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Five Steps to Revitalize Your Learning and Development Efforts

by Sue Plaster, M.ED.

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How important is self-renewal for Learning and Development professionals? Every day we are facing new demands on our time, our staff, our strategic resources and our resilience. Learning is in the limelight, at least according to a February 27, 2015 report from Deloitte University. Deloitte U reported that learning and development “issues exploded from the number eight to the number three most important talent challenges in this year’s study, with 85% of survey participants rating learning as a ‘very important’ or ‘important’ problem. Yet the Deloitte study also points out that “more companies than ever report they are unprepared to meet this challenge.” We are in the spotlight to help our organizations transform, become more productive, learn more quickly and effectively, build capacity, and incorporate new learning methods and technologies. There is also no better time for us to revitalize, renew, refresh, reframe, and reinvigorate ourselves. That way, we can tackle our work with the focus and energy that’s needed. Revitalizing our efforts and indeed our careers might take us in the direction of a job expansion, a promotion or a lateral move, a career change, or growing more effectively right where we are. One thing is for sure — we can benefit from the wisdom of others who have made renewal a priority. I asked several Human Resources executives with expertise in multiple industries, “How does a learning and development professional stay refreshed and relevant? How do we rejuvenate and renew ourselves? How can we be resilient enough to embed this very quality in the organizations we support and lead?” Here are some insights gleaned from those experts!
  1. Find new ways to listen.David Brumbaugh, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, has served in executive positions in for-profit and not-for-profit industries across multiple sectors. He currently serves on the board of the Minnesota Autism Center and speaks on human capital issues for the University of St. Thomas and St. Catherine University. David also is the past chair of the Twin Cities Human Resources Executive Network. David reminds us that listening is always one of the most powerful sources of renewal. He says, “in order to revitalize ourselves, we must find a way to access and listen more directly to the needs of our constituents, whether they are employees, leaders, our board of directors, customers, or shareholders. When we stop and figure out new questions and new channels for asking them, we are on the verge of discovery.” Here is a simple listening exercise. Jot down 10 names of those you would like to connect more with, or learn more from, regarding a professional topic that has you stuck or is keeping you awake at night. Now write down three questions you could ask that would expand your knowledge or your thinking. If you decide to proceed with the listening, you have many options, including email, phone calls, texting, informal sidebars in the hall, formal meetings, etc. I guarantee you will hear things you were not aware of before, be refreshed through listening, and in these conversations you will find common threads that provide new avenues for your thinking.
  2. Reconnect to the purpose of our efforts – align with business needs and strategy.While at Honeywell Inc. and Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of MN, David Brumbaugh’s HR organizations addressed the needs of the business as well as the requirement to grow more capable leaders. They did so by looking closely at the needs and strategic goals of their organizations at that moment in time, and then addressing them head on. As a result, he says, “We successfully engaged top talent leaders in learning environments that were aligned with business and growth strategy. It was rejuvenating for the leaders to be involved and it also advanced careers and renewed the vigor of every Learning and Development professional who was involved. We all grew.” When we connect more closely with our constituents, and involve them in new ways, we find new purpose. Purpose is what makes our efforts worthwhile and infuses them with energy.
  3. Look for strategic ways to add to what we know.Understandably, as learning and development professionals, we generally invest more time worrying about the learning of others than our own capacity-building. But sometimes when we invest in ourselves, there is a large organizational payoff. Connie Ginsbach, SHRM-SCP, SPHR, MBA, is the Human Resources Director for HIRED, a large Twin Cities-based nonprofit in the workforce development arena. A skilled HR operations leader with multi-industry experience, Connie nevertheless went back to school for an Organization Development Certificate during a job transition several years ago. “Learning and development had always been a cornerstone of my work,” Connie says. “But the concentrated OD coursework gave me an added infusion of current knowledge and expert approaches that really helped me offer value-add in a nonprofit that specializes in developing people’s capacity. Development of others is one of our product lines, so to speak. And I gained additional expertise in this area through my certificate work. It was also personally refreshing to me because it was a focused set of studies as opposed to generalized studies. The OD work added to my professional toolkit in a really significant way.”
  4. Get out there!Twanya Hood Hill is the Vice President of Leadership Development for Ameriprise Financial, the financial services giant. Despite the responsibilities of her position, one of the ways that Twanya stays refreshed and able to contribute at Ameriprise is that she takes every opportunity to address groups throughout the larger community. Twanya reports her recent speaking engagements include talks for St. Catherine University, Dunwoody Institute, Women Honoring Women, and other major Twin Cities organizations. And she shares her perspectives and experience on subjects that verge on the personal, such as self-confidence and goal-setting. “When I go out and meet with groups in the community to talk about personal development and career development, it renews and refreshes me to an unbelievable extent. Meeting people who are engaged in continued personal growth is inspiring. Their questions always challenge me and encourage me, even as I try to challenge and encourage them. So while I give back to the community through public speaking, I receive back tenfold.”
  5. Enlist partners.Here’s my advice. Professional renewal, like hiking, can work well with a buddy. Sometimes the best way to make a journey is not to go at it alone. Whether our revitalization and renewal leads toward a new role, a new career, or growth in place, we may need sounding boards and professional guides with whom to process the experience. Seeking the help of a wise mentor, a partner, a champion or a sponsor will help make this period of intentional growth more reflective and more productive. The concept of “reverse mentoring” is worth thinking about when aiming for revitalization. In choosing a renewal partner, it’s smart to capitalize on differences. The learning and development professional who wants to re-energize by becoming more savvy about use of technology may choose a partner from a different generation, a different functional area, or a different industry background entirely, for example. And remember, every good partnership has elements of reciprocality, so think about and verbalize together what each party is likely to “give” and “get” from the connection. There’s nothing wrong with a little formality at the start of a partnership, such as determining how often you’ll try to meet, what communications channels you’ll use to connect with each other, and what level of confidentiality is needed. Then let the partnership flourish!


Change, whether organizational or individual change, is rarely easy and rarely comes without a struggle. All of nature tries to move toward equilibrium. Beyond the benefits we find from renewing ourselves, our organizations are bound to see positive results as well. Good luck in your journey to refresh, renew and revitalize your efforts and your career!

About the Author

Sue Plaster holds a master’s degree in education from the University of Minnesota, with a focus in leadership development. She advises individuals in job search, career transition and onboarding, and consults with organizations on diversity, succession planning and leadership development. Sue’s corporate career includes communications and human resources roles with the Fairview Health System, Honeywell Inc. and Boston Scientific. You can connect with Sue through Writing Assistance, Inc. at www.writingassist.com or sales@writingassist.com