MVLP: Minimum Viable Learning Programme

“What does an MVP for learning look like?” a work friend posed a few weeks ago. A Minimum Viable Product is a product with sufficient features to meet the needs of your initial core audience. It is a technique for focusing and gathering learnings to build on your development in a smart and efficent way. How can you apply the principles of agile product development to learning for your company?

Whether you’re an organisation of 10 or 100,000 — or even just a freelancer or independent consultant, everyone needs a focused programme for learning and growing. This is especially important for organisations on the verge of fast and major scale.

But where does one begin? What does a Minimum Viable Product for Learning look like?

A simple learner journey

The natural starting place would be classes, but it should start with people — and what their specific needs are. I see this focused on three major areas based on the employee development journey: understand and focus, reflect and nurture; and share and collaborate. The framework I’ve developed below is a guide for curating your organisation’s learning and development programme, but should be tailored to your specific needs.

You can sketch a more detailed journey for your organisation

Understand and focus
to guide how employees will grow

Individualised on-boarding
Personal roadmap
Personal reflection

Feedback and nurture
to turbocharge growth

Continuous feedback
Peer mentorship programme

Share and collaborate
to build a culture of learning

Q + A forum
Weekly company share
External resource library

How can you help your people understand and focus to guide how they grow?

Individualised on-boarding
On-boarding is key to making sure new joiners get off to a running start. It should start with the question: What do your employees need to be immediately successful and happy on the job?

If you’re a small company, 10 people or less, this can be as simple as:

Founders sitting down with new hires to share their vision and strategy but also finding out about who they are — what they’re good at, what they want to do, how they’d like to contribute.

Direct managers going through specific role and projects where new joiners can add immediate value.

Assigned buddies to help new folks feel at home, understand team structure and office politics, and tips and tricks to succeed.

Personal roadmap
A personal plan can help your employees focus their work. It also helps intersect what individuals need with what the company needs. And my experience (and research shows too) is you have to start with people and what they care about.

Sketch out your goals and reflections

The personal plan framework for your employees might look like this:

What is your purpose?
I exist to…

How does your purpose connect to the company’s purpose?
I will achieve our ambition of… in business by…

List growth and learning areas and why, with measurable outcomes
1)
2)
3)

To be successful on this, I need…

Projects
What projects do I need to undertake to grow and achieve my goals this year? And why?

Mentors
Who do I need to support me, and why? (subject matter, leadership, emotion)

Classes
What training do I need to be successful on the job?

Helpful tips
Encourage your employees to:
-share their personal plan with key people across the organization — mentor, project lead
-lay out measurable outcomes quarter by quarter
-be as specific as possible
-maintain a portfolio alongside their personal plan — it is an excellent way for employees to maintain evidence of progress.

Personal reflection
Time is a precious commodity, but taking periods to reflect will make your employees more impactful in the long run.

Daily reflection for individuals
What is the single most important thing I need to do today?
What is the most important thing I learned today?

Weekly reflection for individuals and as a team
What are the 3 most important things we learned this week?
What are we most proud of that we achieved this week?

Quarterly reflection for individuals
Re-visit personal plan
To what extent have I achieved the goals I set out, and why?
What and who do I need to be successful?
What am I most proud of?
What will I do differently for the next quarter?

Helpful tips
Encourage employees to maintain a record of your learnings on a private blog, Google Docs or even on paper

How can you help your people feedback and nurture to turbocharge growth?

Feedback
Feedback alone can be more powerful than getting an MBA. It’s one of the hardest things to ask for and give. Feedback all comes down to trust, whether you’re giving or receiving (ideally doing both). Trust breeds real honesty — and the most powerful feedback and growth .

Nurture a culture of love and trust — a place where people feel supported, not attacked, uplifted, not put down.

High-level feedback for individuals
What are three things I’m brilliant at, and why?
What are three things I need to build on, and why?
What’s the one change do you think would make the biggest difference to my work?

Ask the givers and receivers of feedback to share tangible examples and actionable results, connecting the dots between cause and effect.

For ongoing projects and work for individuals
What’s good about this work, and why?
How can I make this even stronger? What are three things I need to build on, and why?

For projects, provide the receiver with a clear brief on giving feedback
For example, this presentation is an introductory pitch deck for our target audience: CMOs, how can I make our value proposition even clearer to them? I think the build up is strong, but I think it needs a more powerful call to action. I would appreciate your thoughts.

Helpful tips for givers
-
Encourage givers to approach feedback with thoughtful preparation — it will show people they’re really invested in them. One of my best mentors wrote an essay eloquently encapsulating my achievements and growth areas during my annual review.
-End on a high — focus on the positive things at the end of the conversation, but remember sometimes a complete ‘tough love, no bull shit’ approach is necessary.
-Know there is time and place to ask for and give feedback — make sure everyone is in the right frame of mind. Start by asking the receiver’s thoughts first, it can put them at ease.

Helpful tips for receivers
-It’s important for your employees to get a 360 view, gathering perspectives across levels, disciplines — even people outside of work, like your spouse or partner.
-Remind employees that they are the ultimate filter. Actively listen to what people say, but shape their own point of view on how to grow.
-Encourage employees to thank people for their feedback — and follow up to show they’ve meaningfully actioned it.

Outside resources
Feedforward, not just feedback — a great post by seminal business thinker Marshall Goldsmith on why you should build from a place of strength for the future.

Feedback is the new killer app — an interesting article on why integrating technology with what employees think and feel is so important

Peer Mentorship Programme
A mentor is a powerful vehicle for helping people grow. The most impactful mentors act as champions. People who believe in an mentee’s cause, who sing their praises, who go out of their way to make things happen. They are the ones who recommend their mentee to lead projects, make introductions to new business leads, who look out for their personal well being not just their work performance.

Process
Map out how people would like to be supported through a mentor (e.g. subject matter expertise, leadership development, emotional growth).

Find people who have the desire and time to mentor someone.

Set up the first interaction — perhaps lunch or coffee outside the office — with optional questions as stimulus.

Helpful tips
Make the value proposition to mentors clear — opportunity to grow themselves as a leader.

Mentorship pairing is like dating; make sure the match is a good personality, not just subject matter fit.

Create content and sessions on what it means to be a good mentor and mentee, and how to get the most out of the relationship.

How can you help your people share and collaborate to build a culture of learning?

Q+A Forum
Create an online tool that’s easy for employees to ask questions, share advice and solve problems on the spot — whether it’s Basecamp, Slack or even just an email listserv.

Take inspiration from Quora and GitHub.

Wolff Olins Share on storytelling with Innocents Creative Director Dan Germaine

Weekly Company Share
Your first formal training doesn’t have to start with a class; it can be as simple as a lunch-and-learn where someone on a team shares 5 key learning from a project over brown bag lunches.

Process
Set up a weekly calendar with a rotating presenter — this can be internal or external.

Provide a clear brief for the presenter; it might be helpful to have a consistent format (e.g. Pecha Kucha).

External Resource Hub
You can easily curate a list of recommended content:
in-person courses
online courses

ongoing events
groups
communities

reads
publications
research

Do. Learn. Do.

Just like product development, the process of building your learning and development programme involves constant refinement. The framework above is a foundational guide, but it’s important to consider the specific needs of your organization — and what’s most important for you and your people to grow.

Melissa Andrada @melissaandrada looks after Qlue, a consultancy that’s all about people and potential.

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