When I joined BuzzFeed 4 years ago, we had roughly 150 employees. We’ve grown to nearly 1,500 employees and although I personally don’t call us a startup anymore, we still operate like one. Our rapid growth has had positive but challenging implications for HR and training. We’re constantly promoting individual contributors to managers, searching for talent to fill new positions, and addressing organizational culture change in the context of an evolving environment.
Because we never stop learning at BuzzFeed, I wanted to share a few lessons around how we built L&D from the bottom up.
Build a grassroots movement at the individual employee level
People are hesitant about “corporate training”, especially when it’s top-down and mandatory. Instead, at BuzzFeed, we flipped the script and started at the individual learner level by building a grassroots movement for L&D. Rather than only tying L&D to business goals, we also looked at individual employee goals and how learning can help them address their specific challenges. Employees want action plans they can implement outside of the classroom. And they want it available on-demand when they need it. We innovated pilot programs with one team at a time in the beginning. When the rest of the company heard about what we were doing with the business team, for example, they also wanted to sign up for our new programs. This more organic, grassroots approach was highly effective in fueling a learning culture and reinventing L&D at our organization.
Crowdsourcing and community building in leadership training
The majority of our managers at BuzzFeed were new to their roles. This meant, as a company, we needed an effective leadership-training program. Like Google’s Project Oxygen, we crowdsourced the question on what behaviors make a great manager across our company. We distilled this into several key traits that make BuzzFeed managers successful, including being human and empathetic, communicating clearly and often, giving feedback effectively, and spending time coaching employees. We then built a learning and development program around these key behaviors we wanted to nurture in our new managers. We are launching a new manager orientation and recommended development path with a cohort community of other new managers. We combined formal training and a “Manager Manifesto” guidebook with informal meetups, slack channels, and on-demand online resources. The most important part is that we created a community of managers to share their ideas and support each other—and this has had a lasting effect.
The invisible hand of learning: blend formal and informal
As we grew in size, we started to innovate new ways to implement learning outside of workshops. We wanted to facilitate real-time support for real-time problems and fuel a kind of “invisible hand of learning”—where employees can seek out answers to their own questions. This involved blending formal and informal learning—reinforcing workshop sessions with on-demand online learning content as well as one-on-one mentoring. For example, we offered a “Coach’s Corner” which enabled managers to drop by and ask burning questions like “I’m about to do an interview, can you give me some key tips” or “How do I delegate more effectively?” These were real questions our managers were dealing with every day. We are also building out our video learning library that creates content in a very “buzzfeedy” way that’s unique to our culture.
This list is by no means exhaustive and I’d love to hear other ideas and lessons learned from your experience reshaping L&D at your organization. We are in the midst of an L&D transformation and there’s still much work to be done. We welcome any comments and ideas below.
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