• Barnett Waddingham
    Barnett Waddingham
  • 5 minutes with… James Wilkinson, ProfitAbility

    ProfitAbility’s James Wilkinson discusses the challenges and opportunities in Learning & Development, technology & gamification and dinner with Sir Ken Robinson…

    Tell us about your company, products and services.

    ProfitAbility runs Business Simulations for some of the world’s largest companies, such as Nestle, Roche and Siemens. Our simulations ensure that delegates make their own decisions and the see the results of their actions, and therefore learn by actually running their own version of a business.

    Teams compete against each other, which makes the learning event fun, interactive and highly effective at accelerating learning. Our main competencies are Financial and Commercial Acumen, Change and Leadership, although in the last 30 years we have created over 150 bespoke simulations for our clients.

    What have been the biggest challenges the learning & development industry has faced over the past 12 months?

    There’s probably four categories here for me:

    • Every company is trying to be better, faster and cheaper at what they do, and those demands are passed onto internal and external L&D providers. Getting delegates away from their desks for even two days is becoming a real challenge, and we are constantly asked if we can deliver the effectiveness of a two or three day simulation into a single day. The answer is yes, but there is always a trade-off between time and the amount that you want people to learn. If too much is asked for, there is a danger of delivering something that doesn’t lead to any meaningful change in behaviour, and that’s not good for the company, the provider or the learner.
    • The expectations of clients are growing, and that is presenting a challenge to traditional classroom training and e-learning. People want training solutions that can be flexible to fit a VUCA world, and be accessible to a diverse workforce. They also want something that is going to have a measurable impact to the business, so L&D can show they are genuinely relevant to the growth of the business (which of course they are integral to!). We still focus mainly on face to face delivery, but have seen that expand globally with our clients so we’re now delivering more in the Middle East and South America than before. We’ve also started to incorporate technology that enables our clients to embed the learning after the simulation, using interactive, mobilised tools that don’t have a heavy user impact.
    • Executive Sponsorship. The biggest challenge that L&D faces has not gone away – to ensure that senior stakeholders support the learning objectives. If the Executive Sponsors don’t care, the effect is diminished so much it almost isn’t worth doing at all. How many delegates get back to work to be asked if they enjoyed their ‘time off’? The only way to ensure effectiveness is to have the buy in of management, and the only way to get that is if the leadership is pushing the vision.
    • We live in a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous world, where the only thing certain about tomorrow is that something will change. This affects all aspects of our personal and work lives, and while companies are trying to work out how to pivot gracefully when they need to (Blockbuster Video got this very wrong!), L&D professionals also need a strategy to ensure they keep up the pace. Facilitating a learning event to create personal development plans is one thing, the challenge is to make sure you’re following your own as well!

    And what have been the biggest opportunities?

    Clearly technology plays a big part here, but from what I’ve seen there is still a common tendency to use tech in a way that ticks a box, for less cost, and often achieves very little. We have incorporated mobile and social learning into our post-course learning journeys, and that’s been great in terms of increasing retention and measuring effectiveness. VR or AR continue to be spoken about in hushed tones, but until the ability to consume content becomes ubiquitous we can’t really see how world changing they will be. In the same way that a healthy diet includes a blend of everything, a healthy learning journey does too, and that means more opportunities to work collaboratively with clients which can only be a good thing.

    What is the biggest priority for the learning & development industry in 2018?

    This one is pretty simple for me. L&D knows it has to be aligned to business goals, and has to prove the effectiveness of what it is delivering. There is no magic potion here, it’s a mix of that Executive Sponsorship I talked about earlier, combined with learning outcomes that lead to measurable impact and interventions that are accessible, engaging and effective. L&D has a shot at getting proper representation at the top table, and this is the only way that happens.

    What are the main trends you are expecting to see in the market in 2018?

    More use of technology and gamification in learning for sure. A continued shift away from a ‘teaching’ style of delivery to more facilitator / coach led interventions. The US market has seen a massive shift in the last few years into the development of future leaders, and I expect to see that thinking expand in Europe during the year as well. Companies are also finally realising that linear careers and siloed business units do not a good leader make, so a more collaborative way of working for everyone is coming. Finally, I’m seeing more companies picking up on the work by people like Daniel Pink on motivation, so using personal development as a tool to drive feelings of autonomy, mastery and higher purpose is definitely on the increase. Hopefully that will leader to greater investment as well.

    What technology is going to have the biggest impact on the market this year?

    Microlearning is definitely on the increase, so the use of video shorts or instant interventions at the point of need is going to be huge this year. That will come via a range of technologies, but certainly mobile access to learning either as specific interventions or reminders is going to be key.

    In 2020 we’ll all be talking about…?         

    VR, VR and VR!

    Which person in, or associated with, the learning & development industry would you most like to meet?

    Learning starts in school, so for me the most interesting person to have dinner with would be Sir Ken Robinson. I love his ideas and his passion for unlocking the creative energy of people and organisations.

    What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learnt about the learning & development sector?

    In many ways the sector leads the way in terms of the future way we’ll all be working. It’s full of passionate and creative people looking for ways to change the world, and most want to do it in a collaborative and supportive way. Small, specialist companies with niche expertise working together to create opportunities for growth could be a strapline for the future of work, and I love the opportunities it presents both for L&D professionals and companies themselves.

    You go to the bar at the Training & Development Summit – what’s your tipple of choice?

    Having discovered the Caipirinha when training in Brazil recently, I’m enjoying teaching bar tenders how to make this simple, refreshing and dangerously alcoholic cocktail!

    What’s the most exciting thing about your job?

    I have a blended role, so I spend about a third of my time facilitating and the rest meeting clients and prospects to work out how we can help them create really effective learning interventions. That means I get to meet people from a plethora of different industries and learn all about how their markets and organisations work. It’s fascinating every day and it’s rare I don’t learn something exciting and new!

    And what’s the most challenging?

    Without a doubt it’s time. There’s so much I could be doing, am I spending my most valuable resource in the most effective way? Home balance is important to me, so making sure I use my time well to ensure the best professional results whilst spending quality time with the family is a daily ritual!

    What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

    People are judged initially by what they say, but ultimately by what they do.


    Stuart O'Brien

    All stories by: Stuart O'Brien

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