The Challenges of Scaling and Evolving Learning and Leadership

I recently had the pleasure of co-hosting a breakfast event with one of our Advisors and Partners, Stephan Thoma (ex Global L&D Director @ Google) for Chief People Officers and Senior L&D Leaders of scaling businesses.  We were joined by 20+ L&D Leaders including the likes of Transferwise,, Depop, Curve, DICE, what3words, Zava, Yieldify, Makers, Globalwebindex, and more.  

The event was the first in a series of Scaleup L&D Events T-minus are hosting in 2020 and the informal launch of our new L&D Leaders community: 

  • Checkout our next Scaleup L&D Breakfast event HERE 
  • Join & take part in our L&D Leaders community HERE (220+ startup/scaleup L&D Leaders.. and still growing!)

What are the key challenges?  

As a group we identified 3 priority areas to explore in the session:  

  1. Making peer to peer learning work
  2. Building manager and leadership capability
  3. Metrics / ROI for decision making and demonstrating impact

We also identified a number of other important topics that could be explored in future sessions, including:

  • Scaling L&D alongside the business
  • Balancing short vs long term L&D goals
  • Creating a learning and coaching culture
  • Choosing the right learning platform and why  

We explored the 3 priority topics, discussing the key problems to solve, what has worked, what hasn’t, possible experiments we can run and then summarised the key insights.  

The following notes are summarised for the benefit of the participants at the event, if you want to explore any of the topics in further detail, feel free to contact 


Topic 1: Making peer to peer learning work

Key problems to solve:

  • Creating a framework that balances organic bottom up with structure to ensure quality 
  • Recognition from team & leadership around quality and value
  • How to effectively train the trainer
  • Momentum – keeping up momentum to deliver

What has worked:

  • Open invites – make it opt in
  • Making a strong train the trainer scheme
    • Teaching the basics of training 
    • Ongoing observation and coaching of trainers
  • Problem-led workshops 
  • Learning in bitesize chunks
  • Guidelines around content 
  • Letting the audience guide 
  • Internal mentorship from team / and or buddy from other team

What hasn’t worked:

  • Skill-set / trainers themselves – They are skilled but are not trainers. How can we extract information for others to deliver?
  • Scalability of mentors & trainers
  • Poor quality content without control 

Ideas to test:

  • Use a technology platform for mentoring, make it more fluid
  • Engage the organisation properly to agree the goals and how to deliver peer to peer learning
  • Be more explicit around rewarding people for training / mentoring
  • More knowledge exchange between companies
  • Increase recognition with blogs, interviews, podcasts

Other insights:

  • Peer-to-peer learning was successful at Google. Most internal learning is delivered in that way. Bottom up wins, it’s authentic and builds a culture of learning  
  • Time is the biggest obstacle, Google’s 20% time was a good solution
  • P2P learning must be legitimate, baked into the way you work, goal setting, performance management, rewards etc


Topic 2: Building Management and Leadership Capability

Key problems to solve:

  • Defining what good looks like for leaders / managers
  • Lack of experienced line managers
  • Inexperienced leadership team, including founders – often first business venture
  • People promoted based on technical excellence, without manager or leadership experience
  • Perception of HR 
  • Individual contributor (IC) vs manager path 

What has worked: 

  • Defining core capabilities (including using independent study)
  • Defining levels / competence criteria in the business
  • Separate management v leadership training (or at least a clear understanding of the difference)
  • Custom design / needs analysis, using data, involving the leadership team (e.g. understanding business priorities and values),  middle management (e.g. understanding learning needs), then upward feedback e.g. from engagement survey
  • Google ran an upward survey combined with actively encouraging the conversation between leaders and team – this had a significant impact

What hasn’t worked:

  • Coaching can be very effective, but can also derail  if not aligned and targeted
  • Not able to scale learning solution in line with rate of growth
  • Failing to adapt requirements to culture
  • Dealing appropriately with individual contributor tracks
  • Leadership often badly defined
  • Initiatives that are too small simply don’t move the needle
  • Hiring L&D too late 
  • Promoting individual contributions to manager / leader and ending up with lots of people who don’t want to be in managerial positions

Ideas to test:

  • Align plans / programmes better with leadership 
  • Define what good looks like; company, team to team, function to function
  • Improve training follow-up / intervention after learning, hold people accountable to the investment in them
  • Leverage internal role models (see peer to peer learning) 
  • Evaluate investment in existing talent, versus hiring the capability
  • Find a flexible coaching solution
  • Upward feedback for senior level

Key insights:

  • Don’t expect training to deliver unless you do some embedding 
  • Consider carefully what you build vs buy
  • Don’t run training in isolation, run programmes as part of a bigger strategy and vision of how to create a learning culture
  • Mid-level is a critical, and often a neglected group, team leads etc. They are the most squeezed, but most important 


Topic 3: Metrics / ROI for decision making and demonstrating impact

Key problems to solve:

  • Crafting a clear set of goals, with appropriate metrics
  • Knowing which metrics to measure, to understand progress towards goal, make trading decisions and report ROI
  • Level of arrogance: “why do we need training?”,  “I’m already a great manager, I don’t need upskilling”
  • Junior leaders are overwhelmed by day job – can’t attend training. It’s a vicious cycle: no time = no learning = low performance
  • Getting buy-in (financial and mental) for L&D activities 
  • Discipline around processes – proving that processes are necessary which enable measurement

What has worked:

  • Engagement survey, company-wide themes, calling out development needs
  • Rebranding and calling ‘processes’, ‘disciplines’ 
  • Survey post-programme 
  • Attrition metric, Exit interviews, 360s, 30-day post orientation, OKRs, “whispers” emails and questions
  • Trailhead, Learning pathways, gamification, badges, reports through salesforce
  • Toolkit in bulk via email, with support/coaching available

Ideas to test:

  • Employee interviews as part of onboarding e.g. identify what learning individuals / team need
  • Satisfaction surveys, share in newsletters
  • Map out end to end journey and identify measurement opportunities
  • Betting use of exit interview data  
  • Manager 360 pre and post training
  • Skill matrix before and after 
  • Pulse surveys, measure reactiveness to company events
  • Measure ROI, including return on intent 

Key insights:

  • Don’t neglect to measure success, even without meaningful metrics!
  • Don’t just zero in on the product – broaden where else impact is
  • Be intentional – everything you do needs an outcome
  • Rebrand.  Focus on value versus “mandatory training”
  • Rise of engagement / cultural diagnostics. In them, developmental questions, use a platform. Use them for KPIs of biz leads
  • Stephen Thoma set out a clear framework for measuring the impact of L&D, which links activities to business impact.  Watch this space for more detail on this model

Final thoughts & next steps

“The great end in life is not knowledge, but action”.  In the long run, what makes the difference is our ability to adapt.  We hope you follow through with the commitments you made to your learning buddy’s at the end of the event 🙂 

The event was the first in a series of Sacleup L&D Events T-minus are hosting in 2020 and the informal launch of our new L&D Leaders community: 

Checkout our next Scaleup L&D event HERE 

Join & take part in our L&D Leaders community HERE 

Thanks to everyone who took part in the event, with a special thank you to Stephan Thoma for his time and insight.