Learning and Development
4 min read

What does a Learning & Development professional do?

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Alexis Croswell

Senior Content Marketing Manager, Culture Amp

Gregory Sammis has a passion for learning and development and is often creative in his approach. For example, his favourite  goal setting activity involves each participant being given a piece of wood that they learn to physically break through. Sammis says, “When you first talk about it with people, they think, ‘Oh, it's just breaking through a piece of wood. It's not that hard.’ Then we take them through a visualization where they think about why what’s on the board is preventing them from becoming the person that they visualize. It ends up being this dramatic, emotional, almost cathartic process where people are breaking through boards and cheering.”

From 2010 to 2016 Sammis worked as a facilitator at interactive entertainment software company Electronic Arts (EA), managing and facilitating programs around development, management and new hire orientation. To better serve the thousands of EA employees, Sammis’ department moved towards online development opportunities. “There was progressively less in-person facilitation needed. That's really my passion, so I decided to make a transition to become an independent contractor, focusing primarily on facilitation,” explains Sammis. He works with VitalSmarts, as a certified facilitator on one of their products, Crucial Conversations as well as with his previous employer EA.

We spoke with Sammis about his work as a facilitator and the importance of learning and development.

What does a good facilitator do?

“A facilitator is someone who is able to work with a group of people and create an experience that allows the group to achieve the goals of that session, without an answer being spoon-fed to them by a presenter or teacher,” says Sammis. When people think of classroom facilitation, they might think of a teacher, or on a larger scale, a TED Talk. Sammis says, “I differentiate between facilitators and teachers in that a facilitator is specialized at bringing content and making it very relevant for the group they’re working with.”

Over the years Sammis has had the opportunity to facilitate in many different environments. “When I think about the best facilitation experiences that I've had, it's the ones where a problem is put into the middle of the room,” says Sammis. There's a big question that needs to be answered and his job is to create the right environment for people to reach a discovery. “By the end of it, not only do they come to consensus, but they've been able to solve the problem in a way that everybody feels really positive about,” he says.

How learning and development affects business performance

Learning and development can still be seen as a nice-to-have but not a need-to-have. When a company is struggling, learning and development programs may not seem like a worthwhile investment. However, it’s during these times that employees need to be performing at their best. Learning and development professionals can act as advocates for employee needs and ensure employees are equipped to contribute to business success.

Sammis says, “When I’ve seen people successfully make this measurement, they have found that, unequivocally, learning and development will benefit business performance.” The Kirkpatrick Evaluation Model is one method to use when evaluating the effectiveness of a learning and development experience.

The Kirkpatrick Evaluation Model

Level 1 - Reaction: evaluates how participants respond to the training.

Level 2 - Learning: measures if they actually learned the material.

Level 3 - Behavior: considers if they are using what they learned on the job

Level 4 - Results: evaluates if the training positively impacted the organization.  

From performance reviews to a culture of feedback

When looking at trends in performance reviews over time, many companies are shifting towards a more development focused process. As Sammis points out, this is a positive trend, but one that companies may encounter some bumps in the road when implementing. He says, “I think the challenge is that idea of the culture of feedback. It really only exists when you have a significant level of trust amongst your employees.” Employees need to be able to receive feedback from managers and feel safe and encouraged when seeking out such feedback.  

One book that Sammis finds helpful for exploring a culture of feedback is Carol Dweck’s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. It explores the idea of a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset within groups. Sammis says, “The idea is that in a culture of feedback looking to help improve performance, it's important to recognize and applaud when someone takes a risk, and, for lack of a better term, actually fails in that attempt. The culture needs to be set up in such a way where people are applauded for making that effort, as long as they learn from that experience and give themselves that feedback.”

Looking towards the future

For this year, Sammis plans on developing his facilitation business. This includes expanding his certifications, in turn expanding the offerings he can provide to clients. But Sammis says the biggest change is expanding the practice to incorporate his wife, Marie Bjornson. "She is a certified executive and life coach currently working for Prologis in their Learning and Development department," he says. She will be transitioning to an independent contractor role, and her and Sammis will grow the facilitation business together. 

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