How to Decide Whether to Build or Buy Learning Resources with Rob Lauber Part 1

What's covered

Tom Griffiths is joined by Rob Lauber, a learning executive and founder, who has an illustrious career CLO at McDonald's, Yum!, and Cingular, and is now the Founder of XLO Global.

In this episode, you'll hear how Rob encourages learning leaders to enable learning within the organization by fostering collaboration, knowledge sharing, and a continuous learning environment. You'll learn how to distinguish situations where it drives value, such as building relationships and instilling organizational culture. You'll also gain insights into the effectiveness of live online learning and the factors that make it interactive and engaging. Listen to discover strategies for deciding whether to build or buy learning resources, taking into account factors like creativity and scalability.

About the speakers

RobLauber

Robe Lauber

Sr. Director of People Development at Lacework

Rob Lauber is a business-driven Talent, Learning & Development executive skilled at leading functional transformation and innovation. With more than 30 years in the L&D space, he's built, re-structured, transformed all types of learning organizations across multiple industries. In addition, the implementation of global learning technologies infrastructures and high quality, high impact learning content have enabled the organizations he has worked with to deliver greater value - and win in the marketplace.

TomGriffiths

Tom Griffiths

CEO and Co-founder, Hone

Tom is the co-founder and CEO of Hone, a next-generation live learning platform for management and people-skills. Prior to Hone, Tom was co-founder and Chief Product Officer of gaming unicorn FanDuel, where over a decade he helped create a multi-award winning product and a thriving distributed team. He has had lifelong passions for education, technology, and business and is grateful for the opportunity to combine all three at Hone. Tom lives in San Diego with his wife and two young children.

Tom regularly speaks and writes about leadership development, management training, and the future of work.

Episode transcript

Tom Griffiths
Today, we're joined by Rob Lauber, who has spent over 30 years as a learning leader for companies like Yum Brands and Singular Wireless, most recently serving as the Chief Learning Officer at McDonald's for over six years. Rob has been named Chief Learning Officer of the Year by CLO Magazine and has served as Chair of the Board for ATD, the Premier Professional Association for Learning and Talent Professionals. Rob serves as a board member and strategic advisor for over a dozen innovative learning companies and is currently the founder of XLO Global, a consultancy designed to drive strategic value for business and workforce development efforts. We're thrilled to have Rob join us on the Learning Works podcast. Rob, welcome.

Rob Lauber
Tom, thanks for having me. Really glad to be here and looking forward to our conversation.

Tom Griffiths
Absolutely, likewise. That is quite the resume in L&D. I would love to wind back right to the start and just understand how did you get your start in L&D? What drew you to the space?

Rob Lauber
Um, I was really, you know, I got out of college. I had no idea what I wanted to do. And I, I was doing a job at a company called Dun & Brad Street. And I was pretty good at it. Uh, and they asked me to go and, uh, move to, from where I was in New York City, down to Atlanta to help train people and how to do what I do. So I said, sure, I'll do that. And, uh, I did about three years of standup sales training, basically is what it was. And, um, That was okay. I don't know that it was super passionate for me. I was kind of burned out, honestly. One day our president of our organization came down and said, I'm going to close down this center because we're sending new hires down here. They're treating it like 60%. Um, but they get a nice trip out of us and we need to find a better way to do this. So instead of just laying you off all right now, we're going to give you. I think we had about 120 days to come up with an alternative, an alternative way of the way we should do it, assuming that wasn't, you know, without that constraint. And so myself and two others came up with a completely new design. And that was my sort of experience or intro to instructional design and the whole world of sort of thinking about how people learn and trying to map that to. you know, how people need to perform tasks and get jobs done and those kind of things. And so that unleashed me basically into my career.

Tom Griffiths
That's great. So you'd been doing the job in the sales world and then we're teaching people to do that as well and then develop that into an instructional design mindset because oftentimes when someone can do the job it doesn't necessarily mean they can teach it. You kind of gain that extra appreciation for instructional design when you actually have to kind of go and get other people to do it. So that sounds great.

Rob Lauber
And it wasn't a, you know, a spray and pray model where I'd stand up and basically spew everything I knew. So it was, you know, we had to think more deeply about what it is we were trying to get from an outcome perspective. And that really helped set the premise for my thinking going forward for most of my career.

Tom Griffiths
If we fast forward then to the present, I would love to know what you're working on right now and what is most exciting to you.

Rob Lauber
Yeah, I'm working on a home renovation. No, as a side, no, right now the—

Tom Griffiths
It's a full-time job sometimes.

Rob Lauber
Some days, you know, picking tile is not the most exciting thing.

Tom Griffiths
Hahaha

Rob Lauber
I've, you know, it's way overrated. But, um, no, on the work side, I'm, you know, I'm still fairly actively engaged in the community. So I'm on the Chief Learning Officer Magazine editorial advisory board. I do some workforce advisory. work for a variety of different sort of venture capital firms and some other places as well. And then I do some consulting directly to enterprises around learning strategies, how they're thinking about their business model, their infrastructure, their content, those kind of things. And then I work fairly deeply with, I think you mentioned about a dozen different companies in the startup world on sort of the front edge of technology or the four. I would say lately more companies try to make a pivot into from B2C models to B2B models and how they go to business, how they go to market with enterprises and how they have the conversation about their learning offering with people like me.

Tom Griffiths
It's awesome that you've had the opportunity to have such a long career in the L&D space in-house and now be in a position where you can share that experience and knowledge and wisdom so widely with startups of all shapes and sizes. I'd be curious over those 30 years, how have you seen the operating model of L&D shift over time? Where do you think that's headed?

Rob Lauber
Yeah, I've seen it pivot from, you know, sort of low tech to high tech, I think is the direction, I would say the gradient of when I started doing the work, it was before the internet. So, you know, so we were still pushing paper and early days of things like Word and Excel and PowerPoint. So to now, I think we're on the cusp of, you know, generative AI really being a super strong engine for how learning content gets developed. I know we're gonna talk a little bit about that in a bit, but you've seen a progression on multiple fronts with sort of technology enablement, I guess I'll call it. And that seems to be driving shifts, I would say, and continuous disruption in the learning space.

Tom Griffiths
Yeah, absolutely. I've been dying to ask you about the time at McDonald's because of course everyone knows it as the global brand that is today. And when I was thinking about the training or learning and development strategy needed for McDonald's, of course there's the head office piece to that may be more common with other companies, but just the scale of the frontline operations in the restaurants, I was curious is that. Was that part of your remit as well to think through training for them?

Rob Lauber
It was actually that was the biggest part of my remit was thinking through sort of how and or modernizing how we help people learn in the restaurants and how we help them learn their jobs. And I use those words very sort of deliberately because it would be naive to think at a company the size of McDonald's that you can, you know, sort of forcibly train a population of over a million and a half people, a million of which are new every year coming into the job. So it's more. Yeah, I would say it was pretty, you know, it was a daunting effort up front, but you really had to think about themes that were common across geographies and across franchises and across restaurants when you were doing work. Yeah, awesome. Thank you.

Tom Griffiths
That's massive. I come from a small country called Wales and our population is three million. So you're teaching the equivalent of half our country's population of McDonald's, that's amazing. I mentioned that in just in relation to the tech question because I'd be curious, were there technologies that allowed you to do that restaurant training more effectively, as well as all of the technology that you can imagine has helped with head office and in other places.

Rob Lauber
Yeah, I think two things. I think technology overall helped drive consistency. So how do we make sure that the training in the UK is similar to, or in Wales, is similar to the training in Nashville, Tennessee, where I am today, right? Because essentially, as a customer, you walk into a McDonald's in either place and it's pretty much the same. Some slight variation, maybe a product, but largely looks the same, operates the same. does many of the same things. So thinking about how technology can help you drive consistency was sort of job number one, I think in terms of the way we thought about technology. The second way we thought about technology was then really around minimizing the interruption with actually doing the job, right? Because restaurants in general are like manufacturing environments, basically raw goods come in the back door get made to a spec, serve to a customer at the counter. So it's a production-driven, time-driven environment. So pulling people off to sit in a webinar for an hour and a half or to go somewhere for a class just isn't practical. And so you really have to think about environmental constraints and how technology can help you overcome some of those pieces. So concepts like microlearning and concepts sort of self-paced bits and bytes that people can pull, or people's ability to learn one aspect of the job as opposed to the entirety of being a crew person. So if I just wanna be a cashier, how can I just learn how to do that? To being able to retrieve knowledge at the moment I needed for things that I probably won't remember in some e-learning course that I took six months ago.
So technology really becomes an underpinning enabler to thinking about overall design strategies we can take that help it fit closer into the flow of the way people work.
And those restaurants actually operate.

Tom Griffiths
There are so many pieces to that and it obviously works so successfully. I imagine there's kind of the onboarding piece where we're just getting people up to speed so that they can start doing a job. Then there's the ongoing learning piece where they're developing themselves, like you said with e-learning, micro-learning webinars. And then there's the just in time, oh, I've forgotten how to process checks instead of credit cards. And so I need to figure that out. What were some of the kind of thorniest examples or hardest things that you found to train people on across those different life cycle stages?

Rob Lauber
Yeah, I think, you know, in McDonald's, I think it's a super task driven organization. So it's very procedural. You know, if you ever seen the movie, the founder or any of those kinds of things, you know, part of the great part about McDonald's is that they drive consistency through consistent procedure. So, you know, very super operational excellence focused, I guess, is sort of the big business term for it. But on the other side of it, then. getting people to think beyond that and use their brain to sit there and say like, in this situation, I should deviate a little bit from the procedure to deliver a better experience for the customer. That's actually the hardest part of, I think, the job, overall from a learning and development perspective. So one of the brand tenants at McDonald's was around creating feel-good moments. Right. Um, and that's sort of the brand purpose. Why people go to McDonald's is to feel good either through the food or through the experience or, uh, because they can sit in a corner and nobody will bother them, whatever it might be, you know, it's sort of, you know, to get the break. And so, um, so getting it, getting that into the mind of a crew person around, that's sort of the essence of why you're there is to create that feel good moment can be challenging when there's not really a procedure for it. Because every customer has a different need state and every customer is an individual and you know has Needs to be treated differently as individuals. So those things were very challenging the softer side I would say is the challenging part of it also super difficult to measure right? Are you doing it? Right, you know, could you have done it better, right those kind of sort of evaluation measures and that whole can of worms becomes also difficult piece as well because it's very hard to tell like is that what success looks like or not.

Tom Griffiths
So taking the process oriented parts of the learning almost with a manufacturing mindset to make that excellent and perfecting that for consistency. And then above and beyond that, trying to instill values and giving people a bit of space or leeway to implement or get creative about how they deliver those moments to customers. And that, like you say, is harder to deliver, harder to measure. I wonder, were there differences between restaurants or regions where you could see the impact of leaders or managers who were more pro-learning or better at instilling learning and development than others and so a measurable difference at all?

Rob Lauber
Yeah, I think you could, the easier way to sort of think about it in the McDonald's context would be like across franchisees because the franchisees really own sort of those sets of businesses and you know, they set kind of the culture for the estate that they own. And so I'd say it, you'd see it more across that line. And then, and then what would show up in measures and metrics would be, um, some of the softer things around the business, which would be around turnover, right? So employee retention. You'd also see it probably in a customer satisfaction metric, right? Which is a natural outcome of the turnover because the more novices you have in the restaurant, the more likely you are to deliver a subpar experience, either through the product or, you know, just your engagement overall. So those things tended to show up where there were patterns of, you know, leadership, I would say, acceptance and buy-in and belief that... you know, their business is driven by people more than it is driven by process.

Tom Griffiths
I mean, we see a similar effect when we look at our learners and ask to what degree you felt supported by your manager or supervisor in implementing the learning that you just received. And there's a clear correlation between the level of support from the manager and then the degree to which people are implementing and being seen to implement the learning. So it's great to see it show up in that context as well.

Rob Lauber
Yeah, for sure. I mean, yeah, that's an age old, right? Age old, obvious measure there.

Tom Griffiths
For sure. So I'd be curious, what do you think are the hardest things about being a CLO or a learning leader and what lessons have you taken from facing those challenges for yourself?

Rob Lauber
The hardest things, you know, it's a really good question because there are a lot of hard things, I think and I talked to peers of mine who have different sets of hard things than I do too. But I think that there's a few sort of common themes that emerge that are like, require constant attention as a CLO, I'd say. One is keeping your finger on the pulse of the business. So... really thinking about what's happening in the business and sort of trend spotting. Like, you know, where's our business headed? Is it growing? Is it shrinking? What are the implications for that for the business? What kind of requests can I anticipate as a result of that? And requests might be, we need more because we're growing really fast, or we need less, so give me a million dollars out of your budget, right? So how do you think about and think ahead about those things? and sort of anticipate. I think that's one. I think the other one is around, there's a sort of the shifting paradigm around training versus learning, I would say. And a lot of learning and development organizations now sometimes called talent development organizations are really heavily focused traditionally on sort of a product. Right. And that's a library of content or experiences that they create, manage, and push out in the organization. And I think organizations are challenging learning and development organizations, especially CLOs today, to think a bit beyond that. And think about culture, for example, as, you know, how are you helping to drive the culture forward in the organization? How are you helping to... you know, enable shifts that we're going to make maybe two or three years from now as an organization, you know, how does your plan map to our strategic plan kind of conversations. So I think there's that side of the coin combined with, you know, learners today have better technology in their pocket than you're probably delivering on their desktop.

So how do you, how do you meet the, uh, you know, the tick tock kind of generation? expectations when you know that may not necessarily be the best pedagogy for what you're trying to accomplish.

I think striking that balance around sort of engaging your consumer and creating demand by your consumer is also a continuous challenge in the organization as well.

Tom Griffiths
And I think a through line there was the trends and at least fitting trends, probably anticipating trends. And I love how you started with thinking through the business insights or tracking the business progress and anticipating what would be needed in future. That's been a bit of a common theme when I talked to the more experienced senior learning leaders, where it really is just like second nature to think business first as opposed to being the order taker or seeking to create too much of a fiefdom in just a learning product. It's being that business partner to the other executives that you work with and helping learning strategy drive a supporting pillar to the business strategy. So that's great to hear.

Rob Lauber
I think it's easy to step out to see yourself as sort of next to the business as opposed to in the business. And I think to be successful as a CLO, you have to be in the business. I think that's sort of the mindset frame I would use.

Tom Griffiths
Yeah, and I think it helps the rest of the C-Suite see the value and support. And then to a previous point, champion the initiatives that are coming from the learning function if they see it as part of their business as well.

Rob Lauber
That's right. Yeah. And I think it opens a whole new can of challenges, right? A whole new set of challenges for you as a CLO when you do step in to, you know, from being aside from the business to being in the business, your, the expectations for you to provide strategic insight beyond sort of the pillar of your responsibility is also there at the same time.

Tom Griffiths
So let's talk training. We chatted in the past and you've described formal training as one of the most expensive, least efficient, hardest to measure disruptive commitments that an organization could make. And as a learning leader, that's, that's a really interesting observation. Uh, when do you think it does make sense to use formal training and when should people kind of check the bias that they might have towards doing something like that? in favor of something else.

Rob Lauber
It's good. I would use some harsh words there. So thanks for repeating,

Tom Griffiths
Hahaha!

Rob Lauber
I do think before, if we're, if we're honest about it, we do, we take people away, you know, formal training takes people away from doing what the business needs done, right? So it's a bit of a disconnect. I do think that there are, there are moments where it drives a lot of value. One is sort of in the, in the context of, and these are themes more than sort of like this type of training versus that type of training, but I think the. the need for people to build relationships with other people in the organization at a networking level, I would say, right? And so, hey, I know Tom, I was in a meeting with Tom, we had a great conversation over lunch, kind of Tom conversation, and now I can call Tom and ask him a question, right? I think there's a huge amount of value there in the relationship piece. I think organizations recognize that, which is why a lot of them are sort of asking people or conscribing people to come back to work. in an office, right? Because there's a huge amount of value around sort of the water cooler conversation, the passing the person, all the standing online in the lunchroom with somebody kind of conversations that can happen that ultimately pay dividends in sort of helping people get their jobs done, you know, overall and seeing the bigger picture. So I think that's one of those sort of value drivers of it. I think the other one is around where you're really trying to drive a consistent mindset in the organization. So thinking about onboarding is sort of the easy example. But in the onboarding process, a lot of what you're trying to do is introduce people to the values and culture of your organization and what it's like to work there and what's expected of you to work there. So I think that sort of stepping away from, let's not get to the job yet. Let's think about what it means to be a citizen of this company and how we want to do it. you know, how we want you to work and how we want you to lead and how we want you to play is important conversations that are best done sort of in a set aside moment as opposed to maybe a 30 second video clip.

So I think the investment in time and that the discussion piece of that is super important where the engagement is needed. So I do think that there's places and times for it. And I think largely organizations have moved away from that, you know, from face-to-face being everything, right? 40 years ago, that was the construct that you had to work within, right? 30 years later, you don't. And so I think that now we can do it this way, even virtually, right? But I do think that there has to be intentional sort of design pieces of training where people actually need to step away from the task at hand and focus on sort of the mindset pieces that we need people to get their heads around. that will help them do their work.

Tom Griffiths
Yeah, agreed. And so times when social connectivity is an important outcome or perhaps where stepping away from the workplace can give you the headspace to really shift your mindset, particularly when you're joining an organization to embrace the principles of the values of that gives a more kind of profound experience that way. And then right at the opposite end of the spectrum, I guess there's micro learning for small key concepts, whether that's about a proprietary product or some kind of framework. I think in between there's this relatively recent modality of live online where you get the advantage of the scalability and the access and to some degree the bite size nature, but you also get. the live interaction and a bit of the social piece as well. So I'd be curious what you've seen as a good fit for that modality where interaction is still important. Perhaps it doesn't need to be fully immersive, but yeah, where does that work in your mind?

Rob Lauber
I think the sort of the live online model can work in durations and interesting piece of conversation on that. But I think if you're building a live online experience, having a super clear outcome would be really important. I think one. And then two, that you're thinking about that in the context of how you're going to sort of. create an environment where people want to contribute, it's not just a talking head, right?
And so I think those pieces are super important about it. I can think about like, you know, even like micro learning topics because we kicked around this idea at McDonald's a while back where we measured it from a productivity perspective, people had about 10 minutes a week, you know, for learning. And we were like, well, in a five day work week, that's about two minutes a day. Well, if I built a whole learning construct around two minutes a day, what would it look like? And started playing with that idea and said, well, geez, I could do a whole week on food safety. And I could hit people five times with two minutes of really important ideas that would get the point across. I think live online learning sort of has that same opportunity where it can be like, For 30 minutes, we're going to get on, and we're going to talk about whatever it might be, this new product, and what we've seen consumer reaction to it be.
And I'm going to bring on John from marketing, who helped us. He's the product designer. He's the one who made the product. And you're going to have the opportunity to hear from him and have the opportunity to give him lots of feedback about what you're seeing. I think. Those kind of learning experiences can be super helpful for people in a live environment, particularly where you've got a distributed audience.

Tom Griffiths
Yeah, so way more interactive, conversational based, not a webinar format, but can in some ways mirror the convenience of microlearning, not quite at the two-minute, do it when you want level, but 30 minutes and you can do it from your computer or your phone. So it kind of sits in between those two. Agreed. And so, as you're advising learning leaders or companies about their L&D strategy, For each piece of it, there's this decision to build or buy. And so I'd be curious how you advise people to think about that choice and when to build and when to buy.

Rob Lauber
Yeah, it's an interesting question, right? Because I don't think there's one right answer for
that. One, and then I think two, it depends on the context. So thinking about McDonald's, for example, when I first came there, we had a very large sort of instructional design team, probably three times larger than it was when I left. And we made a conscious decision to keep a core set of people and frame their roles like architects. So your job is to create blueprints, but not build houses. And then we'll go find the general contractors out there of the world that can help us build houses. And so I thought about that as a specific sort of business model, deliberate strategy around sort of by the building I thought we could get more creativity. Um, it, you know, if I hired 15 e-learning designers, I know I'm only ever going to get e-learning from them and, you know, regardless of what the right outcome might be, it's going to be an e-learning course. So I wanted to be able to, to have a mindset where we could operate with a broader view and with, um, sort of an unboundaried view around what the experience might want to look like. And so that was, for example, part of my business model that I said, look, we're going to largely buy what we need in the marketplace from a services company to have it custom built, but we're going to buy those services. I can also think of things like now getting more granular, like compliance content, where sometimes it's a mathematical exercise. Like at McDonald's, where I had you know, 50,000 people that need to go through some form of compliance training. Um, does it make sense for me to license it in the marketplace at $5 a head? Um, you know, every year, or can I build it once for 50, even 90,000, a hundred thousand dollars, um, and do it for pennies instead, right? And so I, there was a filter around that where we always thought about, well, let's just, let's just. build it ourselves then. So we don't have to buy it because the economics of it on a cost-per-learner perspective are a no-brainer and we have to do this anyway.
The exception, and then I'll give you like a complete contradiction of that thinking as an exception, but like on food safety is a good example where we actually said we need to buy it. Every restaurant manager has to be certified, it's legislatively required places around the world, but it varies so much geographically that it's impossible to sort of try and keep up with legislative changes and requirements and science and everything else. So you know what? Let's just leave that to the experts, and we'll buy that.

Tom Griffiths
I really liked the analogy of the blueprint that you build internally, and then the general contractor to build a house that you buy in externally with the advantage, as you said, of creativity, breadth, keeping up with regional variations, I'd be curious what kinds of things would be in the blueprint where you felt we're not compromising this. This has to be the part of what we create. and then what pieces were more externalized and comfortable to contract out.

Rob Lauber
Yeah, if I think about like in the blueprint, it would be if I think about like crew training, it would typically be around sort of philosophical attitude towards how we want it to be experienced. So we need it to be modular.
We need it so that franchisees have flexibility. So if they want to start me on the grill and you on the fryer, and we're starting on the same day, we can do that and neither of us have to go through cashier training to get there. And neither of us have to learn each other's jobs. So flexibility became like a tenant for what we were doing. Um, you know, the, the other pieces would then be around sort of, um, scalability. So, um, how do we make sure we can drive it in almost any language, right. Or in let's say 10, I think was the core we started with, right. Or in the U S English Spanish, you know,

Rob Lauber
But you get over into Europe and the UK and you get all kinds of American English or British English. I need to put some U's in and drop some Z's and put some S's in and that kind of stuff and change the voice. So thinking about those things around audience relevance and sort of cultural, if you will, adoption. were also important components that we had in that mix, I would say. So we'd start literally around those kind of pieces. In a restaurant, there are 12 workstations. So it was like, OK, from the flexibility perspective, we want somebody to be able to start on any of these 12. And then there's some upfront pieces about what's the job all about, and hospitality, and Here's what McDonald's is a little bit.

So a blueprint typically looked something like that in terms of what we wanted. And then it was here we'd provide the constraints of the environment that we had to work within. Here's the learning management system we work on, or here's we don't think e-learning content's necessarily the best way because we know people don't learn that way.
So these architects would go out and actually look in the restaurants at how people are really learning how to do the job so that we were more modeled about helping that become more effective than about learning out of context. So

Yeah, so those kinds of things, sort of constraints and requirements, I think were sort of the best way to think about what might be in a blueprint.

Tom Griffiths
Makes sense. And would those engagements then typically be the vendor is building largely bespoke one-off content for McDonald's or would it be an off the shelf or an off the shelf plus a little bit of tweaking and customization? What was typical there?

Rob Lauber
For a restaurant audience, it was typically bespoke. So customized, contextual, highly McDonald's language driven. Concepts might be, I'll give you a simple example, unconscious bias.
So rather than teaching unconscious bias training in the restaurants, which you can readily get off the shelf, we chose to. introduce it to crew in the context of the creating feel good moments idea and thinking about how they form an opinion of a customer every time they walk in the door, every time a customer walks in the door. And how do you put that opinion aside of what the experience might be like, oh gosh, this is not going to be very fun to let me figure out how I can turn this into a great experience for this customer.
Right? Oh, they look angry when they really might not be, you know, they're totally unrelatable to me because they don't look like me. They don't sound like me. They don't whatever like me. Those kind of things. You know, how do you set all those biases sort of that naturally pop up as human nature aside and still focus on creating a field of moment? So rather than taking off the shelf unconscious bias program, right. And tweaking it a little. We actually said, no, actually we should reframe it in the context that people can relate to, which is, you know, that customer walking in the door.

Tom Griffiths
Yeah, that's a great example. And I love how it isn't just isolated as a kind of one-off unconscious bias training, but it's tied back to that core principle of creating those enjoyable moments. I was going to ask you, how do you infuse or ensure that the vendor offerings are tailored to an organization's culture? And it sounds like that was a combination of things that they were in the blueprint and then bringing forth some of these pillars or principles or values. and giving that to the partner so that they can brainstorm with you and create something that is in line or reinforcing of that internal culture.

Rob Lauber
Yeah, and we use sort of an agile, I would say, process, an iterative process, where we would test and learn, right? So, you know, your typical, let's create an alpha prototype, let's get people's reaction to it. Might be a new way of learning something, it might be a completely different design, let's understand the reaction so we know the change management as we try to scale. And then, you know, some of it, I would say to the earlier question too, about off the shelf with tweaks, I think when you got into the management population, you started to see more of that as a target opportunity where you got into coaching and giving feedback and handling conflict and, you know, those sort of bigger picture leadership issues that people deal with on a day-to-day basis, we could be much more off the shelf on that and less original content, I would say.

Tom Griffiths
Yeah, yeah, a lot of universal principles there.

Rob Lauber
Exactly.

Tom Griffiths

So I've got a few rapid-fire questions for you, just to wrap this first part of our conversation. We've had a few folks on and they've brought up quirky cultural references that inspire them to do the L&D work that they do from outside the world of L&D. So I'd just be curious, is there one lesson or inspiration that you've taken from an unexpected source outside of the field that's helped you through your career?

Rob Lauber
That's a really good question. Outside of the field. Yeah, no, I can't say like outside of the field. There's been a lot of sources of inspiration for me kind of inside the field that are, that are fairly abstract, like not in the common genre of things that people talk about,
like there's, there's a guy named Thomas Gilbert. He wrote a book called engineering worthy performance in the 1970s. Um, he had this, you know, three by two grid basically on how to engineer performance and, um, I used it. throughout almost my entire career as a mental model for talking people through how to solve performance issues in an organization and helping them a lot of times realize that it wasn't just training or actually training was probably the least important thing they should focus on, right? And so I'd say, I don't know, I guess that's an engineering construct in terms of thinking about it that way.
And then I think some of the selling, the selling pieces and weirdly enough, my experience at Donner Bradstreet where I was calling on small medium sized businesses, you know, for five years as a 20 year old and going through the balance sheets and understanding their cashflow and everything else that I really knew nothing about because I didn't take much of that in college, still paying off for me today. Because when I'm engaging in a conversation with a startup and they're talking about raising and we're talking about cashflow and we're talking about run burn rates and those kinds of things, it's like, I understand those pieces, right? From things I learned 35 years ago. So it's kind of interesting when I was in McDonald's and I was working with franchisees or Yum Brands and I was working with franchisees, it was the same thing. They, those were the people I was calling on when I was younger. And so the... the mindset of those people was very much the same. And I think that I tried to put that in the front of my mind when trying to make decisions about L&D, about, to your comment earlier, thinking about the business first kind of piece.
We could have some brilliant ideas about using VR, for example, but. Right. Is a, is a franchisee really willing to spend a thousand dollars on a headset in every restaurant that they own for one training program? And the answer is probably no. Right.
And, you know, and so, um, so I'd have to get myself past that question first, uh, before I would ever put it in front of them. So I think maybe that's sort of outside in to answer your question, but I think that that's where it comes from for me.

Tom Griffiths
Those are two great examples. Yeah. I mean, as a small business, everyone has to have a DMV number. So I can see how having those conversations really gave you a ton of pattern recognition for SMB and applying that to the franchisees is really thoughtful. Thanks for sharing that.Uh, next segment is start, stop, continue. So if we think about the current world we live in and the trends in the industry, what do you recommend that the average learning leader stop doing at this moment?

Rob Lauber
Hmm. Stop doing, well, this is my favorite thing. But this will probably get a few people talking. I think stop focusing on ROI. So and start focusing on value. And focus on defining what success looks like up front. ROI tends to be a backwards. looking exercise,
like, Hey, we just spent $2 million. We trained all these people. We took them off. We, you know, we were least efficient, hardest to measure, most expensive thing. We just did. Now let's see, did we get an ROI from that? Right. Um, I, uh, so for me, it would be like, stop talking about ROI, start talking more about how we define success upfront with anything that we do. So, so front end load your success that way. and move off of the ROI kind of conversation.

Tom Griffiths
That is a great one. And I know I said this was the quick fire portion of the conversation, but I'm not sure I can let that one go by.

I'm sure the folks listening will as well. So, you know, yes, there's often a thread about ROI and training programs and every learning conference you go to, it's probably three workshops on how to measure ROI and it's notoriously difficult. That's why there's always three workshops every year on it. And I agree with you, I think is more intangible value delivered than can possibly be measured. At the same time as a business, you want to get some sense that big ticket items, big money being spent is worthwhile. And so could you say a little more about your framework for thinking about that and how the value piece is framed in how you approach that?

Rob Lauber
Yeah, well, I think that if you sit down with a stakeholder at the beginning of the sort of the cycle of a project and say, this is what we're agreeing we want done. Now, how are we going to talk about it being successful? What does it look like when successful? And it's interesting because a lot of times in my experience, people had to pause and really think about that. Right. And it's like, well, I just want them to do it. And it's like, okay, great. So how are we going to like, know that that's actually happening? Because what do you, what do you use to measure that today? Right. And you know, how, you know, what's our pre post look like kind of thing. Um, to other conversations that would be like, you know, I just want to know that everybody went through it. That's my success measure.
So let's just make sure everyone went through it. And I'm expecting that you're going to deliver a quality program. But really, I'm not going to waste my time trying to say, you move sales up by $2 a transaction or something. And so some will be like, no, it needs to move sales by $2 a transaction.

But I think that knowing that up front saves you a lot of angst on the back end and guides the way you actually execute through. the program that you design and then deliver ultimately.
The order, because if your intended outcome is to drive sales by $2 per transaction, right? And he wants, you know, your leader wants people upselling, right? Then you're probably gonna be super focused on making sure you know whether or not that's happening or not in the context of your program and that your program is only focused on making sure that's happening, right? not a lot of extraneous things that might otherwise get incorporated into that.
So I just think it helps drive focus, it helps drive clarity, it helps drive alignment, because if somebody comes back to me afterwards and says, what's the ROI on this? Generally, I perceive that as a question of like, I don't see the value in what you just did. Like that's telling me. And then two, when I get that question, I come back and say, well, here's what we agreed upon upfront as success measures.And so here's how I'm measuring against our agreed upon success measures. That's different than an ROI conversation.
So that's my sort of my soapbox thing. I think people should start doing. And I agree with you, you can go to any conference and there's three people that are running workshops and I'm probably good friends with all three of them because they've been doing it for 20 or 30 years. And, you know, God love them. There is an industry on it, but I do think that it starts with people not framing expectations upfront.

Tom Griffiths
It really varies by situation and context. Let's agree with the key stakeholders what the measures of success are gonna be. And that might not always be dollars and cents. In fact, often it doesn't need to be. So if you've got clear success criteria, then you can have a conversation about the value that was delivered at the end, avoiding the need for the kind of drive-by ROI question.

Rob Lauber
Because sometimes the cost of doing an ROI study actually exceeds the ROI.
I've seen that one before.

Tom Griffiths

So back to my quick fire. Given trends in the industry where L&D is today, what do you recommend the average learning leader start doing that they're not doing right now?

Rob Lauber
I think start thinking about your role and your team's role in the organization as enablers. So if you spend your time thinking about how do I enable more people to learn more often in the organization, it will reframe your life basically, I think in terms of the way you think about the product portfolio that you manage, which you'll still manage, but it takes you to places like how are we leveraging collaboration systems and how effective is Teams really at helping us build a learning organization and, you know, sort of side questions to the, maybe to the traditional L&D conversation that you're having today, it can put you in a lot more conversations about how we're enabling people to learn. I also think it's, I feel like it's the right thing because it's naive for us as learning leaders to think that we actually control people's learning in the organization.
Like most people learn from other people, not from you. And so... Let's acknowledge that and let's talk about how we make more of that possible as opposed to sitting there saying, well, gosh, I need to, you know, I need to measure my social learning strategy.
It's like, you know, how do we unleash it?

Tom Griffiths
Yeah, that's a really powerful reframe. And it really enlarges the surface area that you're thinking about as a learning leader, like you said, to collaboration tools or interactions at off-sites. And can elevate the impact, which is often the reason that people go into learning and development is want to have impact on people. There's just more ways to have more impact on people, more impact on the organization, and as you said, as a result, be in more conversations. So I think that's really powerful. Thank you. Last one, give a little credit where credit is due. What are you seeing people doing these days that you think is a really good idea and they should keep doing or continue doing?

Rob Lauber
What do we keep doing? It's a good question. I think that there's a lot of great things that people are doing right now. I mean, I just saw all the Brandon Hall awards that came out and some fantastic things that different organizations are doing and getting recognition for it. I think they should keep doing the things that help drive their business forward first, and maybe their team glory second, which is sometimes hard to do.

But I do think that examining the things that are really helping propel the business forward are probably the things you should stay super focused on and look for more of how you can do that in an organization.

Tom Griffiths
I love it. Right on. Some great pearls of wisdom there in our first part of our conversation. Let's wrap this episode here for now and then continue our conversation in part two where we're going to do a deep dive into AI and its impact on L&D. Looking forward to it. Thanks for watching.

Episode transcript

Tom Griffiths
Today, we're joined by Rob Lauber, who has spent over 30 years as a learning leader for companies like Yum Brands and Singular Wireless, most recently serving as the Chief Learning Officer at McDonald's for over six years. Rob has been named Chief Learning Officer of the Year by CLO Magazine and has served as Chair of the Board for ATD, the Premier Professional Association for Learning and Talent Professionals. Rob serves as a board member and strategic advisor for over a dozen innovative learning companies and is currently the founder of XLO Global, a consultancy designed to drive strategic value for business and workforce development efforts. We're thrilled to have Rob join us on the Learning Works podcast. Rob, welcome.

Rob Lauber
Tom, thanks for having me. Really glad to be here and looking forward to our conversation.

Tom Griffiths
Absolutely, likewise. That is quite the resume in L&D. I would love to wind back right to the start and just understand how did you get your start in L&D? What drew you to the space?

Rob Lauber
Um, I was really, you know, I got out of college. I had no idea what I wanted to do. And I, I was doing a job at a company called Dun & Brad Street. And I was pretty good at it. Uh, and they asked me to go and, uh, move to, from where I was in New York City, down to Atlanta to help train people and how to do what I do. So I said, sure, I'll do that. And, uh, I did about three years of standup sales training, basically is what it was. And, um, That was okay. I don't know that it was super passionate for me. I was kind of burned out, honestly. One day our president of our organization came down and said, I'm going to close down this center because we're sending new hires down here. They're treating it like 60%. Um, but they get a nice trip out of us and we need to find a better way to do this. So instead of just laying you off all right now, we're going to give you. I think we had about 120 days to come up with an alternative, an alternative way of the way we should do it, assuming that wasn't, you know, without that constraint. And so myself and two others came up with a completely new design. And that was my sort of experience or intro to instructional design and the whole world of sort of thinking about how people learn and trying to map that to. you know, how people need to perform tasks and get jobs done and those kind of things. And so that unleashed me basically into my career.

Tom Griffiths
That's great. So you'd been doing the job in the sales world and then we're teaching people to do that as well and then develop that into an instructional design mindset because oftentimes when someone can do the job it doesn't necessarily mean they can teach it. You kind of gain that extra appreciation for instructional design when you actually have to kind of go and get other people to do it. So that sounds great.

Rob Lauber
And it wasn't a, you know, a spray and pray model where I'd stand up and basically spew everything I knew. So it was, you know, we had to think more deeply about what it is we were trying to get from an outcome perspective. And that really helped set the premise for my thinking going forward for most of my career.

Tom Griffiths
If we fast forward then to the present, I would love to know what you're working on right now and what is most exciting to you.

Rob Lauber
Yeah, I'm working on a home renovation. No, as a side, no, right now the—

Tom Griffiths
It's a full-time job sometimes.

Rob Lauber
Some days, you know, picking tile is not the most exciting thing.

Tom Griffiths
Hahaha

Rob Lauber
I've, you know, it's way overrated. But, um, no, on the work side, I'm, you know, I'm still fairly actively engaged in the community. So I'm on the Chief Learning Officer Magazine editorial advisory board. I do some workforce advisory. work for a variety of different sort of venture capital firms and some other places as well. And then I do some consulting directly to enterprises around learning strategies, how they're thinking about their business model, their infrastructure, their content, those kind of things. And then I work fairly deeply with, I think you mentioned about a dozen different companies in the startup world on sort of the front edge of technology or the four. I would say lately more companies try to make a pivot into from B2C models to B2B models and how they go to business, how they go to market with enterprises and how they have the conversation about their learning offering with people like me.

Tom Griffiths
It's awesome that you've had the opportunity to have such a long career in the L&D space in-house and now be in a position where you can share that experience and knowledge and wisdom so widely with startups of all shapes and sizes. I'd be curious over those 30 years, how have you seen the operating model of L&D shift over time? Where do you think that's headed?

Rob Lauber
Yeah, I've seen it pivot from, you know, sort of low tech to high tech, I think is the direction, I would say the gradient of when I started doing the work, it was before the internet. So, you know, so we were still pushing paper and early days of things like Word and Excel and PowerPoint. So to now, I think we're on the cusp of, you know, generative AI really being a super strong engine for how learning content gets developed. I know we're gonna talk a little bit about that in a bit, but you've seen a progression on multiple fronts with sort of technology enablement, I guess I'll call it. And that seems to be driving shifts, I would say, and continuous disruption in the learning space.

Tom Griffiths
Yeah, absolutely. I've been dying to ask you about the time at McDonald's because of course everyone knows it as the global brand that is today. And when I was thinking about the training or learning and development strategy needed for McDonald's, of course there's the head office piece to that may be more common with other companies, but just the scale of the frontline operations in the restaurants, I was curious is that. Was that part of your remit as well to think through training for them?

Rob Lauber
It was actually that was the biggest part of my remit was thinking through sort of how and or modernizing how we help people learn in the restaurants and how we help them learn their jobs. And I use those words very sort of deliberately because it would be naive to think at a company the size of McDonald's that you can, you know, sort of forcibly train a population of over a million and a half people, a million of which are new every year coming into the job. So it's more. Yeah, I would say it was pretty, you know, it was a daunting effort up front, but you really had to think about themes that were common across geographies and across franchises and across restaurants when you were doing work. Yeah, awesome. Thank you.

Tom Griffiths
That's massive. I come from a small country called Wales and our population is three million. So you're teaching the equivalent of half our country's population of McDonald's, that's amazing. I mentioned that in just in relation to the tech question because I'd be curious, were there technologies that allowed you to do that restaurant training more effectively, as well as all of the technology that you can imagine has helped with head office and in other places.

Rob Lauber
Yeah, I think two things. I think technology overall helped drive consistency. So how do we make sure that the training in the UK is similar to, or in Wales, is similar to the training in Nashville, Tennessee, where I am today, right? Because essentially, as a customer, you walk into a McDonald's in either place and it's pretty much the same. Some slight variation, maybe a product, but largely looks the same, operates the same. does many of the same things. So thinking about how technology can help you drive consistency was sort of job number one, I think in terms of the way we thought about technology. The second way we thought about technology was then really around minimizing the interruption with actually doing the job, right? Because restaurants in general are like manufacturing environments, basically raw goods come in the back door get made to a spec, serve to a customer at the counter. So it's a production-driven, time-driven environment. So pulling people off to sit in a webinar for an hour and a half or to go somewhere for a class just isn't practical. And so you really have to think about environmental constraints and how technology can help you overcome some of those pieces. So concepts like microlearning and concepts sort of self-paced bits and bytes that people can pull, or people's ability to learn one aspect of the job as opposed to the entirety of being a crew person. So if I just wanna be a cashier, how can I just learn how to do that? To being able to retrieve knowledge at the moment I needed for things that I probably won't remember in some e-learning course that I took six months ago.
So technology really becomes an underpinning enabler to thinking about overall design strategies we can take that help it fit closer into the flow of the way people work.
And those restaurants actually operate.

Tom Griffiths
There are so many pieces to that and it obviously works so successfully. I imagine there's kind of the onboarding piece where we're just getting people up to speed so that they can start doing a job. Then there's the ongoing learning piece where they're developing themselves, like you said with e-learning, micro-learning webinars. And then there's the just in time, oh, I've forgotten how to process checks instead of credit cards. And so I need to figure that out. What were some of the kind of thorniest examples or hardest things that you found to train people on across those different life cycle stages?

Rob Lauber
Yeah, I think, you know, in McDonald's, I think it's a super task driven organization. So it's very procedural. You know, if you ever seen the movie, the founder or any of those kinds of things, you know, part of the great part about McDonald's is that they drive consistency through consistent procedure. So, you know, very super operational excellence focused, I guess, is sort of the big business term for it. But on the other side of it, then. getting people to think beyond that and use their brain to sit there and say like, in this situation, I should deviate a little bit from the procedure to deliver a better experience for the customer. That's actually the hardest part of, I think, the job, overall from a learning and development perspective. So one of the brand tenants at McDonald's was around creating feel-good moments. Right. Um, and that's sort of the brand purpose. Why people go to McDonald's is to feel good either through the food or through the experience or, uh, because they can sit in a corner and nobody will bother them, whatever it might be, you know, it's sort of, you know, to get the break. And so, um, so getting it, getting that into the mind of a crew person around, that's sort of the essence of why you're there is to create that feel good moment can be challenging when there's not really a procedure for it. Because every customer has a different need state and every customer is an individual and you know has Needs to be treated differently as individuals. So those things were very challenging the softer side I would say is the challenging part of it also super difficult to measure right? Are you doing it? Right, you know, could you have done it better, right those kind of sort of evaluation measures and that whole can of worms becomes also difficult piece as well because it's very hard to tell like is that what success looks like or not.

Tom Griffiths
So taking the process oriented parts of the learning almost with a manufacturing mindset to make that excellent and perfecting that for consistency. And then above and beyond that, trying to instill values and giving people a bit of space or leeway to implement or get creative about how they deliver those moments to customers. And that, like you say, is harder to deliver, harder to measure. I wonder, were there differences between restaurants or regions where you could see the impact of leaders or managers who were more pro-learning or better at instilling learning and development than others and so a measurable difference at all?

Rob Lauber
Yeah, I think you could, the easier way to sort of think about it in the McDonald's context would be like across franchisees because the franchisees really own sort of those sets of businesses and you know, they set kind of the culture for the estate that they own. And so I'd say it, you'd see it more across that line. And then, and then what would show up in measures and metrics would be, um, some of the softer things around the business, which would be around turnover, right? So employee retention. You'd also see it probably in a customer satisfaction metric, right? Which is a natural outcome of the turnover because the more novices you have in the restaurant, the more likely you are to deliver a subpar experience, either through the product or, you know, just your engagement overall. So those things tended to show up where there were patterns of, you know, leadership, I would say, acceptance and buy-in and belief that... you know, their business is driven by people more than it is driven by process.

Tom Griffiths
I mean, we see a similar effect when we look at our learners and ask to what degree you felt supported by your manager or supervisor in implementing the learning that you just received. And there's a clear correlation between the level of support from the manager and then the degree to which people are implementing and being seen to implement the learning. So it's great to see it show up in that context as well.

Rob Lauber
Yeah, for sure. I mean, yeah, that's an age old, right? Age old, obvious measure there.

Tom Griffiths
For sure. So I'd be curious, what do you think are the hardest things about being a CLO or a learning leader and what lessons have you taken from facing those challenges for yourself?

Rob Lauber
The hardest things, you know, it's a really good question because there are a lot of hard things, I think and I talked to peers of mine who have different sets of hard things than I do too. But I think that there's a few sort of common themes that emerge that are like, require constant attention as a CLO, I'd say. One is keeping your finger on the pulse of the business. So... really thinking about what's happening in the business and sort of trend spotting. Like, you know, where's our business headed? Is it growing? Is it shrinking? What are the implications for that for the business? What kind of requests can I anticipate as a result of that? And requests might be, we need more because we're growing really fast, or we need less, so give me a million dollars out of your budget, right? So how do you think about and think ahead about those things? and sort of anticipate. I think that's one. I think the other one is around, there's a sort of the shifting paradigm around training versus learning, I would say. And a lot of learning and development organizations now sometimes called talent development organizations are really heavily focused traditionally on sort of a product. Right. And that's a library of content or experiences that they create, manage, and push out in the organization. And I think organizations are challenging learning and development organizations, especially CLOs today, to think a bit beyond that. And think about culture, for example, as, you know, how are you helping to drive the culture forward in the organization? How are you helping to... you know, enable shifts that we're going to make maybe two or three years from now as an organization, you know, how does your plan map to our strategic plan kind of conversations. So I think there's that side of the coin combined with, you know, learners today have better technology in their pocket than you're probably delivering on their desktop.

So how do you, how do you meet the, uh, you know, the tick tock kind of generation? expectations when you know that may not necessarily be the best pedagogy for what you're trying to accomplish.

I think striking that balance around sort of engaging your consumer and creating demand by your consumer is also a continuous challenge in the organization as well.

Tom Griffiths
And I think a through line there was the trends and at least fitting trends, probably anticipating trends. And I love how you started with thinking through the business insights or tracking the business progress and anticipating what would be needed in future. That's been a bit of a common theme when I talked to the more experienced senior learning leaders, where it really is just like second nature to think business first as opposed to being the order taker or seeking to create too much of a fiefdom in just a learning product. It's being that business partner to the other executives that you work with and helping learning strategy drive a supporting pillar to the business strategy. So that's great to hear.

Rob Lauber
I think it's easy to step out to see yourself as sort of next to the business as opposed to in the business. And I think to be successful as a CLO, you have to be in the business. I think that's sort of the mindset frame I would use.

Tom Griffiths
Yeah, and I think it helps the rest of the C-Suite see the value and support. And then to a previous point, champion the initiatives that are coming from the learning function if they see it as part of their business as well.

Rob Lauber
That's right. Yeah. And I think it opens a whole new can of challenges, right? A whole new set of challenges for you as a CLO when you do step in to, you know, from being aside from the business to being in the business, your, the expectations for you to provide strategic insight beyond sort of the pillar of your responsibility is also there at the same time.

Tom Griffiths
So let's talk training. We chatted in the past and you've described formal training as one of the most expensive, least efficient, hardest to measure disruptive commitments that an organization could make. And as a learning leader, that's, that's a really interesting observation. Uh, when do you think it does make sense to use formal training and when should people kind of check the bias that they might have towards doing something like that? in favor of something else.

Rob Lauber
It's good. I would use some harsh words there. So thanks for repeating,

Tom Griffiths
Hahaha!

Rob Lauber
I do think before, if we're, if we're honest about it, we do, we take people away, you know, formal training takes people away from doing what the business needs done, right? So it's a bit of a disconnect. I do think that there are, there are moments where it drives a lot of value. One is sort of in the, in the context of, and these are themes more than sort of like this type of training versus that type of training, but I think the. the need for people to build relationships with other people in the organization at a networking level, I would say, right? And so, hey, I know Tom, I was in a meeting with Tom, we had a great conversation over lunch, kind of Tom conversation, and now I can call Tom and ask him a question, right? I think there's a huge amount of value there in the relationship piece. I think organizations recognize that, which is why a lot of them are sort of asking people or conscribing people to come back to work. in an office, right? Because there's a huge amount of value around sort of the water cooler conversation, the passing the person, all the standing online in the lunchroom with somebody kind of conversations that can happen that ultimately pay dividends in sort of helping people get their jobs done, you know, overall and seeing the bigger picture. So I think that's one of those sort of value drivers of it. I think the other one is around where you're really trying to drive a consistent mindset in the organization. So thinking about onboarding is sort of the easy example. But in the onboarding process, a lot of what you're trying to do is introduce people to the values and culture of your organization and what it's like to work there and what's expected of you to work there. So I think that sort of stepping away from, let's not get to the job yet. Let's think about what it means to be a citizen of this company and how we want to do it. you know, how we want you to work and how we want you to lead and how we want you to play is important conversations that are best done sort of in a set aside moment as opposed to maybe a 30 second video clip.

So I think the investment in time and that the discussion piece of that is super important where the engagement is needed. So I do think that there's places and times for it. And I think largely organizations have moved away from that, you know, from face-to-face being everything, right? 40 years ago, that was the construct that you had to work within, right? 30 years later, you don't. And so I think that now we can do it this way, even virtually, right? But I do think that there has to be intentional sort of design pieces of training where people actually need to step away from the task at hand and focus on sort of the mindset pieces that we need people to get their heads around. that will help them do their work.

Tom Griffiths
Yeah, agreed. And so times when social connectivity is an important outcome or perhaps where stepping away from the workplace can give you the headspace to really shift your mindset, particularly when you're joining an organization to embrace the principles of the values of that gives a more kind of profound experience that way. And then right at the opposite end of the spectrum, I guess there's micro learning for small key concepts, whether that's about a proprietary product or some kind of framework. I think in between there's this relatively recent modality of live online where you get the advantage of the scalability and the access and to some degree the bite size nature, but you also get. the live interaction and a bit of the social piece as well. So I'd be curious what you've seen as a good fit for that modality where interaction is still important. Perhaps it doesn't need to be fully immersive, but yeah, where does that work in your mind?

Rob Lauber
I think the sort of the live online model can work in durations and interesting piece of conversation on that. But I think if you're building a live online experience, having a super clear outcome would be really important. I think one. And then two, that you're thinking about that in the context of how you're going to sort of. create an environment where people want to contribute, it's not just a talking head, right?
And so I think those pieces are super important about it. I can think about like, you know, even like micro learning topics because we kicked around this idea at McDonald's a while back where we measured it from a productivity perspective, people had about 10 minutes a week, you know, for learning. And we were like, well, in a five day work week, that's about two minutes a day. Well, if I built a whole learning construct around two minutes a day, what would it look like? And started playing with that idea and said, well, geez, I could do a whole week on food safety. And I could hit people five times with two minutes of really important ideas that would get the point across. I think live online learning sort of has that same opportunity where it can be like, For 30 minutes, we're going to get on, and we're going to talk about whatever it might be, this new product, and what we've seen consumer reaction to it be.
And I'm going to bring on John from marketing, who helped us. He's the product designer. He's the one who made the product. And you're going to have the opportunity to hear from him and have the opportunity to give him lots of feedback about what you're seeing. I think. Those kind of learning experiences can be super helpful for people in a live environment, particularly where you've got a distributed audience.

Tom Griffiths
Yeah, so way more interactive, conversational based, not a webinar format, but can in some ways mirror the convenience of microlearning, not quite at the two-minute, do it when you want level, but 30 minutes and you can do it from your computer or your phone. So it kind of sits in between those two. Agreed. And so, as you're advising learning leaders or companies about their L&D strategy, For each piece of it, there's this decision to build or buy. And so I'd be curious how you advise people to think about that choice and when to build and when to buy.

Rob Lauber
Yeah, it's an interesting question, right? Because I don't think there's one right answer for
that. One, and then I think two, it depends on the context. So thinking about McDonald's, for example, when I first came there, we had a very large sort of instructional design team, probably three times larger than it was when I left. And we made a conscious decision to keep a core set of people and frame their roles like architects. So your job is to create blueprints, but not build houses. And then we'll go find the general contractors out there of the world that can help us build houses. And so I thought about that as a specific sort of business model, deliberate strategy around sort of by the building I thought we could get more creativity. Um, it, you know, if I hired 15 e-learning designers, I know I'm only ever going to get e-learning from them and, you know, regardless of what the right outcome might be, it's going to be an e-learning course. So I wanted to be able to, to have a mindset where we could operate with a broader view and with, um, sort of an unboundaried view around what the experience might want to look like. And so that was, for example, part of my business model that I said, look, we're going to largely buy what we need in the marketplace from a services company to have it custom built, but we're going to buy those services. I can also think of things like now getting more granular, like compliance content, where sometimes it's a mathematical exercise. Like at McDonald's, where I had you know, 50,000 people that need to go through some form of compliance training. Um, does it make sense for me to license it in the marketplace at $5 a head? Um, you know, every year, or can I build it once for 50, even 90,000, a hundred thousand dollars, um, and do it for pennies instead, right? And so I, there was a filter around that where we always thought about, well, let's just, let's just. build it ourselves then. So we don't have to buy it because the economics of it on a cost-per-learner perspective are a no-brainer and we have to do this anyway.
The exception, and then I'll give you like a complete contradiction of that thinking as an exception, but like on food safety is a good example where we actually said we need to buy it. Every restaurant manager has to be certified, it's legislatively required places around the world, but it varies so much geographically that it's impossible to sort of try and keep up with legislative changes and requirements and science and everything else. So you know what? Let's just leave that to the experts, and we'll buy that.

Tom Griffiths
I really liked the analogy of the blueprint that you build internally, and then the general contractor to build a house that you buy in externally with the advantage, as you said, of creativity, breadth, keeping up with regional variations, I'd be curious what kinds of things would be in the blueprint where you felt we're not compromising this. This has to be the part of what we create. and then what pieces were more externalized and comfortable to contract out.

Rob Lauber
Yeah, if I think about like in the blueprint, it would be if I think about like crew training, it would typically be around sort of philosophical attitude towards how we want it to be experienced. So we need it to be modular.
We need it so that franchisees have flexibility. So if they want to start me on the grill and you on the fryer, and we're starting on the same day, we can do that and neither of us have to go through cashier training to get there. And neither of us have to learn each other's jobs. So flexibility became like a tenant for what we were doing. Um, you know, the, the other pieces would then be around sort of, um, scalability. So, um, how do we make sure we can drive it in almost any language, right. Or in let's say 10, I think was the core we started with, right. Or in the U S English Spanish, you know,

Rob Lauber
But you get over into Europe and the UK and you get all kinds of American English or British English. I need to put some U's in and drop some Z's and put some S's in and that kind of stuff and change the voice. So thinking about those things around audience relevance and sort of cultural, if you will, adoption. were also important components that we had in that mix, I would say. So we'd start literally around those kind of pieces. In a restaurant, there are 12 workstations. So it was like, OK, from the flexibility perspective, we want somebody to be able to start on any of these 12. And then there's some upfront pieces about what's the job all about, and hospitality, and Here's what McDonald's is a little bit.

So a blueprint typically looked something like that in terms of what we wanted. And then it was here we'd provide the constraints of the environment that we had to work within. Here's the learning management system we work on, or here's we don't think e-learning content's necessarily the best way because we know people don't learn that way.
So these architects would go out and actually look in the restaurants at how people are really learning how to do the job so that we were more modeled about helping that become more effective than about learning out of context. So

Yeah, so those kinds of things, sort of constraints and requirements, I think were sort of the best way to think about what might be in a blueprint.

Tom Griffiths
Makes sense. And would those engagements then typically be the vendor is building largely bespoke one-off content for McDonald's or would it be an off the shelf or an off the shelf plus a little bit of tweaking and customization? What was typical there?

Rob Lauber
For a restaurant audience, it was typically bespoke. So customized, contextual, highly McDonald's language driven. Concepts might be, I'll give you a simple example, unconscious bias.
So rather than teaching unconscious bias training in the restaurants, which you can readily get off the shelf, we chose to. introduce it to crew in the context of the creating feel good moments idea and thinking about how they form an opinion of a customer every time they walk in the door, every time a customer walks in the door. And how do you put that opinion aside of what the experience might be like, oh gosh, this is not going to be very fun to let me figure out how I can turn this into a great experience for this customer.
Right? Oh, they look angry when they really might not be, you know, they're totally unrelatable to me because they don't look like me. They don't sound like me. They don't whatever like me. Those kind of things. You know, how do you set all those biases sort of that naturally pop up as human nature aside and still focus on creating a field of moment? So rather than taking off the shelf unconscious bias program, right. And tweaking it a little. We actually said, no, actually we should reframe it in the context that people can relate to, which is, you know, that customer walking in the door.

Tom Griffiths
Yeah, that's a great example. And I love how it isn't just isolated as a kind of one-off unconscious bias training, but it's tied back to that core principle of creating those enjoyable moments. I was going to ask you, how do you infuse or ensure that the vendor offerings are tailored to an organization's culture? And it sounds like that was a combination of things that they were in the blueprint and then bringing forth some of these pillars or principles or values. and giving that to the partner so that they can brainstorm with you and create something that is in line or reinforcing of that internal culture.

Rob Lauber
Yeah, and we use sort of an agile, I would say, process, an iterative process, where we would test and learn, right? So, you know, your typical, let's create an alpha prototype, let's get people's reaction to it. Might be a new way of learning something, it might be a completely different design, let's understand the reaction so we know the change management as we try to scale. And then, you know, some of it, I would say to the earlier question too, about off the shelf with tweaks, I think when you got into the management population, you started to see more of that as a target opportunity where you got into coaching and giving feedback and handling conflict and, you know, those sort of bigger picture leadership issues that people deal with on a day-to-day basis, we could be much more off the shelf on that and less original content, I would say.

Tom Griffiths
Yeah, yeah, a lot of universal principles there.

Rob Lauber
Exactly.

Tom Griffiths

So I've got a few rapid-fire questions for you, just to wrap this first part of our conversation. We've had a few folks on and they've brought up quirky cultural references that inspire them to do the L&D work that they do from outside the world of L&D. So I'd just be curious, is there one lesson or inspiration that you've taken from an unexpected source outside of the field that's helped you through your career?

Rob Lauber
That's a really good question. Outside of the field. Yeah, no, I can't say like outside of the field. There's been a lot of sources of inspiration for me kind of inside the field that are, that are fairly abstract, like not in the common genre of things that people talk about,
like there's, there's a guy named Thomas Gilbert. He wrote a book called engineering worthy performance in the 1970s. Um, he had this, you know, three by two grid basically on how to engineer performance and, um, I used it. throughout almost my entire career as a mental model for talking people through how to solve performance issues in an organization and helping them a lot of times realize that it wasn't just training or actually training was probably the least important thing they should focus on, right? And so I'd say, I don't know, I guess that's an engineering construct in terms of thinking about it that way.
And then I think some of the selling, the selling pieces and weirdly enough, my experience at Donner Bradstreet where I was calling on small medium sized businesses, you know, for five years as a 20 year old and going through the balance sheets and understanding their cashflow and everything else that I really knew nothing about because I didn't take much of that in college, still paying off for me today. Because when I'm engaging in a conversation with a startup and they're talking about raising and we're talking about cashflow and we're talking about run burn rates and those kinds of things, it's like, I understand those pieces, right? From things I learned 35 years ago. So it's kind of interesting when I was in McDonald's and I was working with franchisees or Yum Brands and I was working with franchisees, it was the same thing. They, those were the people I was calling on when I was younger. And so the... the mindset of those people was very much the same. And I think that I tried to put that in the front of my mind when trying to make decisions about L&D, about, to your comment earlier, thinking about the business first kind of piece.
We could have some brilliant ideas about using VR, for example, but. Right. Is a, is a franchisee really willing to spend a thousand dollars on a headset in every restaurant that they own for one training program? And the answer is probably no. Right.
And, you know, and so, um, so I'd have to get myself past that question first, uh, before I would ever put it in front of them. So I think maybe that's sort of outside in to answer your question, but I think that that's where it comes from for me.

Tom Griffiths
Those are two great examples. Yeah. I mean, as a small business, everyone has to have a DMV number. So I can see how having those conversations really gave you a ton of pattern recognition for SMB and applying that to the franchisees is really thoughtful. Thanks for sharing that.Uh, next segment is start, stop, continue. So if we think about the current world we live in and the trends in the industry, what do you recommend that the average learning leader stop doing at this moment?

Rob Lauber
Hmm. Stop doing, well, this is my favorite thing. But this will probably get a few people talking. I think stop focusing on ROI. So and start focusing on value. And focus on defining what success looks like up front. ROI tends to be a backwards. looking exercise,
like, Hey, we just spent $2 million. We trained all these people. We took them off. We, you know, we were least efficient, hardest to measure, most expensive thing. We just did. Now let's see, did we get an ROI from that? Right. Um, I, uh, so for me, it would be like, stop talking about ROI, start talking more about how we define success upfront with anything that we do. So, so front end load your success that way. and move off of the ROI kind of conversation.

Tom Griffiths
That is a great one. And I know I said this was the quick fire portion of the conversation, but I'm not sure I can let that one go by.

I'm sure the folks listening will as well. So, you know, yes, there's often a thread about ROI and training programs and every learning conference you go to, it's probably three workshops on how to measure ROI and it's notoriously difficult. That's why there's always three workshops every year on it. And I agree with you, I think is more intangible value delivered than can possibly be measured. At the same time as a business, you want to get some sense that big ticket items, big money being spent is worthwhile. And so could you say a little more about your framework for thinking about that and how the value piece is framed in how you approach that?

Rob Lauber
Yeah, well, I think that if you sit down with a stakeholder at the beginning of the sort of the cycle of a project and say, this is what we're agreeing we want done. Now, how are we going to talk about it being successful? What does it look like when successful? And it's interesting because a lot of times in my experience, people had to pause and really think about that. Right. And it's like, well, I just want them to do it. And it's like, okay, great. So how are we going to like, know that that's actually happening? Because what do you, what do you use to measure that today? Right. And you know, how, you know, what's our pre post look like kind of thing. Um, to other conversations that would be like, you know, I just want to know that everybody went through it. That's my success measure.
So let's just make sure everyone went through it. And I'm expecting that you're going to deliver a quality program. But really, I'm not going to waste my time trying to say, you move sales up by $2 a transaction or something. And so some will be like, no, it needs to move sales by $2 a transaction.

But I think that knowing that up front saves you a lot of angst on the back end and guides the way you actually execute through. the program that you design and then deliver ultimately.
The order, because if your intended outcome is to drive sales by $2 per transaction, right? And he wants, you know, your leader wants people upselling, right? Then you're probably gonna be super focused on making sure you know whether or not that's happening or not in the context of your program and that your program is only focused on making sure that's happening, right? not a lot of extraneous things that might otherwise get incorporated into that.
So I just think it helps drive focus, it helps drive clarity, it helps drive alignment, because if somebody comes back to me afterwards and says, what's the ROI on this? Generally, I perceive that as a question of like, I don't see the value in what you just did. Like that's telling me. And then two, when I get that question, I come back and say, well, here's what we agreed upon upfront as success measures.And so here's how I'm measuring against our agreed upon success measures. That's different than an ROI conversation.
So that's my sort of my soapbox thing. I think people should start doing. And I agree with you, you can go to any conference and there's three people that are running workshops and I'm probably good friends with all three of them because they've been doing it for 20 or 30 years. And, you know, God love them. There is an industry on it, but I do think that it starts with people not framing expectations upfront.

Tom Griffiths
It really varies by situation and context. Let's agree with the key stakeholders what the measures of success are gonna be. And that might not always be dollars and cents. In fact, often it doesn't need to be. So if you've got clear success criteria, then you can have a conversation about the value that was delivered at the end, avoiding the need for the kind of drive-by ROI question.

Rob Lauber
Because sometimes the cost of doing an ROI study actually exceeds the ROI.
I've seen that one before.

Tom Griffiths

So back to my quick fire. Given trends in the industry where L&D is today, what do you recommend the average learning leader start doing that they're not doing right now?

Rob Lauber
I think start thinking about your role and your team's role in the organization as enablers. So if you spend your time thinking about how do I enable more people to learn more often in the organization, it will reframe your life basically, I think in terms of the way you think about the product portfolio that you manage, which you'll still manage, but it takes you to places like how are we leveraging collaboration systems and how effective is Teams really at helping us build a learning organization and, you know, sort of side questions to the, maybe to the traditional L&D conversation that you're having today, it can put you in a lot more conversations about how we're enabling people to learn. I also think it's, I feel like it's the right thing because it's naive for us as learning leaders to think that we actually control people's learning in the organization.
Like most people learn from other people, not from you. And so... Let's acknowledge that and let's talk about how we make more of that possible as opposed to sitting there saying, well, gosh, I need to, you know, I need to measure my social learning strategy.
It's like, you know, how do we unleash it?

Tom Griffiths
Yeah, that's a really powerful reframe. And it really enlarges the surface area that you're thinking about as a learning leader, like you said, to collaboration tools or interactions at off-sites. And can elevate the impact, which is often the reason that people go into learning and development is want to have impact on people. There's just more ways to have more impact on people, more impact on the organization, and as you said, as a result, be in more conversations. So I think that's really powerful. Thank you. Last one, give a little credit where credit is due. What are you seeing people doing these days that you think is a really good idea and they should keep doing or continue doing?

Rob Lauber
What do we keep doing? It's a good question. I think that there's a lot of great things that people are doing right now. I mean, I just saw all the Brandon Hall awards that came out and some fantastic things that different organizations are doing and getting recognition for it. I think they should keep doing the things that help drive their business forward first, and maybe their team glory second, which is sometimes hard to do.

But I do think that examining the things that are really helping propel the business forward are probably the things you should stay super focused on and look for more of how you can do that in an organization.

Tom Griffiths
I love it. Right on. Some great pearls of wisdom there in our first part of our conversation. Let's wrap this episode here for now and then continue our conversation in part two where we're going to do a deep dive into AI and its impact on L&D. Looking forward to it. Thanks for watching.

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