Why L&D professionals must evolve into Product Managers

I stepped into the education industry because I wanted to live a meaningful life and thought that education — specifically the Learning & Development (L&D) industry — is a great way to add value to society.

However, over the years, I’ve heard how Training, Consulting and L&D is seen as a cost centre and needs to justify their ROI. Initially, it felt like a bummer — we are driven by a purpose; we’re trying to help people develop their potential. Profit should not be the main driver.

However, over the past few years, I’ve come to think that it is true; and that the L&D function that exists within organisations today, needs a massive overhaul. In fact, in some (not all) organisations, L&D efforts actually hampers productivity where:

  • Trainers train employees in courses that take them away from their jobs, affecting productivity — sometimes only for the certification and/or grant subsidies.
  • Management Consultants offer expensive advice, build toolkits and conduct training to help organisations. But implementation is typically managed by the organisation or agencies, which can be a hit or a miss.
  • Curriculum and Learning designers have to work with subject matter experts to design & develop learning materials, which typically follows a long-winded waterfall process. Moreover, these developed materials may not be easily accessible.

Therefore, I believe L&D should not be an independent function of an organisation with its own profit and loss — but a behaviour; a mindset; a systematic way of life; a culture — within the organisation.

It should be a strategic management decision, systematically designed to optimise the scale of the organisation’s growth. I believe L&D can learn a lot from startups, tech and marketers who have mastered this well:

  • From Startups: Going lean and finding the most effective and efficient way to get from 0 to 100, at $0 if possible.
  • From Marketers: Subtly hooking a target audience and driving them towards certain behavioural change.
  • From Tech: Using tech to simplify and improve how tasks are done today.

I believe most of what L&D seeks to do, should be led by Management — helping to increase productivity so that the business scales & grows. For example:

  • Giving employees the ownership to set their own performance goals and metrics that are tied to the business. e.g. OKRs that originated from Intel Management.
  • Giving employees the opportunity to explore, learn, and apply on their own time and budget. e.g. 3M’s 20% exploratory time to work on projects.
  • Removing blockages that hinder performance.

If the work of L&D should be led by Management, what should L&D functions do then?

I believe it is to create lean and agile products that simplify the job of Management, and enhance communication & productivity. For example:

  • Nurturing a community where employees meet peers and get mentored by experienced seniors.
  • Integrating/building tech that removes blockages in performance or help people keep track of performance.
  • Consolidating collective knowledge to help employees access or share knowledge faster.

The goal is to create zero friction for employees to thrive.

And that is also why I believe L&D professionals should evolve into product managers — working with engineers, UI/UX designers, etc — to create communication/ productivity/ edtech products that are so useful, organisations love it so much, they’re willing to pay for it.

A great example is Slack, a SaaS communications product for the workplace. Interestingly, Slack was originally built by a gaming product company as an internal communications tool created out of necessity. Slack was an acronym for “Searchable Log of All Communication and Knowledge”. Today, Slack is revolutionising how organisations communicate internally.

That’s why, this year I dove into tech product management — and am practicing L&D as a mindset where:

  • I sought to use tech to remove blockages that hinder work performance — by implementing automation/tech tools to optimise or simplify work processes.
  • I took ownership of my own performance goals and metrics that are tied to the business — by setting a goal to help my current organisation Reactor School pivot into edtech/productivity/communications product(s) that are so useful, organisations will love and pay for it.
  • I took any opportunity to explore, learn, and apply what I’ve learnt on my own time and budget — by signing up for LinkedIn premium 30 day trial, devouring their Product Management and Tech/Programming courses in my free time
  • I reached out to >15 successful Product Managers on LinkedIn — of which 3 kindly responded and shared over a chat with me, which I am eternally grateful for. (Thank you, Jelissa, Agustinus and Hien!)

As we all know, life is a journey where we continuously push ourselves to keep learning, applying, reflecting and growing.

I’m still in the early stage of applying what I’ve learnt as a young Product Manager. I’m sure to go through many failures pivots before I ever succeed. But that is the thrill of life, and I look forward to pushing myself beyond, upwards and onwards.

If you’re keen to follow on my journey in Product Management, I’ll be blogging here at productmanagerroadmap.com.

If you’d like discuss what I’m sharing, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn too!



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Evy Lee

I write about products, ideas, learnings, trends & people shaping web3 and the future | Product & Growth | Building the talent platform for Web3 @CryptoJobs