Marie Bjornson studied industrial/organizational psychology at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology and it was during her Master’s program that she realized a career in psychological statistics wasn’t going to work for her. “I wanted to see the impact of my work in the faces of people rather than just looking at a data set. I really wanted to do learning and development,” she says.
Now a decade into her learning and development career, she shares with us some of the things she’s learned over the years, including in her current role as Learning and Development Manager at Prologis.
Learning and development as a workplace partner
Bjornson believes that to be effective, learning and development initiatives need to create sustainable change. “The biggest and most important thing is that learning and development is a partner and not just a corporate function,” she says. Teaching a skill without following up on someone’s progress leaves people unsatisfied and unlikely to develop. “You've got to follow up to make sure that change is sustaining and they're sharing what they learned with the rest of their team,” Bjornson says. In this way, learning and development can reach more people.
Bjornson and her team recognize the different skills among groups in their company and are conscious of how they can partner with teams to add value. “For us in HR, it's in our DNA to communicate and pick up on body language. For others, it's not in their DNA to make eye contact, talk with people or give performance reviews. That's where our HR department, led by learning and development, is trying to shift the culture. We want people to feel more comfortable with those types of behaviors.”
Initially, employees at Prologis would have a mid year review, followed by a salary review, and finish off with a performance review. Bjornson believes that, “Performance feedback should be happening regularly so end-of-year feedback is never a surprise.” This thinking is in line with how Prologis is restructuring their performance reviews. They’re ensuring that check-ins and goal setting meetings happen more often. “The traditional annual performance process doesn't work because people wait until the last minute, they scramble, and then have ineffective reviews,” says Bjornson.
When forced to place people on a numerical scale, people rate others differently. You may have one person who believes nobody should get a top score while another believes everyone is trying their hardest, so everyone should get full marks. “Everything gets skewed,” she says. She’s reworking the rating system at Prologis based on the 9-box talent review model, making it categorical but non-rankable. She says, “The box you’re in doesn't necessarily mean that someone in a box above you will get promoted first. Each conversation is going to have different challenges and things that are easy to discuss.” Based on someone’s category within the 9-box model, they’ll be presented with development opportunities and strengths to focus on.
Scaling learning and development
In a smaller company with only one person in charge of learning and development, Bjornson says a learning management system (LMS) with an online component is a great start. Typically an LMS offers a component of self-education, where users can log on and learn a new skill they’re interested in. Bjornson suggests conducting webinars as well, because you can reach more members of your team virtually. Another option is to train members of specific teams to be learning and development facilitators. While it may not be a large part of their role, providing a small group of people with the tools to take on their own learning is a powerful start.
Learning and development might be a new focus for companies, but employers are beginning to see its importance. “If executives are focused on learning, that's what their people are going to focus on,” Bjornson says.