L&D professionals as travel guides? Creating learning journeys

Scott Blanchard

Principal and Executive Vice President

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At The Ken Blanchard Companies, we began experimenting with learning journey design in the mid-90s when e-learning first came on the market. Originally, we explored the idea of employing e-learning to teach content and then using the classroom to help people practice what they learned so that they could apply new learnings to their job. We worked with clients to create cohort-based experiences for high potential individuals, budding executives, and companies that needed to get managers in sync after a series of acquisitions. Many of these approaches were what you might call learning journeys.

Today, we define a learning journey as “a training and development experience that unfolds over time.” Each journey can have a variety of touch points and mediums and can include three or four learning goals. The first goal is learning new ideas or teaching somebody something new. The second is getting people to adopt new, different, or aligned attitudes and beliefs. The third goal is giving people the capacity to build skills. The fourth is leading people to use the new skill on the job. Along the way, we provide resources and help people get the support they need.


Creating Learning Journeys for Aspiring Leaders

In creating leadership learning journeys for high potential aspiring leaders, we’ve found that four steps, followed in a specific order with one building upon the other, provide a great foundation.


The first step is knowledge of self. It’s very hard for a manager to influence other people if they don't understand themselves. This includes an awareness of how they are perceived by others and how they respond to pressure. It also includes identifying what's important and not important to them. Understanding themselves and their patterns enables managers to see how others are different from them, which creates a natural interest and empathy for people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives. Knowledge of self is a very important first step.



The next step is building relationships. In order to create the right energy to lead people toward the production of business results, a foundation of trust and positive regard must exist between managers and direct reports. This involves interpersonal communication and coaching techniques that result in better conversations.

Direct reports often want to talk about issues that aren’t directly related to their job. Someone may have a loved one with a health concern, they may have financial problems, or they may be worried about a child who is struggling in school. If the direct report sees their manager as trustworthy and compassionate, it creates a safe place for them to honestly address their issues and obstacles. A big part of being a manager is understanding how to build these types of relationships.


The third step is producing results. This is when the manager leverages what they’ve learned about themselves and leading others so that they can identify and set goals for their team, department, or business unit. This is where strategic and operational leadership come together around topics like innovation and leading change. Now is the time to set goals and create processes and strategies for achieving them.



The fourth step we added is charting careers — addressing people’s needs so that they know how to succeed in their present job as well as how to prepare themselves for promotion. In this component, managers learn not only how to have a career conversation with a direct report, but also how to provide that person with tools and resources to use in mapping out their own career. Most managers feel ill equipped to do this. This where we teach the basics of stay interviews and having open-ended conversations about individual strengths and career options.


Learning journeys are a great way for aspiring leaders to learn this kind of content over time. Each step in the learning journey design starts with a learning experience, which is followed by an opportunity for the manager to go back to their workplace, apply the new concepts, and see how they work. Then they come back to this safe community to share their lessons from the road, learn more new concepts, and take their learnings back to their workplace again.

If you haven’t explored a learning journey approach, consider it. It is a great way to go from leading self to leading others and, finally, to leading organisations.

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