constraints of a replicable work system in a scalable efficiency work model that catapulted us into unheard of prosperity, and it lifted so many of us in the new economic categories.

But, as we transitioned from the industrial age to this age, the information/digital age, we have been behind the curve in evolving our work environments and our labor models. And now with the digital age, taking us into this rapid acceleration, we've seen an increase. It's amazing the speed and complexity, that we've all been going through, especially over the last couple of years.

And so fundamentally, how work gets done, has changed, and is changing so quickly. That scalable efficiency work model shows its vulnerabilities and a lot of us are seeing that over this last year and a half with these.

It’s what I like to call the great reassessment.

Some people are saying that the great resignation has people starting to reevaluate what they want from work and their labor, right? So, this is bringing more pressure to the business and the workforce.

So, L&D needs a call to action. We need to re-scope, we need to restructure, and we need to reposition and fundamentally rethink our operating model. We need to be the catalyst in this new age of work to help create that capability that we now need.

So not to sound too dramatic about it. But I hope that the book could spark a conversation within our practice about what our new opportunity is, and our new responsibility.

Candidly, I started this book before COVID. I started writing it right as COVID unleashed. And I remember Justin, my publisher, pinged me and he's like, “You want to weave in, you know, the pandemic and its impact?” And I'm like, “Sure, but it's unfolding in real time”.

So, it took a couple of months of just writing, but I was able to weave in some of what we're all looking at, L&D is all of a sudden becoming more visible, we're on center stage now because so many functions within the companies, including the CEO and C-suite folks, have come to us with heightened expectations. So that's the genesis of the book, and it's a little contrarian because it's asking those in our practice to rethink everything we're doing in our operating model.

BM: It’s definitely been a wakeup call, a remarkable opportunity, but a wakeup call. So, if I may focus a bit more on these times we’re living in, what do you think are the challenges and opportunities that L&D faces right now?

BC: Yeah, we have quite a few challenges. But candidly, we also have some great opportunities.

We've shown over the last year that we can indeed pivot our practices to lead through crisis. I mean, I was at an airline when this unfolded, and I wouldn't recommend that to anyone, for some odd reason, during a pandemic, people don't want to get in a metal tube really close together for some strange reason. But that was a year of leading through crisis, you know, and we had to pivot to focus more on ensuring business continuity.

And we at the airline, we had a heightened visibility just like you're talking about because we had to ensure that business continuity, we were an essential service to the nation, right? And none of us had a playbook for this pandemic, but as I've talked to colleagues across many industries, I've repeatedly heard stories about how L&D kicked in to provide programs, resources, and tools to keep the workforce going and keep the customer safe. We rapidly transition to training modalities. I mean, all of us were doing virtual overnight, practically. And we do a lot of on-the-job training in the airline. And so that was a challenge. How do we position that because we couldn't be close together. So, I would say in February 2020, not one CEO was thinking that they’d have an entirely distributed work team, and in 30 days, almost every company was figuring out how to work in a distributed manner, but also how to empower the workforce to work differently.

It's an amazing representation of people coming together and leveraging technology and new processes to keep the world operating. I mean, that's really what happened. And L&D was a key component in that.

But as we move forward, we now face a complete rethinking of work itself. And we're kind of in the middle of this conversation. After almost two years of new ways of working people are questioning and feeling empowered to engage in conversations about how they want to work moving forward. And so, I like to call this the great reassessment because we're pausing and reflecting on work and everyone's having these conversations, with HR and L&D being the catalyst.

And so, in a lot of ways, it's going to end up being the great reawakening as well. We’ll look back and say, “We had a once in a century global pandemic, you know, at least we hope so, it interrupted our value systems, it interrupted our work models and, we were great because we showed what humanity is able to do.”

BM: This is this is a brave new world for us.

Listen to the full episode for more from Brandon around the 5 Moments of Need framework and how it integrates and aligns with his book and L&D’s current call to action.

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