L&D Leadership in a Time of Great Change

6 Takeaways From CLN’s 1st Virtual Conference

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LD Leadership in a Time of Great Change_people on a video call

For two days, the Corporate Learning Network hosted its first virtual conference entitled “L&D Leadership in a Time of Great Change.”

It brought together some of the most engaging speakers in the Learning and Development space, and allowed for L&D leaders and decision makers to participate in webinar-style presentations from their homes and offices. Thoughts and ideas were shared between speakers and audience members to create a truly engaging, knowledge sharing experience.

L&D Leadership

Why Focus on Drucker?

To better understand the focus of the event, it’s important to “set the scene.”

We are in a tough economic climate, much of which is a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As such… organizations need to be more agile and must reorganize to compete, thrive and survive… thus this online event was born. As we began to focus its sessions, we quickly decided that our north star would be Peter F. Drucker.

Our publisher has said Drucker’s visions of management/leadership dominated by integrity… high moral values... a focus on developing people... an emphasis on measurable performance and results… the need for continuous abandonment of the unproductive and obsolete... continuous productivity improvement... identifying & exploiting successes... & purposeful innovation, can be viewed as the true exit paths from the collapse in commercial activity caused by the COVID-19 lockdowns.

The Six Takeaways

  1. COVID-19 has changed L&D

As previously stated, the COVID-19 pandemic has created many economic challenges. The same can be said for Learning & Development in that the virus has created many hurdles that must be mitigated.

Every single speaker and many participants noted the impact the virus has had on the space. In many instances, organizations are putting huge amounts of pressure on their L&D teams to compensate.


Organizations must be agile and adapt to the new environment, which in many cases includes a new, heavily remote workforce. L&D leaders and decision makers find themselves in the position of reviewing their current learning programs, evaluating those programs and abandoning the ones that are unproductive and obsolete.

That doesn’t mean an all-out abandonment of in-person learning in favor of a technology-led program, but it does mean leaning on technology to bridge the gap between the classroom and the new learning environment.

Furthermore, it can't be understated that we, as a learning community, aren't fully prepared for the future ahead. It's not that we aren’t trying, it's only that we can't predict the future with COVID-19 in play. Leaders simply must rely on current data and data gathered throughout the ongoing pandemic to make decisions aligned with the continued success of their learning programs.

  1. Evaluating connections between people and leveraging those connections allows for organizations to operate more strategically

Michael Arena, Ph.D., is the Vice President of Talent Management and Development for Amazon Web Services. During his presentation, he focused much of his attention on organizational network analysis. Specifically, he noted the need to leverage the relationships between employees and teams to allow the organization to work more strategically.

He explained four different types of connections that are important to the strategy.

In this COVID-19 environment, organizations need to focus on discovering new ideas and solutions. Once those are discerned, organizations must move those into development.  Doing so will allow teams to create minimum viable solutions and products.

Next, solutions must be diffused across the broader network to increase impact on the organization itself. Finally, organizations must allow for disruption to break down and abandon unproductive strategies and continuation of the status quo.

  1. “More is not better… better is better.”

One of the most significant takeaways is the reality that as L&D leaders work in this new environment, it's not necessary to make radical changes all the time. Casper Moerck is the Head of Learning Technology for the Global Learning Campus for the Americas at Siemens. He said taking on huge amounts of change is not always a positive thing for the organization.

As an example, he discussed technology tools his organization currently has in place. While the tools are helpful, they don’t solve every problem. The decision at that point shouldn’t be to bring in more technology to solve the issues, but to find better technology that not only solves current dilemmas but is also agile enough to handle future problems.

  1. “It’s not damage… it’s change… innovation often comes from something bad.”

COVID has forced the economy to change. It’s not a bad thing, but in fact, a positive thing. During his presentation entitled America’s Next Three Years: An Economic Perspective, Dr. Jay Prag said it will help the economy abandon those weaker players in favor of the stronger ones. 

For example, COVID may force an organization, like JCPenny, to fail but it had “pre-existing conditions” that aided in that failure. It didn’t fail solely because of COVID-19. In removing those weaker players, the economy will refocus its attention where it's most needed and, with it, create new areas of business and jobs.

Additionally, countries must accept COVID and viruses/diseases like it will need to be factors in economic policy going forward. Again, this is not a sign of damage, but change and that’s driving a positive change so that the economy is better equipped to handle future pandemics.

  1. “The temptation of the existing business is always to feed yesterday and starve tomorrow.”

The biggest challenge to innovation is the existing organization. As Interim Dean of the Drucker School of Management, Katharina Pick said during her presentation that the gut reaction of many organizations is to always respond to the current needs of the business.  She said if you’re going to have an innovative venture, it must be separate from the old, existing organization.

If not, you risk starving said innovation.

Many organizations do this by comparing the very real, tangible results to those that could potentially result in an innovative venture. When doing so, it makes it more tempting to prioritize the existing framework rather than create the structure that supports the new.

  1. “Become more compassionate and accepting towards myself and others.”

During her presentation on resiliency, Dr. Maya Garza with BetterUp posited this question: "What will you start doing today to begin developing resilience in yourself and in your organization?" In response, one audience member said he would “become more compassionate and accepting toward himself and others."

Garza said in response that that, in a nutshell, is the most significant takeaway from her session.

“You need to understand the challenges they (employees) have on a professional and personal level. Everyone’s work reality has shifted, so how can we build these skills? Self-compassion is one of the ways because it ultimately leads to better team relationships, better performance and better productivity in the long term.”

Future Events

The Corporate Learning Network is working toward producing future events and virtual offerings for our audience. If you have ideas for those events or would like to take part in one as a speaker/panelist, please email Enquiry@CorporateLearningNetwork.com.