Making executive learning impactful – Where to start?

Executive Guest Blog by Mélanie Laflèche, Canada Revenue Agency (CRA)

Mélanie LaflècheMy current role provides me with an interesting vantage point on executive learning because I am responsible for workforce learning and for leadership development at the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). I have the privilege of being immersed in future of learning research, innovation to improve the learning experience, and in various initiatives to support the executive community. I am pleased to bring these perspectives together and share them with you as executive blogger of the month.

Preamble – A strong leadership foundation is key to enable sustainable organizational success. I believe we are all familiar with this concept, which has been tested over the past year in ways never experienced before. Like for any infrastructure, a solid foundation requires careful planning, sound investment, and continued nurturing. All of them are equally important. There are various ways to nurture a strong culture of learning in the executive community and the following are some of the CRA’s experiences and practices.

Sponsor – You have surely heard that engagement starts from the top. The same applies to EX learning and leadership development. At the CRA, we’ve taken concrete steps to build and engage a strong EX community. In 2016, we created the Executive Group Network (EXGN), a community advisory committee of CRA executives, with representation from across our business lines and from coast to coast, that aims to foster connections and build a sense of community among our executives. The EXGN is a platform that allows leaders to positively shape our organization through their passion, dedication, and personal interests. Our Deputy Commissioner, Christine Donoghue, is the Champion of the EXGN, a testament to the organization’s engagement to supporting its executives. This is reinforced by our Commissioner and all of our senior executives’ active participation in our learning events.

Sponsorship is key to all learning and development programs and initiatives and it came through loud and clear in our research: employees need to feel supported by management in their learning and development.

Engage – Every year, the EXGN organizes various activities , some with a focus on community building, others with a focus on learning, and all of them in line with the needs of the EX community. Essentially, learning and engagement activities for the EX community are built by the EX community. Some examples include:

  • Our annual EX Forum brings together all our executives for learning and community building activities. Last year’s Forum took place virtually over three half days and included a number of interactive elements to engage and inspire the EX community.
  • Our EX Series includes focused learning events to increase awareness on a variety of topics, from Information Technology to Diversity and Inclusion. These sessions are highly interactive and enable EXs to share and learn from one another.

High engagement is essential to learning and development and to all services and programs for that matter: solutions need to be co-designed with users. In our research, we were able to see the unintended results of designing solutions in a vacuum: low attendance, duplication of resources to adjust them to meet the needs of users, and reduced learner engagement.

Support – Transforming ideas to reality requires dedicated time and resources. Our EXGN is extremely engaged and invested in the design of solutions that meet the needs of the EX community but as you can imagine, hosting a three half-day virtual learning event requires an important amount of work and expertise in learning design. To that end, there are dedicated resources on my team that work with the EXGN to actualize their priorities. Essentially, the community is equipped with the means to achieve its mandate! This benefits everyone involved: the subject matter experts get valuable insight that helps them better understand the community they are supporting, the community is equipped to advance on their objectives, and the learners (in this case, our executives!) benefit from engaging and meaningful events.

This is true for all learning activities. During our research, we heard from learners that poorly designed learning solutions impact their learning retention and engagement. Learning design is an art and it pays to involve the artists (learning experts!) as early as possible in your projects and initiatives in order to maximize learning impacts.

Commit – While sponsorship, engagement and support focus on organizational opportunities, commitment is personal. John F. Kennedy said that leadership and learning are indispensable to each other. We are all on a learning and development journey and, given that we are all quite busy, this commitment requires deliberate actions. The good thing is that opportunities abound us, especially with the pivot to virtual learning. The options are endless from solutions in a bite-sized format to more in-depth programs, but they do require time and commitment. For me, being deliberate means registering to newsletters (like the ones from APEX and the Canada School of Public Service) so that offerings are pushed out to me. If I see something that is in line with my interests and availability, I register and block the time in my calendar. This small action is a commitment to myself, and when I commit, I follow through!

To answer the question at the beginning of this blog based on the lessons learned and best practices in place at the CRA, you can make executive learning impactful by:

  • Obtaining the support of sponsors in senior management;
  • Engaging executives in the design of solutions that meet their needs and interests;
  • Create a support structure to design and deliver impactful and engaging learning events;
  • Commit individually to continued learning and growth.

Mélanie Laflèche is the Director of Workforce Learning and Leadership Development, in the Human Resources Branch at the Canada Revenue Agency