Learning from the changing landscape: Learning conversation with Martine Barclay

Martine Barclay Learning Cafe Conversation with Jeevan Joshi

We talk to Martine Barclay, Talent & Capability Manager at King & Wood Mallesons, a prominent law firm in Australia. Martine has held senior learning leadership positions in KPMG, Optus and Goldman Sachs. The conversation is rich in insights drawn from Marline’s experience.

Jeevan: Martine, welcome to Learning Conversations.

Martine: Thank you.

Jeevan: Tell us how you got into learning?

Martine: I got into learning because I wanted to be in a profession which helped people help themselves and not necessarily change who they were as part of that process. For me, it has been a bit of an evolutionary process, more because, I wasn’t in learning and it didn’t exist  as a function in the companies I worked in. It was more of a line manger’s role. I got into training for a retailer who was rolling  out a new system. So early in my career I was involved in system implementations, where training and change management were a part of the project.  Over the years, learning has become more of a specialty and so through my IT background, I’ve moved into training delivery, then  strategy and then  professional development, the soft skills side of things. More recently I have run the L&OD function a couple of times and  now I am  currently looking after talent and high performance. So, broad background, I think.

Jeevan: You mentioned “talent”. How do you define talent? Because there are some people who say, “Everybody is talented”.

Martine: Well, it is interesting, isn’t it? Because when you start talking about talent, people are concerned that you’re creating an elite within an elite and that is a valid concern.  I also think that talent is different in every organization because what makes somebody successful in organization A doesn’t necessarily translate well into organization B. So, I think the secret of identifying talent is working at what actually works well in the organization and recognizing how you leverage that using more of a strengths-based model to help people move to the next level. So, it’s a journey. It’s not something that I can say, “Here’s a nine box and we’ll use this model”. In my experience, most of it is defined by  working with people who are performing really well in their current roles and assisting them to develop those key capabilities that deliver success in the next role and I think, it’s different for every organization.

Jeevan:  Martine you mentioned that you have done a lot of work around the  learning and change management for IT system implementations. I’m being quite impressed with the progression of  how IT has matured as a function. Are there any lessons that the learning profession can take from the IT function?

Martine: I think so. I think that when I started out, it was all about the technology. We’re going to do something really good with the technology, forgetting about the client. Whereas, I think now, IT has become more of the business partner and said, “What is your problem? How can I help you solve it with what I have in the tool box in the IT world”? And said, you know what, this is a good solution for these reasons and this is how it will solve your particular need. I think, there is a lot that L&D can learn from that in terms of not getting swept into the hype of what’s happening at the moment to figuring out what is the need of the business. What are we trying to solve for and then, building ‘fit for purpose’. eLearning is a great example of this, there are some organizations that in the past built  lots of e-learning and e-learning is a really good medium for learning but sometimes you could spend a hundred thousand on something, when twenty thousand would have been just as good. So, I think that you need to be able to apply that across the broader development spectrum in terms of the solution you’re bringing to the table.

Jeevan: Martine, in terms of not getting caught in the hype. I guess, one of the ways you don’t get caught in the hype is when you actually know enough about what the hype is about?

Martine: Exactly.

Jeevan: How do learning professionals cut through that hype of the shiny new solutions and chose to design  a more robust and a practical solution  ?

Martine: Well, I actually think that it goes back to understanding your business. It goes back to looking at what the business strategy is, what are you trying to achieve and what are you trying to change and why. There’s the learning component and there’s also the processes within the organization that you’ve got to look at and all the other things that fit around it. I think that if you can look at it more holistically, in terms of the whole system, then you have a better chance of finding the right solution. A number of times, I’ve heard of situations where there’s been a need for a change and that it actually wasn’t that massive training roll-out. It was a couple of changes that were needed; to a technology screen where a process was not robust enough; or the follow up on a process that needed to be more consistent rather than the training itself. So, I think you do need to take a broader view, in terms of what you are looking to do.

Jeevan: Which are the three top capabilities that learning professionals need to develop?

Martine: Well, I’ll say business acumen is one. You really got to understand your business and understand your organisations numbers and levers so that you understand where the return on investment is going to come from. Another is, I think, the ability to influence. That’s been really key to me certainly in my career and the other one is, being flexible. We always have a preference for the kind of learning that we like or the topics that we enjoy but I think, you have to take a broad view and say, “I really enjoy leadership but the reality is that, I’ve also got to know about selling.”

Jeevan:  Moving on to the partnership between learning and HR and HR operations, which model do you favour?

Martine: I favour a partnership between the two. Together we need to be successful as a function. We need to be able to harness the networks that the Ops people have because they are  with the business day to day. It’s key to have their trust so that you can go with them to talk to people in the business or on your own and share your knowledge rather than them feeling like they need be seen as the expert. Also, you may need to help them understand what it is that you are trying to achieve as they can be a useful ally and, you can’t be everywhere at once. At the end of the day, you don’t always have to be the one who has the conversation and so you’ve got to recognize that as well.

 Jeevan: Last question on the shortening longevity of a careers and jobs and organizations. Any views on how learning professional should prepare for this changed landscape ?

Martine: Someone I was talking to the other day observed that to be successful in the role of L&D, you actually do need to move around because once you become part of the system, you lose your objectivity in terms of how things can be done and you also lose the sharpness of your eye, in terms of what’s actually happening.

The  observation was that people are good at what they do because of their different experiences and the different perspectives that they can actually bring to the table. So, in terms of L&D, probably, unless you’re moving through different roles within an organization with very different responsibilities, you probably do need to move around to sharpen your skill set, including your thinking and your perspectives around what could work and what might not work.  I know that some solutions I was talking about five years ago in an entrepreneurial organization certainly wouldn’t be relevant for some of the solutions I am suggesting today.

It’s key  to define your value proposition to the organization in terms of keeping your skill set current and your relevance to what you’re actually bringing to the table. I’ve been in L&D now for about 15 years  and  I think that I’ve had a great career but I’ve also had to be very conscious about what it is that I’ve wanted to do next and how would it be different and how it will build on my current skill set. And also how it will be interesting enough for me to want to do the best that I can and I think that’s everybody’s challenge, learning and development or not.

Jeevan – Thanks Martine

 Learning from the changing landscape: Learning conversation with Martine Barclay