Get Reworked Podcast Episode 19 Guest Brandon Carson

Get Reworked Podcast: Why Your Business Strategy Should Be a Learning Strategy

July 27, 2021 Leadership
Siobhan Fagan
By Siobhan Fagan, Mike Prokopeak

Get Reworked Podcast Episode 19 Guest Brandon Carson
In February 2020, Delta Air Lines was celebrating a record year for travel and looking forward to a 2020 that would potentially surpass even that. Thirty days later, nearly all of that business was gone.

In this episode of Get Reworked, Brandon Carson talks about the experience of living through that moment and how it's opened up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to redefine work. Until recently, Brandon was head of learning at Delta, one of the world's largest airlines, and recently took on a new role as vice president of learning and leadership at Walmart. He's also the author of a new book, "L&D's Playbook in the Digital Age."

It's that learning and development focus that has him feeling more hopeful, not less so, about the future.  

Listen: Get Reworked Podcast Full Episode List

"We've got all these opportunities to connect to each other and learn from each other," Brandon said. "So it's an opportunity that is unlike anything we've had in the past."

Highlights of the conversation include:

  • What he learned about leadership and learning through lockdown.
  • How companies can reset and rebuild their leadership bench for future success.
  • What exactly is different about how companies approach employee development in the digital age.
  • Why a learning strategy needs to be the business strategy.

Plus, co-hosts Siobhan Fagan and Mike Prokopeak talk with Brandon about AI, digital natives, 70-20-10 and the enduring magic of Whitney Houston. Listen in for more.

Have a suggestion, comment or topic for a future episode? Drop us a line at [email protected].

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Show Notes

Episode Transcript

Note: This transcript has been edited for space and clarity.

Brandon Carson: In early 2020, before the pandemic unfolded, Ed, the CEO of Delta, told us all that we need to become a learning business. And I would say every business needs to be that. Your L&D function needs to be a part of your business strategy.

Siobhan Fagan: That quote is from Brandon Carson. He's our guest today. And he learned that lesson the hard way, being the director of learning at Delta, they lost 97% of their business pretty much overnight, and he's got a lot of great stories to share.

Mike Prokopeak: My name is Mike Prokopeak and I'm editor in chief at

Siobhan: And I'm Siobhan Fagan, managing editor for Reworked.

Mike: Brandon Carson has more than 20 years of experience working in a range of learning and development (L&D) roles with some really big name companies. He's actually just taken on a new role as vice president of learning and leadership partner at Walmart. But also, Brandon is the author of two books Learning in the Age of Immediacy, and his latest book, which is just published in July, L&D's Playbook for the Digital Age. He's got a lot to say on the digital transformation at work. So Siobhan, are you ready?

Siobhan: I'm ready, Mike.

Mike: All right, let's Get Reworked.

Welcome to the podcast, Brandon.

Brandon: Thank you. It's really good to be here. I appreciate the invitation.

Mike: Yeah, well, and we appreciate you taking some time to share with us when you're starting up a new gig. So thanks for joining us on Reworked. I want to go back in history a little bit because you've been tracking digital transformation, in particular, learning and development and its role in digital transformation for quite a while. And you know, this last year, we've all had to get up to speed on digital transformation. You've had some experience with it. You've been thinking about it for a while, but did the last year and a half still catch you by surprise?

Brandon: I definitely did not have a playbook for a global pandemic, especially working at an airline. So yeah, a lot of it did, we were forced to leverage technology in a much more condensed manner. I remember June of 2020, I was watching Microsoft's Build conference, which was quickly moved to an all virtual conference and Satya Nadella shared that Microsoft had to undergo two years of digital transformation in two weeks.

And so for us at an airline, there was no room for failure in what we termed business continuity, we were an essential service to the nation, obviously, so we had to immediately find new ways of working. Like I said, we didn't have a playbook for that. But luckily, we were already working on integrating new practices into our operation. But the challenge was we were coming off of 2019 being the busiest travel season in history. There was a 124-hour period in June where we literally moved 705,000 people around the world. And that was our biggest travel day ever. And so as the team responsible for training and certifying that our global airport workforce was actually indeed qualified to work, we and my team had to keep going uninterrupted, but we also had to be flexible and adaptable to what was happening.

As you can imagine, in February of 2020, we were celebrating at Delta, the previous year, like I said, being a record travel year, and we were amping up for another fantastic year in our projections in 2020. And then 30 days later, from that day, when we were all celebrating and recognizing the previous year, within 30 days, 97% of our business was gone.

And so the kind of key words, you know, that came to us were resilience, adaptability, flexibility, all of that. So the evolution of the digital age, however, was moving along quite rapidly before the pandemic and many processes and systems were being put into place. And those were great to have those were a savior in a lot of ways because we were moving very assertively in a digital transformation direction at Delta. But as the pandemic unfolded, we had to adopt whole new ways of working and strategizing about how the work gets done. So it caught us by surprise. But luckily, we had some infrastructure that enabled us to move rapidly to business continuity.

Mike: That moment you realize 97% of the business was gone. I mean, what did you say to your team then? I mean, it's such a staggering thing to know that that's happening and to be able to see it happening and not have any control over it. What did you say to your team at that point?

Brandon: Yeah, no control. And candidly, we had a senior leadership team that immediately was very transparent, and very forthright and forthcoming with information. Ed, our CEO, and his leadership team started holding twice-a-week town hall meetings to keep us all up to date, we responded first. And this was a cascade from senior leaders to first focus on our employees and our customers from a safety perspective. So we immediately recommitted ourselves, although the airline industry is a pretty safe industry overall, in general, lots of systemic infrastructure there that's built around that. But we needed to immediately commit to our employees and our customers that their safety matters first, as we figure this out, right. And as we follow the guidelines that we're just rapidly developing, so my team was responsible for, like I said earlier, helping to ensure that our workforce can operate safely.

So we had to pivot really quickly, to provide different ways of training our folks and not only training them to be able to be qualified and certified to do their job, but also, especially our leaders in the operation, helping to train them on how to constructively have conversations, as we termed it leading through crisis, right. And so a lot of the conversations were really just about, hey, we're taking this day by day, we're formulating our outlook as it unfolds. We obviously, I was scheduled in late February to be traveling over to Asia, and so, you know, obviously that was a, I got the call that no, you're not going to Asia, we're canceling flights and stuff. And so we really just went into react mode for quite some time for the first 30 days through March and into the first of April, and quickly pivoted to figuring out how we could help the nation in the world, right, and look around our communities.

We made our planes available to help ferry Americans who were trapped and locked down in other countries to get them back to America. We leveraged our planes to ferry healthcare workers from hotspot to hotspot as well. So Ed directed us to really go into not only business continuity mode, but community serving mode, right, was sort of the community and figure out what we needed to do. So it was day by day, and it was really just focusing on our employees. Delta is not a culture of work remote or distributed teams, we all worked in the office or we worked in the airports. So having to quickly learn a safe practices, social distancing, you know, masking up working at home, setting up workstations at home was just really kind of overnight, we had to figure all that out.

So reactive, but also just ensuring that our people were taken care of and brought in a chief medical officer who really helped us establish the right safety protocols and guidelines. So I tell you, it's a year unlike any, but candidly looking back at it, it was really a lesson in how to lead through crisis.

Siobhan: Brandon, I'm curious because I think back on this time period that you're describing and how we all collectively as individuals, we're learning day by day, what sort of shaped the pandemic was taking. And I'm wondering, in your specific role as learning and development teacher, how were you teaching others? How are you helping leaders to cope when all of this information was new to you at the same time?

Brandon: Yeah, that's, you know, like I said, it was that how do you lead through crisis? Right. And, you know, the interesting thing is, we had just launched in 2019, our later half of 2019, a new leader development academy, where we were bringing forward for our operational leaders a whole new program to help them develop their capacity, their what we call their vertical development as leaders. And so when I say we were semi-prepared from an infrastructure standpoint, we had already placed our leaders into cohorts and had started taking them through a pretty immersive development or series of development and really focused on operational leadership. So we quickly pivoted that to provide training and development resources around collaboration, communication, employee engagement. So right now, you know, during that period, what was critically important for our leaders was to keep a sharp focus on engaging your employees.

As you can imagine, we were, we supported the airport, the global airport operations. So our frontline folks are, you know, we're right there on the face-to-face ground, if you will, having to deal with all of the confusion and chaos around travel during a global pandemic. And so having our leaders stay connected to their people was critical because day-by-day protocols were changing simple things like insurance, social distancing in the gatehouses. Putting up plastic barriers wearing masks following the ever chaotic governmental and the FAA guidelines and the CDC guidelines and trying to figure out you know, how to navigate all of that, as well as the country lockdowns and you know, the state-by-state lockdowns and rules that were going on, you can imagine what our gate agents and our folks in the airport were going through every day. So really what we were focused on from pivoting to help our leaders understand, like, hey, the stakes and risks are exceptionally large right now, the outcomes of your leadership can potentially have a major impact not only on our employees, but on our customers as well.

And the stress and tension, as you can imagine, was way high. So we really pivoted a lot, we asked our leaders to become more coaches, than just your typical operational leader of managing the work, we really put them through some processes to help them be able to listen more before they offer a solution, listen more than speaking, listen longer. And, you know, focus on health and well-being for employees. Because as you can imagine, the flying public was quite frustrated and confused and worried. And so our folks really needed to be, not only just kind of getting you through your travel journey, but also helping you through that travel journey and ensuring that all the safety protocols that we can imagine have been initiated and engaged.

So it was just a really candidly, day-by-day for us as we went into action to just figure out how can we make this as smooth and safe and clean operation as we can, all the while establishing a whole new division in the company focused on clean, and making sure that, you know, we were electrostatically spraying every flight before we turned into another flight, making sure the plane was as safe as it could be for customers. And his team made the decision to block the middle seat, make sure that we had enough distance between people to make them feel like they were in a more safe environment.

So it was day-by-day, right. And when you think about it, there is no way to have a profitable flight when you're blocking the middle seats on a plane, right. So delta as a business decided to take that hit, if you will, to build more of a, not loyalty, but more of a from our customers perspective, let them know that, hey, we're listening to you, we know that you need to feel like you're safe, it does make it safer. So we're going to do this so that you can still travel to your loved ones get to where you need to go during this period.

And so some of those decisions were really quite the opposite of trying to run a profitable business. But Ed and his team decided that these are the things we need to do to make the public feel safer as they needed to move around. And so then we've just from a training perspective, we just went into support mode to make sure that we were able to be on the ground as much as possible supporting these policies and procedures that literally, we're changing hourly.

Mike: You talked a couple times when you're talking about this last year about how some of the things that how leadership had to change, how do you see leadership skills changing a little bit more? Can you spend a little bit more time on that? And then specifically from there? What methods are you using to develop leaders if we're not able to get together in person and may not want to get together in person as much as we move forward?

Brandon: Yeah, that's a great question. I mean, first of all, it's critically important for leaders to be prepared. And that's the one thing coming out of last year was definitely a much more intentional focus on where is our leadership bench, as it applies to global concerns and things that may be happening in the world. I mean, it wasn't just a pandemic last year, there were all sorts of issues around social justice around communities we serve and how we bring ourselves and how we present ourselves, as individuals and as companies and where our focus areas should be when it comes to safety, you know, diversity and inclusion, and mental health and all of these sorts of things.

So it's really important to have your leaders be prepared. Because if you go into a crisis, the tools you have are just the ones that are already in your toolbox. And so it's important not to fake anything. You have to be humble. And if one thing from last year taught us about anything, it was humility as a leadership behavior, that's critically important. You cannot pretend to be someone you're not or know something you don't when you're leading in the crisis. And so, we were fortunate in some ways, because we had already started the journey to really looking at our leadership behaviors, at Delta we had refined them we had moved from 13 to four. We had coalesced them, we had also integrated them to the corporate values. And so luckily, and fortunately, we were down that path.

But the behaviors that leaders need are critically important. You know, and we've learned the importance of things like health and wellness in the workplace. We've learned about resilience and empathy. And like I said, humility. So you know, leaders now have a responsibility to ensure their teams are engaged and appreciated, recognized, feel like their contribution is valued, and that what they do has a direct correlation to what not only the business needs, but also what the workforce needs. And if one thing came out of last year, it's definitely going down a journey of redefining what work actually is, you know, so there's definitely a need to invest more in developing our leaders to align those expected behaviors to the company culture and values, that's critically important. It's one thing just to come up with a set of competencies or behaviors you need, but how do those really practically apply in the type of business you're in and the culture that exists within the company and having those transparent and authentic discussions, not only at the leadership level, or even at the senior leadership level, but across the whole demographic of the employee base is really important, because as we can see now, as we're trying to open back up business, and we're seeing all of these available jobs, and fewer and fewer available people for them, in all these discussions about coming back to the office, you know, those kinds of things that are going on now, we can see that workers are asking for more.

And so our leaders need to be equipped to work in organizations that are focused on that equitable opportunity that are enriching through diversity and inclusion, and that are focused on how do we make this work meaningful? How do we attach the contribution that each worker brings to realistic evidence that their contribution is having an impact, right, and so the next generation of leaders must be focused on driving a more human workplace. So there's nothing more important for business today, then to level set their leaders on how you can drive that more employee experience, if you will. And that's kind of where we're focused. We were focused, obviously, at Delta, but we're focused that way here at Walmart.

Mike: So how do you develop that, then, because that is really complex, really kind of complicated. It takes a lot of time to develop that within leaders. It's not like you just go through a 20-minute training and you got it. It takes some reflection. It takes some practice. It takes some time to do that. And all of that humaneness needs to happen at a moment when we're perhaps more separated from one another. We're just more distributed from one another, and may continue to be that way for a while, even when we're fully allowed to travel as much as we want. And in many cases, so how do you develop leaders with that humaneness, when we're living in an increasingly digital era?

Brandon: Yeah, I think that that the key question and when you think about it, and this is one of the things that I like to think about when it comes to technology, and the two books I've written, which seems to be technology focused, really are not technology focused because technology is the means to an end. I mean, we've always been technology focused. We moved from the agricultural period to the industrial period, we did that, because we were bringing about better technology, through most of the past work has been pretty brutal. And we've toiled away at the drudgery of work for so many years. And now we're not doing anything different than we did when we moved into the Industrial Revolution. But what we're doing is we're understanding that technology is rapidly evolving, more rapidly than it ever has, and its allowing us a lot more choice and a lot more capability in a quicker amount of time than it did in the past. And so that's why a lot of this is like, Well, what do we do with all of this, this is happening really quickly. And then when you add in the the climate challenge, the social justice challenges, the fact that we went through a pandemic, you add all that in, and you just have that additional complexity.

So technology affords us lots of opportunities to actually do what you said, preserve the humanity in work. We have a once-in-a-100 years time span to redefine the very meaning of work. And like I said, automation is really the key factor in dramatically altering work, and it will remove a lot of the drudgery from it. So that's great stuff, for too many years we suffered through brutal labor models, right. And so we're fortunate to be living in this time, where technology is converging in so many ways to bring about more capability for us to keep that humanity in work because we're going to remove the rote and manual tasks that have been sort of our drudgery through so many years and then we're going to make opportunities for people to do different types of things. So we have to redefine what it means to be a leader in today's world.

You've got to have technology acumen you've got to have business acumen you've got to have a good understanding of how to communicate and collaborate. Those what some people used to call soft skills, but I call more essential skills, you know, how resilient are you? How are you able to sort of strip yourself of an ego right into many perspectives and realize that it's not about you getting the work done with your people, it's more about you helping to lift them up and provide them the support, they need to succeed in their roles. And so it's through the situation at Delta, although you would think, okay, most of the business has gone away, we're in business continuity mode, we're kind of trying to figure out the chaos, we kept our leader development program going. And what we had done was we began, we pivoted, and began offering one on one coaching to the first level leaders, the first level leaders in an organization are usually the most vulnerable, and because they're dealing with the workforce themselves, but they're also kind of in that squeeze, they're trying to please the folks above them, they're trying to please the folks that report to them, and also just get the navigate the customer expectations, all this kind of stuff.

And so we started providing through our platform, one-on-one coaching, and really taking them through a program designed to help them with humility, empathy, conversation, communication, and how to engage their team. Those are the critical aspects that leaders at all levels need through this. And so I think you you've got to really pivot your expectations from leaders, you've got to align that to the values that your company has for how they want the work to get done, and build that engagement at every level. So we were pivoting to coach those leaders, because they were the most vulnerable, doesn't mean we're not coaching leaders at all levels. But those were the ones that needed it the most.

I would think if you're not investing more in leader development right now, and you're not intentional about creating the bench you need, then you're late to the game. And that's where lots and I talked to lots of folks in the industry, and everyone's trying to figure out this sweet spot right now if how do we keep leaders engaged? How do we develop them? How do we give them the tools and resources they need to really function well, in such a uncertain space. And so that's where you've got to figure it out for how your culture works, how your organization works, how best leaders come forward, and can learn from each other and learn from the training organizations.

So we're fortunate that we're living in such a great technology world right now. In less than 50 years, we've connected half the population of the planet to each other, we will be completely connected easily within the next decade or two. So we've got all these opportunities to connect each other to each other and learn from each other. So it's it's an opportunity that is unlike anything we've had in the past. So I see more positive coming out of this, it's just we and L&D and we that are engaging our leaders and developing them just need to be much more creative and think out of the box about how to get these messages out.

Siobhan: So Brandon, I'm so glad that you brought up the sort of common theme of so many L&D people where they feel this gap in leadership, we've been seeing articles coming out about how a lot of organizations weren't as prepared as Delta, they didn't have this infrastructure in place to start training leaders before all of this. And so some companies are now facing a leadership gap. Do you have a recommendation for those companies who don't have that infrastructure in place? How they can catch up? Do you think that those first-level leaders are the key? That's the area to start or where would you recommend they focus?

Brandon: Well, it's a good question. And that's where we're squeezed, you know, as an L&D practice, and kind of what I talk about in the book is, and we see this happening now coming out of the pandemic, I started writing the book before the pandemic hit , so it was interesting kind of evolving it quickly as the pandemic unfolded. And as I was writing, but the key here is to understand the confluence of things that are going on, right, like I've mentioned, climate change, social justice, a new focus on how we can be more equitable and provide more opportunities for the workforce in general, and not even just the workforce for our communities in general, and all of the things around safety that came out of the pandemic.

Now, when you you have all those a confluence of all those kinds of things that are rushing forward at us and bringing us a lot more complexity, we also are simultaneously undergoing the single largest job transformation in human history, right. So we have a massive skills gap that we must deal with, and then you add the other component of we're also undergoing the largest migration in human history as humans are rapidly moving away from non urban settings, and their clustering and massive mega cities, and this is primarily driven by our move from manufacturing in the industrial age to technology and services as the primary forms of employment. This is a rapid shift and it's causing a massive skills polarization. So yes, it's really important for us to be intentionally focused on aligning our leader expectations, to his confluence of things that are happening in our world. And a lot of these things could potentially adversely affect the business going forward, right. And so this means we must take on a more assertive strategy to build capability, not only across our leaders, but across our entire workforce.

And so I've been talking to several companies lately that are undergoing a massive reskiling initiative within their organizations, then you add another element in that in all countries around the world, except the United States, we're starting to live much longer lives. And we're easily going to hit that period of the 100-year life, right, the average of the 100-year life, which means we're going to potentially have six decade careers. And so when you're working 60 years of your 100-year life, you're also needing to rescale yourself quite often, because the shelf life of a skill is you know, only two to three years right now, who knows what it's going to be as we move forward. So you've got all of these things going on. And so we need to figure out how best to position leaders in our organizations to be able to navigate this type of complexity with their people, you know, and still keep that engaged worker, right. So every level of worker from now on will be interacting with technology to get their job done.

So I would say our skills polarization is the most fundamental problem for us to solve right now, business has a need for talent that is simply not available to it on the open market right now. And our educational systems are not bringing us this talent. So we have no choice in business, but to build this capability from within. So I would say the reskilling imperative is the most significant change in the labor model since the introduction of Fordism, like 100 years ago, and what worked in L&D in the 90s won't work anymore in today's world. So we have to lead this effort forward. But first providing solutions that enable capability building and for leaders at capacity building that vertical development. that I would say is the most important thing for businesses to focus on from a leader development perspective is how do you help build leader capacity to navigate this complexity? Because work is going to get much more complex in the next several years.

And so I would say that's our key challenge right now is addressing the skills gap, the skills polarization that we have between workers, and arming our leaders with the capacity to help navigate that.

Mike: Alright, so your book, L&D's Playbook for the Digital Age, offers a number of playbooks around this and you kind of organize it around you know, three R's that learning and development, people need to think about the reset, rethink, and rebuild their approach to L&D. But you've been in the L&D business for a while I've covered it for coming up on two decades now. We've had these moments before, or at least we've talked about these moments before, where we're at an inflection point, we've got to change, we've got to become more strategic. And these sorts of things kind of come and go. What is so different right now? Have we run out of the runway from an L&D perspective to change? And now it's time to take off? I mean, what do you what do you say to that?

Brandon: I think you're right. I mean, I've been in the business for 25 years, as a learning professional, you know, I've seen the rise of the internet, which I would say you're right, that's been the last big shift, if you will, for the practice of corporate learning, right, was to figure out okay, wait, we've got this whole new delivery mechanism, this new channel, right? How do we take advantage of that, and frankly, it took us quite a while to figure that out. And I don't think we've really figured it out, yet.

And part of the challenge that comes with how corporate learning a lot of times is structured, and where it's positioned, how its invested into, and who leads it. I think that's what I'm saying in the book, fundamentally, we need to look at all of those aspects of what we think and what we need from the corporate learning function. Because like I said previously, because of what's happening in our educational system, you know, it's kind of one of those it is what it is, we have to deal with that on the inside of companies when we're trying to find and recruit talent and meaning dealing with that is we have to skill folks to be able to come in and drive you know, the future of work, if you will.

And so I think this is an inflection point for us. I think we're kind of late when we think about it. Too often we are as an L&D practice, tucked away in a cost center trap, where investment is maybe made on a project level or program level. And we're sometimes too far away from how the work actually gets done. And we kind of become content factories. And we get disassociated, if you will, from what's really going on in the business. And so I think that's the reality that we need to face.

In the next five years 6% of the total workforce will be displaced. One in two workers are going to need to change skills to remain employable. So we desperately need those three R's, right, what we're saying is we need to reset kind of what our whole focus is when it comes to the value we add as a learning organization. Right? So, again, I go back to that whole idea of reset our practice by adopting new rules for almost every aspect of the learning solutions, the learning experiences that we bring for, right, we need to reset that are we doing the right thing? Where is the evidence that we are indeed doing the right thing, for example, in highly compliance driven industries, training during COVID, for example, couldn't stop like the situation I was in, it couldn't stop training had to continue. But then we also had to work around the safety protocols around being in a pandemic, we had to quickly create whole new strategies on training people and validating that they were able to do what they need to do.

So we need to reset our operations, what we think about from these learning experiences and how we show that they're really adding value. And then we need to rethink the roles on our teams and proactively assemble plans for more digital learning every level of L&D, every level, needs to have digital fluency and be digitally literate. We need more virtual facilitation, more coaching and mentoring. So we, we need more data fluency we need to leverage, know how to leverage data, for deeper insight into the workforce and then rebuild, like I said, our mission vision, our operating principles, where do we need to sit within the organization to drive the most impact? Do we have visibility to senior leaders? Are we not, and I'm arguing we don't need to align to the business strategy, we really need to be the business strategy.

In early 2020, before the pandemic unfolded, Ed, the CEO of delta told us all that we need to become a learning business. And I would say every business needs to be that your L&D function needs to be a part of your business strategy. So that's why the three R's are important. Reset, rethink rebuild, because right now we're running activity, we're getting things done. But are we really driving the impact that's going to help this skills polarization, to make our businesses competitive for the future that I would say that's our biggest, and L&D is on center stage with this one, that's our biggest challenge is this massive skills gap that is gnawing away at our productivity and our competitiveness.

Siobhan: So I think right now, the takeaway for people in corporate learning, that's clear, they've got a lot on their plates. But when you're looking at people who are struggling individually with reskilling or with managers who are trying to find time to make new skills, what kind of advice or practices would you recommend they take on?

Brandon: Yeah, that's, that's a big challenge, because we have in front of us the things we need to get done in our jobs. And I was just having this conversation with a colleague of mine yesterday about this need to continuously develop ourselves, and not really just sort of give that up to our leaders to sort of lead us in that direction, we have to all be lifelong learners, right, we have to continue developing ourselves in partnering with our leaders and our companies to sort of find those pathways that are important for us.

The simple fact is that if a job can be automated, it will be automated. And we're going to have to find other more meaningful tasks for people to spend their time on, we're going to be working next to intelligent or with intelligent machinery, we're going to be working next to robots, we're going to be interacting with advanced software. You know, Marc Andreessen said it right, software will eat the world and he's right. That's our future, right. And so we need to advance our skills. And we need to continually do it. And so training is no longer just a transactional activity where you do something and then you're good, even then leader development, you go to the class and you learn and you go away, and then you go back to your job, that that's not sufficient anymore, we have to open our minds to that whole vertical development thing I keep talking about. And so here's the reality, according to Ray Kurzweil, right, so when we're going to see about 100 years of innovation in the next 10 years, and so this is going to continue to be a cycle that is just rapidly happening. When the telephone came out, it took it 80 years to become ubiquitous around the US and that, that kind of is very slow when you look at things now right and how rapidly things are happening.

So we're going to have to be learners that are OK with disruption, understanding that the digital age is transforming every service market and industry. We're gonna have to be okay with destruction, legacy jobs are changing, jobs are being re architected job descriptions will be rewritten. processes are being reinvented systems are being replaced. No aspect of work will be untouched by this age, the digital age, and then digitization we have to realize, that once a technology or process becomes a digital, it will rapidly replace its analog counterpoint if there even was one.

And then data and analytics. There can't be anything really more important for business leaders to understand is data fluency, understanding how data drives democratization of ideas and decisions. And then we also have to understand the deception that comes along with the digital age. Usually, when new technology is introduced, it's often overhyped, we know that in so leaders are going to have to be much more capable at really understanding and investigating, and positioning, new technology or new processes in understanding how its impact will affect the business or the workforce. And right now, there's a huge gap between what our senior leaders are thinking about technology, and bringing it in like AI integration, investment in AI is way, way, way above the workforce's capabilities to even understand or apply it.

And so, as senior leaders and business managers are deciding to make these technology investments, do they fully understand one if their workforce is capable of even tactically executing with this new technology? And or do they have the workforce that can even build a strategy around it? So I think these are the things that are really critical for the next several years in the world of business.

Mike: So there's a whole lot you just kind of covered in there. And I know there's a lot more in your book, Brandon, that we'll definitely encourage folks to check it out. And we'll link to it in our show notes, as well, L&D's Playbook for the Digital Age. But to kind of bring this conversation to a close we'd like to do a little section called underrated, overrated. We're gonna throw some topics at you and you tell us briefly Do you think it's that topics underrated? Do you think it's overrated, you can pass if you want to, if it's a hot button topic you'd rather not, we know you're starting a new gig. So you know, sometimes you got to play, play a little nice. Are you willing to play along with us?

Brandon: Sure, let's do it.

Mike: Okay, I'm actually going to touch on the AI for our first one because you just brought that up. But I want to ask specifically about AI's role in L&D's future. So do you feel like artificial intelligence as it's built into learning and development automatically serving content for people chatbots, do you feel like that's been oversold to the industry?

Brandon: No, I actually would call that undersold, underrated. I think we currently have the ability to provide hyperpersonalized learning. We have that in AI we can harness AI to do that. We have to at a scale, we're going to have to use you know, artificial intelligence to arm hyperpersonalized learning for people. We need to harness that we need more focus in L&D on what I would call R&D to future proof our workforces. So I think there's a gap there and a lot of L&D teams, there's a skills gap of even understanding what AI is and how the L&D team can leverage it. And I can guarantee you your business is involved, or investigating or integrating AI into its processes and its infrastructure. And so I would argue that every L&D leader, definitely every L&D person, should be examining how your company is using it, so you can learn more about it and start leveraging it. So I think it's undersold, I think it's underrated. Yes, it's emerging technology in some respects. But there's just like you mentioned, there's a lot there that we can start harnessing.

Siobhan: All right, Brandon round 2. You just brought up being data fluent not too long ago. And so there's been a big push for businesses and individuals to become more data driven. So the underrated or overrated is actually a versus, so is it data informed versus data driven?

Brandon: I think it's overrated to say data driven, I don't refer to myself as data driven. I prefer to be data informed. The difference is subtle, but meaningful. Not every decision I make is driven by data alone. There are some that are still driven by gut instinct, anecdotal information, observation and feeling. I like to think we must keep the human element in what we do. Like I said earlier, data will democratize a lot of the decisions you make, but I'm not going to remove the humanity from my decision making yet. So data informed is more important for me.

Siobhan: That "yet" is kind of ominous, I gotta say.

Mike: All right, the concept of digital natives. So you talked about, you remember a pre-internet world I do, too. It was different, much different. But now we have this idea of people who have grown up in the world where the internet is ubiquitous, it's everywhere. Do you feel like there's a real difference, that there's a value in calling them digital natives? Or do you feel like that's underrated or overrated?

Brandon: I think it's overrated. I've met so many people in their 60s and 70s, that are less fearful of technology than those in their 20s. I'm going to say this, we need to banish to the dustbin of history, this term digital native. Like I said earlier, we're living longer, and we're going to be having these longer careers, technology evolves rapidly, and the folks that I've interacted with over the last several years, they're just understanding that technology plays a role in their lives. So I think that's a term that doesn't really have a lot of meaning anymore.

Siobhan: Next up, I'm going to trot out an old workhorse of learning and development world, the 70/20/10 model for learning and development, which for our audience that means that individuals learn 70% of their knowledge from challenging experiences, 20% from developmental relationships, and 10% from training. What do you think Brandon? Under or overrated?

Brandon: I'm gonna say underrated, still. The numbers themselves are not what's important here, candidly, but the model I think is still important when you think of the need, like I said earlier, for us to be lifelong learners and continually learning new skills. We've got to move beyond that transactional approach to training and embed learning into every aspect of the work.

And so one thing I didn't get to talk about today, but I'll rant on for hours, is how L&D needs to be much more focused on the work environment itself, and how to embed learning into that environment. And I don't mean overlay learning onto an already existing environment. We need to be involved in reconstruction of the actual work environment, so that we can move away from what Hagel calls the scalable efficiency work model to the scalable learning work model, we will have much more impact on the workforce if we can build learning into their systems, processes and environment. So I would say 70/20/10 is very underrated because it needs to be, in my opinion, a strategic driver for most of L&D.

Siobhan: Okay, we left the hardest one for last, Brandon. So I'm going to give you a moment to sort of shake yourself out. Gather your thoughts. This last one is The Greatest Love of All, Whitney Houston's version. Underratted or overrated?

Mike: That's a deep cut, Brandon.

Brandon: That's a deep cut, I would say completely, woefully underrated, I love Whitney. I remember walking into a record store in San Francisco when her first album was released and seeing it there and buying it. Although I'm really a German death metal kind of guy now, I still like Whitney Houston. And I really would like to you know, see one of my favorite metal bands cover that song, but I would say woefully underrated. I love that song.

Mike: I did see Brandon, one time a Guns and Roses style version of I Want to Dance With Somebody by Whitney Houston, and it was magical.

Brandon: She is woefully underrated. I think we'd love to see some more of her come to light lately. We need her more than ever now.

Mike: We do. Well, Brandon, thank you so much for joining us today. This has been a fun conversation. I think a lot there, definitely encourage folks to check out your work. If they do want to find out more about you and your books, where do you recommend they go?

Brandon: Well, I'm most active on LinkedIn, so just find me on LinkedIn. But also I have, where you can just go and find out more information about these books or writing and some of the speaking I do. So thank you for having me. This was fun. I enjoyed it.

Siobhan: Thanks so much for playing along, Brandon.

Brandon: Thank you.

Mike: That role of leadership that Brandon talked about, I think is a really interesting one, because it is pretty fascinating to think that so much of the last year-and-a-half in learning and development has been about sustainment, about keeping business going, about resetting and just making sure that things can continue to go along in a time of great disruption. But there hasn't necessarily been a lot of reflection time. And I think that fact that organizations need to take a step back and let leaders think a little bit more about how they need to change their leadership style is an important one to think about. Because as Brandon said, this is a what he said, I think a once-in-a-100-year chance to redefine the meaning of work. And so let's let's not squander it.

Siobhan, what stood out to you from from Brandon's thoughts here.

Siobhan: I just was thinking about the complexity that leaders now have to navigate. And as you said, they need to take that step back. They need to have that time to breathe, but at the same time, there is so much pressure to be reacting and moving forward at all times. So it's a tough world. I think if L&D can step up and create this next generation of leaders like Brandon spoke about, we'll be in good hands.

Mike: And of course, if we all had a little bit more Whitney Houston in our lives, then that would be a good thing.

Siobhan: I want to dance with somebody, Mike.

Mike: With somebody that loves you. I think that's the important message there. Alright, Siobhan, always great to talk to you.

Siobhan: Great talking to you too, Mike.

Mike: We encourage you to drop us a line at [email protected]. If you have a suggestion or a topic for a future conversation, we are all ears. Additionally, if you like what you hear, please post a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you may be listening. And be sure to share Get Reworked with anyone that you think might benefit from these types of conversations. And then finally, be sure to follow us at Get Reworked on Twitter as well.

Thank you again for exploring the revolution of work with us and we'll see you next time.


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