Lean into Learning: Kevin Delaney, VP of L&D at LinkedIn Talks About the New State of L&D

May 12, 2020

Lean into Learning: Kevin Delaney, VP of L&D at LinkedIn on the “Return to Work”

As the world begins to slowly open back up, one thing is for sure. We’re not going to just ‘flip a switch’ and everything will return to the way it was before COVID-19. There’s a lot to unpack when it comes to this topic—ranging from keeping employees physically safe, to new cultural norms, to reskilling and upskilling for the new world of work. And, every geography and industry is thinking about this in their own unique way. There’s a ton to explore on this, so let’s start the conversation knowing it will evolve, and help each other navigate the journey together.

That’s why I recently met with our own VP of L&D, Kevin Delaney. I wanted to understand how he was thinking about where we are and where learning is headed. Kevin not only shared what LinkedIn L&D is doing today, but he also gave me a peek into how he’s thinking about when we return to the office. 

Tuck in for a few minutes for some great insights and actionable takeaways. And, please join our L&D Connect LinkedIn group to continue the conversation.

Amanda: Ok, COVID-19 hit and sent the entire world into a tailspin. How did you pivot to meet the needs of the business?

Kevin: Pivot is the right word. Nearly our entire workforce was suddenly working from home. Thankfully, some of the decisions we made over the last few years positioned us well, given the challenging situation. 

When I joined LinkedIn L&D 4 years ago, we decided to build and deliver our own training, no longer relying on external vendors for ILT. We’ve always believed in blended learning—in-person and online learning being complementary, not competitive. When the crisis hit, we turned on a dime and everything went virtual. We were able to do it quickly because we weren’t relying on vendors to figure it out.

We dabbled in live online before, but now we’re all in. For example, we delivered two live online workshops in January and now we’ve delivered 130 globally and also seen a huge uptick in online learning hours.

Amanda: As I talk to customers, L&D pros are already beginning to think about how to prepare for the return to work. When that happens, do you think we’ll go back to in-person classroom learning as we knew it before?

Kevin: Before the pandemic hit, we delivered 5% live virtual learning and 95% in-person workshops, always with LinkedIn Learning content as a cornerstone.  I don’t think we’ll go back to that model when we get the all clear. Many employees will continue to work from home and our social distancing policies will mean that our teams won’t be in the same place at the same time. 

I expect that we’ll settle around 60% live virtual and 40% in-person workshops. Here’s one piece of advice that I deeply believe in: Either employees need to be completely in-person or completely online when they are in a live learning experience. The learning modalities are very different and don’t mix.

We have four guiding principles that have sustained us through this transition: 1) great content, 2) great delivery of that content, 3) operational excellence, and 4) deliver a great learning experience. If you nail all four, regardless of whether people are in a virtual or in-person, then the learning will stick.

Amanda: There are a lot of learning leaders who are dipping their toes into blended online learning for the first time. What advice do you have for them?

Kevin: An easily avoidable mistake is to just convert in-person training into a video conference environment and that is that. Don’t do it. Start over and build for live virtual. Put your learning programs through a rigorous vetting process. Which ones can be moved over? Which pieces of content can be delivered in online learning platforms like LinkedIn Learning? Can you drop the slides and just have a conversation? 

In this environment, less is more. I’m thinking about 60-90 minutes of live interaction a quarter. Someone wise once said that your mind can only absorb what your butt can endure.

We were lucky because four months ago, we formed a team focusing on learning operations, including producing live virtual workshops. That’s the key. Don’t expect trainers to manage the technology. Bring in production experts to 1) decide whether a certain video conference platform is best for a particular kind of training because they each have their own unique features and 2) be an emcee who manages the Q&A, polls, etc. 

Amanda: We’ve seen a big uptick in learning to help improve mental health through this crisis including courses on resilience, mindfulness, and managing anxiety. Does this signal that supporting employees’ mental health has become part of L&D’s role going forward?

Kevin: Actually, I see this a bit differently. I call it, the “field of dreams—build it and they will come—meets economics—laws of supply and demand.” We continually offer new learning opportunities to the organization and if it's oversubscribed in a day, then we have met a need. If not, then we adjust along the way. 

Right now, there’s a big demand for content on resilience and it reminds me of when Microsoft bought LinkedIn four years ago. We recently dusted off some of that content about managing through change and put it back out.

Once employees adjust to the new normal, then the resilience theme will subside and a growth mindset will emerge. Just like seasons, everything has its time. As long as we rotate the “field of dreams/economic” philosophy of learning, then we’re in a good place to support our teams with the right learning content at the right time.

Amanda: What advice would you give to your L&D peers right now about learning in the new world of work?

Kevin: Let’s address the elephant in the room. We’re still in crisis mode. Our team has a three-phase approach to help us manage through a crisis and that is what has guided our quick pivot.

First, don’t go off the rails or freak out. It’s nearly impossible to lead a team through a challenging time if you don’t take a breath and focus on my next point.

Second, look for ways to add obvious value. Whatever it is, do it and do it quickly. Find ways to support your organization as they adjust to work from home, navigate work/life challenges, become more resilient, or whatever is next. 

Third, move rapidly to align and refine. Don’t get stuck on a single track or stay the course in the face of evidence that is leading you elsewhere. When you move quickly, it’s inevitable that you break things, step on toes, and learn what works and what doesn’t. We regularly stop for a minute, evaluate what we’re doing, and decide which 10% we’re not going to do anymore. 

Amanda: It feels like learning has suddenly seen a significant uptick in interest. Do you feel that too? That L&D has entered a new phase of maturity and importance within organizations?

Kevin: I think learning will be seen as a must have for successful companies, not a nice to have. Creating a culture of learning will elevate the engagement of all employees. 

We hire curious, engaged, and energized people. Now that learning is at the core of organizations, it is becoming the place that inspires people to ideate new ideas and elevate the conversation.

This is the moment when learning is in the spotlight and is the answer to every other question the business is asking right now. Learning isn’t just having a moment, it’s having a revolution because when people are learning, they are at their best. And, we need that now more than ever.

Learn more about how LinkedIn’s L&D team is adapting to a remote world

Kevin Delaney and Sarah Dowling share more insights about virtual onboarding and much more. View webcast replay.