Ep 2: Louise Puddifoot on people, organizations, and continuous learning
Learn about the challenges scaleups face in L&D and how to overcome them with Louise Puddifoot.
Learn about the challenges scaleups face in L&D and how to overcome them with Louise Puddifoot.
Chief Learning Strategist at Easygenerator Kasper Spiro sat down with Louise to discover her motivation as a Learning & Development professional and to discuss why she made the switch from training the corporate workforce to developing scaleups. What’s the biggest hurdle scaleups face in terms of their L&D? What’s the first step they should take when trying to improve (or build) their L&D strategy? And what are the main challenges for the future of learning? Listen to Louise’s expert advice and her full story.
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00:45: Introducing Louise Puddifoot
02:05: How Louise began her career in L&D
03:20: What drives Louise’s passion for L&
04:20: How Louise transitioned from the corporate world to starting her own consultancy
06:35: Diving into Willow & Puddifoot
08:15: The benefits of working with scale-ups
09:25: The limitations of working as a consultant and how to overcome them
10:55: The biggest L&D challenges scale-ups face today
13:30: Working with managers and leaders as an L&D consultant
15:10: How age and maturity impact management styles
18:05: How scale-ups can improve their hiring process
19:05: What large corporations can learn from scale-ups
21:25: The biggest challenges facing L&D 5 years from now
23:20: The tech challenges in the L&D industry today
26:20: Wrapping up
“Often what we hear is: people needing to function effectively in a world that’s constantly changing around them. So, how do you equip people to be able to do that well?”
“You can never sit in your laurels and think: ‘I’ve nailed it now’. There’s always more to learn.”
“The great thing about working with managers and leaders is you know the impact you have on them then gets magnified because of the impact they then have on the organization and their teams.”
“You need to have self-awareness and understand yourself to then know how to bring your best to any role, particularly management.”
“I think the challenge of tech will always be there now.”
Before Louise Puddifoot founded her own Learning & Development firm, she spent over 20 years at global data giant Nielsen. She eventually became the corporation’s Vice President of Talent Development, a role in which she helped implement an Employee-Generated Learning approach at the corporation. Today, she’s dedicating her expertise to Willow & Puddifoot, a firm of “scaleup people development specialists” that help high-growth companies work through the people-related challenges of scaling their business.
Kasper: Good afternoon, and welcome Louise Puddifoot to the podcast – the first episode of what is hopefully going to be a long run. This podcast, the intention of it is to give a platform to people we don’t hear often from. So, if you look at the world of Learning & Development, we always see the same thought leaders writing books, presenting on conferences. And what I want to do is sort of find out what the other voices say inside the world of Learning & Development. So, the first voice that I would love to hear is the voice of Louise. I know her as an L&D professional from our collaboration when she was working at Nielsen. Also now, in our own company, we do collaborate on a regular basis. So, Louise, can you maybe give an introduction yourself?
Louise: Yeah, thanks very much Kasper. Great idea for a podcast. And I’m very privileged to be your first guest. So, thank you for that. I’m Louise Puddifoot. I am the director of a small Learning & Development consultancy called Willow and Puddifoot that I’ve been running… that I set up about three years ago. And prior to that, I had a background working in corporate Learning & Development leading different functions in L&D and primarily in Nielsen, as you mentioned.
Kasper: Okay, thank you. Yeah, and by the way, that that profile is one of the reasons I would love to speak to you as one of the first because you have a really nice mix of being inside a corporate environment, I think for a long time. So you’ve worked at Nielsen for maybe…
Louise: 20 odd years, yeah.
Kasper: For 20 years, even. Yeah. Now, a couple of years as an independent consultant advising people how to be better? So I think you have like a different perspective, which could make the conversation quite interesting. So, let’s start with the first question. So, I wanted to sort of tap into your L&D journey. So ready to sort of start and how did you end up in Learning & Development?
Louise: Yeah, yeah. I love Learning & Development. I really love developing people. And I think I started out my career actually in more of market research roles. But I was always one of those people who kind of dabbled in training and things like that, I was always getting involved in training. And I think I could always see that kind of gap where there were people in the business that didn’t have all the knowledge they needed or didn’t know what to do. So, things weren’t happening as well as they could do. Or people weren’t being able to perform as well as they could perform because of that gap. And that gap always frustrated me. So, I was always trying to kind of fill those gaps. And then that eventually evolved into, I guess, the career in Learning & Development that I’ve now had.
Kasper: Okay, and so can I ask, what kind of education that you had? Was it something that really led up to this? Or was it something in a different direction?
Louise: So my education, my degree was in Psychology. So, I was always really interested in how people work, how people think – and I’m still a bit of a psychology geek, to be honest with you. I love anything to do with psychology. So that whole field fascinates me. And I think that’s kind of what took me into market research and understanding consumer behavior. But then I ended up specializing much more in the Learning & Development side.
Kasper: Okay, so basically, what drives you basically is your, the people themselves? So, the need of the people, the developing people? So, that’s about it. It’s not like bringing a corporate’s department to a certain level? It’s really the impact you have on persons, is that correct?
Louise: It’s both actually. So, I love the impact you have on people. But I also love that kind of creative problem-solving. So, I love that kind of: the organization has a need, this… something needs to work better, or something new needs to happen and how to make that work better, and how to make that happen. That kind of… fulfilling that creative problem-solving thing is also something that I find personally really stimulating.
Kasper: Okay. Oh, that makes sense. So it’s a bit of both.
Louise: Yeah, a bit of both, which is lucky. I think that’s why I like that the area so much.
Kasper: Yeah, well, I think that the word “blended: applies to a lot of situations in learning, but also to a lot of careers. So, and if you look at your career, how did you end up from being in a corporate role at Nielsen into your current position, managing your own company?
Louise: Yeah. So, I was in the corporate role for a long time and I started a much more of a local level. So, I ended up starting out in Learning & Development when the business was reorganizing, and we needed to train one team in a product that a different team used to deliver that they’d now have to deliver. And I kind of lead that piece of training locally. And then that evolved into: the business, the UK business, wanted to set up a graduate trainee scheme. So, I took on that project to establish that graduate trainee scheme for the first time – we hadn’t had one for many years at that time (it was a long time ago now) – and roll that out. And I did that for that first cohort that first year and then handed it over to other people. And I was asked to join again a newly formed global training team initially to work on product training, of which I had like previous expertise, but then that evolved into more of the generic training. So, I was responsible for things like client service skills training, and the instructional design team, manager training, leadership training and setting up a coaching practice and various things in the business. And I think I always had this kind of burning desire in me to set up my own business for many, many years before I did it actually. And I had the pull, but I didn’t have the push because I really enjoyed the roles I had in corporate L&D. And I was really fortunate to have so many different opportunities in corporate L&D that I was never bored. I was always stimulated. But I think I just reached a certain point in life, you know, as you do when I realized that if I don’t make the change now, I’m just never going to. There’s no more excuses. So, I finally took the plunge. And three years ago, I did. I left and I set up on my own, which has been great. I’m really happy that I made that decision.
Kasper: And no regrets there, I think.
Louise: Yeah, no regrets. I’ve loved my time in corporate and I’m grateful for it. But it’s definitely the right thing now to lean on that expertise. But do it my own way now. It’s brilliant.
Kasper: And with your current company, so, can you describe what you do?
Louise: Yeah, so it’s a small Learning & Development consultancy. And we provide the typical Learning & Development Services, I guess. So sometimes that is Learning & Development consultancy around maybe reorganizing a Learning & Development function or implementing Employee-generated Learning as you know, Kasper. And sometimes it’s around creating and delivering programs, manager programs, leadership development, personal effectiveness programs. Sometimes working with companies that we’re helping them build their own product-specific, their own company-specific content, but helping them put that together using good L&D techniques. But we tend to work with kind of evolving companies. So, companies that go through change, sometimes that’s big corporates going through change (as many are). And sometimes that’s scaleup type companies that are evolving really quickly and need to get their L&D in place as they evolve. But yeah, I love change. I love working with evolving companies where things are changing all the time. And I think it’s really important in my organization now that we take a very practical approach. So I’d say I’m a very practical person; that it’s all about actually making a difference to behavior. So not the kind of, you know, long programs that then don’t deliver any impact. But much more blended, as you say, approach where you’re really putting practical techniques into place to make sure that change actually happens. That’s one… seeing that change happen is what makes us happy.
Kasper: But that also means that you not only had to make a shift from working in the corporate world into your own company, you also went from working within a corporate environment to scaling up companies, developing companies. Is there and is that because there is more… I know that the company you worked for, Nielsen, there was never a boring day there because there was a lot happening. So it’s not agility you’re looking for. What is it that attracts you into the growing companies that makes it more interesting?
Louise: Yeah, I think it’s the constant kind of hunger for growth, it’s the pace of change is much quicker, and I think the mindset of being really agile and focused on change is really appealing to me. So being really able to make that impact on companies that are growing really quickly – you can really feel that you make a big difference. And I love that whole kind of journey of things moving really fast.
Kasper: Because it’s sort of funny because I made sort of the reverse journey. Because I started out as a consultant. But as a consultant, you always have like a temporary impact. And when I came back to a company where I did a project a year later, I was very often a bit disappointed because what I had in mind when I left was not what I found when I came back. So that’s why I decided to join Easygenerator to really build long-term in one thing and sort of create something out of that. So do you, will you have that lasting impact on your customer? So probably you’re a better consultant I am so the chances are…
Louise: I know exactly what you mean. And I think that can be a frustration sometimes when you can see things that need to happen that won’t necessarily happen when you’re not there. We try and have longer term relationships with our clients. So that gives us the opportunity to keep going in and keep reinforcing things and keep helping things. But I do know what you mean. And yeah, that is an element of it. But I think, for me, that’s overridden by more positives. And the fact that I’m growing this business Willow & Puddifoot as well, gives me that satisfaction of, you know, building the way we’re working as a business and growing that piece.
Kasper: Yeah, also building your own company.
Louise: Yeah, that gives me a lot of satisfaction.
Kasper: Yeah, I can totally get that.
Louise: Not to the level of Easygenerator, of course, Kasper. But, you know, very small fry compared to Easygenerator.
Kasper: Yeah well, our journey is already a bit longer. So, what is before you? So, because I think that’s really interesting to dive a bit more into where you’re working currently – the companies that are basically just scaling-up companies. So, what do you think is their biggest need if you look at Learning & Development or developing people? So, what is the biggest hurdle they face, in your mind?
Louise: I think the biggest challenge is that pace of change and that ambiguity. So, often, what we hear about is people needing to function effectively in a world that’s constantly changing around them. So, how do you equip people to be able to do that well? And partly, we cover that in training, but it’s also that constant evolution of what we’re delivering. And that constant adaptation to the way they’re changing, that helps support them.
Kasper: So, that sounds a bit like it’s not just a training that you provide to them, but much more also, like coaching, so you have to sort of take them by the hand and learn them to do it in practice, is that what I hear?
Louise: Yeah, it’s usually a mixture of both. So, there’s a mixture of some kind of formal training and a mixture of some coaching alongside it, because things are so unique to each individual company, and they are changing all the time. And it’s a lot of the kind of skills and the Learning & Development processes and techniques and topics that the scaling companies need I’d say are really similar to a corporate or any organization. But I think it is that rate of change and ambiguity that makes it challenging. So, they’re typically hiring really, really fast, for example. So, you could be training a manager who has two direct reports one day, and 10 the next, and 20 not long after. So, their need to scale their ability to manage a team is massively accelerated, versus probably the manager at a similar level in a corporate environment. So, to be able to equip them with that fast pace of change that they’ve got to deal with.
Kasper: Now, that’s something I do recognize, of course. Easygenerator also almost doubles every year. So and especially because I think it’s a difference between… so, if you’re a BDR or in sales, you will have more colleagues, but especially in a role of a manager, indeed… so, if you don’t change from your role, probably the responsibility will be twice as big next year, because you will just have twice the amount of people.
Louise: Yeah, you can never sit on your laurels and think “I’ve nailed it now.” There’s always more to learn.
Kasper: Yeah, well, I’m already at Easygenerator for a decade now and I’m hearing every day, I have to say. And so is it then for you more interesting to work with the managers in those scaling-up companies or are you also working with any employees?
Louise: We work with both. Probably a larger volume of our work is with managers than any, but we do work with both. And I think the great thing about working with managers and leaders is you know the impact you have on them then gets magnified because of the impact they then have on the organization and their teams. So, if there’s ever a place to start, then I’d always start with the leaders and the managers.
Kasper: Okay, and what would be the number one lesson you want to learn to any manager in a changing environment like that? So, what is the one thing that you want to get across to them?
Louise: Mm hmm. Yeah, interesting. There’s so many things, I don’t know where to start with the one thing. But I think it’s… the place we normally start is really helping them understand themselves. So, I think, like with most things in life, you need to have self-awareness and understand yourself to then know how to bring your best to any role, particularly management. So, you know, knowing your strengths, knowing what you’re good at, knowing your tendencies, your styles of working, and appreciating that everyone else around you will be different than you, and what that means in terms of how you need to lead, I think is probably the most important thing that people need to start with to be successful.
Kasper: I can relate to that. But if you look at companies, so if I look at, for example, at Easygenerator, and a lot of the managers that we have are extremely young. So, for example Tom, our CRO, he’s now 29, I think? When he joined, he was like 25. And he’s responsible for maybe like 50 people in the company. If you want to be a good manager, and you actually need to know yourself, as you described, and then to be really self-assured there, it also requires some maturity. Is that like a contradiction with the scaling-up companies like Easygenerator in having really young, talented managers but not really experienced in life? Is that a disadvantage, in your mind? Or is that something that it’s not like a rule?
Louise: Yeah, to me, it depends on the person. So, I mean, Tom is amazing. He’s extremely capable, brilliant leader. So absolutely, you know, his self-awareness, and all those things we’ve talked about is really… those levels are really high. And you have some great people at Easygenerator, generally. I think it depends on the person. I think – not wishing to overly stereotype – but the good thing about having young managers is that they will learn their ways of working in this organization potentially more easily than somebody who has spent a long time doing things differently and it’s much harder to adapt. Not that I want to write off anyone older, because many people can adapt.
Kasper: Thank you.
Louise: You and me included, hopefully. But you know, generally speaking, that can be one of the advantages of having young leaders is that they’re much more adaptable and much more willing to kind of learn the way that you need to. But it depends on the individual, I think, really and having… they need to have an open mind. But it’s never too young to become self-aware and learn to understand yourself and your impact on people. Yeah, it should be taught at school, I reckon.
Kasper: It’s a big attention point for companies scaling up, that they sort of look at sort of the personal side, the managers, how they develop as a person, because that will reflect in how they will behave and act as a manager.
Kasper: Because I think that if I look at some companies that sometimes have sort of forgotten… the focus is so much on growth and revenue and things like that, that the people element can be easily forgotten. Because if I would say, what is the biggest success of Easygenerator it probably wouldn’t be the product or the growth, but it is indeed the team that you build, the people that you have. I think that is sort of what… Yeah, where the actual value of the company is, and what will bring you forward.
Louise: Yeah, I think that’s really true. I really see that in my interactions with Easygenerator, that the people are outstanding. And when I work with your clients, I frequently hear that reflected back in how impressed they are with the support that they get from the people. So, I think yeah, you can’t underestimate the impact that has, totally.
Kasper: Yeah, correct. Okay, and if you look at that scaling up companies, so… So, managing the basically the personal growth of people, making sure that they’re well balanced human beings, so they can actually be happy and working in a good ways is one thing. What would be a second attention point for companies like, like that, growing that fast?
Louise: Yeah, maybe slightly outside of L&D, but I think the fast pace of hiring is usually the biggest tension point from a people perspective. So, that that sits more on the hiring side of the business. But I think that leads then into how do you set people up for success quickly? How do you onboard them quickly? How do you share knowledge quickly? And having all those right systems in place to support people. You’re gonna have constantly new people coming into the business. How do you make sure the knowledge is out there and accessible for them, and then they can get up and running really fast?
Kasper: Okay. And if there would be a lesson for larger corporates like Nielsen or any other big company that they can learn from smaller companies that are growing… so, what would be the one thing there for you to tell them?
Louise: For me, I think it is about being nimble. So, I think that the big challenge if you work in L&D in a corporate is being able to be nimble or agile (to use an overused word) enough. I think it’s tough in corporate L&D because I think there’s two challenges to being nimble. There’s even the pace of change in corporate is getting quicker and quicker all of the time. But the kinds of processes and structures behind it and the traditions behind it are much more slow moving. So, how do you kind of shift that mindset into the mindset that a scaleup might have where they’re willing to constantly change and readapt all the time? I think the days are gone really of, you know, you can plan out your year’s plan and sit back and think, “Right, we’re just implementing this and then we’ll take another look in a year’s time.” You just have to be much more nimble than that these days. And I think the other thing is the tech. So, I see, I work a lot with tech scaleups, so I suppose I would see this. But you know, they’re very tech savvy, and they embrace new tech and make the most of new tech. And I think, again, it’s hard in corporate L&D to keep up with the tech. The, you know, the tech that we’re all using in our everyday lives, evolves constantly, and people have an expectation of the same level in their learning and being able to deliver that is a tough challenge, I think, for corporate L&D.
Kasper: Okay, so but that’s indeed, like, the word “mindset” is sort of crucial there. So, that is also the biggest difference between people working in a starting company or a bigger company you think?
Louise: Yeah, I think you do. You can get a different mindset of a type of person in each company, I guess. And having that agile mindset, that kind of comfort with ambiguity, comfort with change, I think it’s important actually in both. But I think, traditionally, those people are maybe attracted more to the scaleup organizations than the corporates, but actually you need that more and more in corporate.
Kasper: Okay. And so if you look at the world of learning that we’re in now, but so you sort of fast-forward like, a few years into the future, like five years from now: what do you think will be our biggest challenge? Are they the same as we have now? Or will there be something completely new on the horizon?
Louise: I think the challenges will be similar. I think the challenge of keeping up with tech will always be there now. So, if I look at young people, for example. I sound so old, saying “young people” don’t I? But, people in their teens and 20s – they do so much on video. So, they don’t type messages to each other, they record video messages to each other. They look at mini-videos on TikTok constantly throughout their day. So, whereas our default might have been typing or speaking, their default is recording a video and sending it. And I think that’s going to, you know, as they ease people into the workforce that’s bound to have an impact. And there’ll be more changes that follow this that have an impact. So, it’s just constantly knowing, you know, how culture is changing, and how that impacts learning, I think is a challenge. And I think the other one, I suppose, which I would have probably said this If you’d asked me this question five years ago, as well. But it’s personalization. So, people’s expectations and need to have much more personalized content is still there. And again, how we experience that in our outside-of-work lives. You know, we receive a great deal of personalization in our personal lives and how things are presented to us. And having that expectation of personalization in our learning is there and I don’t think it’s quite… it’s still evolving. I don’t think it’s quite where people want it to be yet. And I think that’ll carry on for the next few years.
Kasper: Okay, so the biggest things are not like we’re moving from LMS to LXP, but again, it’s the people with you.
Louise: Yeah, I suppose it is actually. Yeah. Yeah, I’m, I mean, I think… my personal opinion, and I would say that I’m not an expert, is that the LMS days are numbered. So I don’t feel like you need an LMS to necessarily be successful. I get the point of it. But certainly the old traditional LMS I feel like its time has probably passed. So, I feel like that will likely be upgraded or replaced going forward with a much more personalized experience, which is more like your Learner Experience Platforms or something like that.
Yeah. Well, yeah, I totally am with you on that. Because like 10 years ago, probably, I actually delivered a speech in DevLearn about the death of the corpse LMS. And I think I was a bit ahead of time. It’s actually happening now you see more and more companies need moving more towards Learning Experience Platforms. And the key thing there is that responsibility shifts from the Learning department towards the learner more and more, which is also connected to that individual approach which you of course, mentioned.
Louise: Yeah, absolutely. It’s the way to do it.
Kasper: So it will be an enabler there. That’s interesting because… and sort of why I wanted to have conversations like this, because if you look at a lot of the thought leaders, a lot of the writing and thinking is about technology and what technology makes possible. And, basically, with you that’s not the case, it’s much more… it is maybe something that can help a bit, but it’s not like the key thing that you’re looking at. So, that is interesting. So, just back to the people, I like that.
Louise: Yeah, technology is an enabler or a building block. But it’s not the aim. Yeah.
Kasper: Yeah, yes, I think that the way that I look at it indeed is that for a long time, technology has been blocking us from doing things because… I remember (because I’ve been in learning for a long time) so, when we finally, in the 90s, were able to put a bit more advanced stuff on a CD ROM, then the internet happens! And we had to move online and we didn’t have any performance. So, we need to drop all the interactivity that we had developed, all the stuff. So that was really like that… always a feeling that we want to do more but technology is holding us back. I think that we now reached the point that in most countries anyway, the technology has such a high level that we can basically do anything. So, it is no longer an issue. So, you can do anything. The connectivity is there. So, it doesn’t really matter. Yeah, I agree with you that the driving power of technology sort of drops because it’s no longer blocking us. It’s now basically our mindsets holding us back.
Louise: Yeah. Yeah. Great. I like that.
Kasper: Okay, so I also thought we need to start wrapping up a bit. So, I have a couple of questions, just more out of curiosity. So, who would be your ultimate learning hero?
Louise: Hmm. The probably the person that I read most frequently is Seth Godin. So, I liked Seth Godin’s work and, I don’t know if you’re familiar with him but he sends a daily blog and I’m always curious to read his daily blog in my email. And I think it’s pretty amazing if somebody can write daily and it still keeps my curiosity going. So that’s a good one for me.
Kasper: And is there a certain approach or idea behind his writing that that you really like? Or is it more?
Louise: It’s a lot of… Yeah, it’s kind of challenging the culture and challenging the norms of how we do things and thinking about doing things differently that I think appeals to me around that. And it is related to Learning & Development a bit as well.
Kasper: So always shifting things up and trying to see if there’s something underneath that you can improve and take on.
Louise: Yeah, and it’s real bite sized stuff. So, I love that approach, that it’s not feeling like you have to give thousands of words to get your point across. But a very short, you know, few sentences that can deliver a really meaningful message.
Kasper: Okay. So that’s interesting, because my next question was: what is the sort of like the most important book on learning in your mind something you would advise? But maybe it shouldn’t be a book, but just a blog or a video? So, what’s kind of content piece would you recommend to people to check out?
Louise: Yeah, I would recommend that Seth Godin blog for sure. I think, if I think about a book, it probably won’t surprise you that it’s more of a people one. But the book, a book I really like is called The School of Life. It’s written by a guy called Alain de Botton who’s part of the school of life. And it’s kind of a psychological, philosophical kind of book. So, it’s kind of trying to teach you all those things you never learn in school. I think they call it an emotional education. So, something that I believe and that will be reflected in this book is that you know, you learn all this great stuff at school, all this great academic work, but it doesn’t really teach you the skills you need for life or the emotional skills that you need. So, the school of life is teaching you those things. So, it’s kind of some stuff around, you know, understanding yourself, your interactions with others, your relationships, and then also what that means from a work point of view. So, it kind of feeds into the L&D stuff that we do, but it’s much more around developing people, which I feel is a gap in how our… certainly our children are educated. So I’m always keen on understanding how we can get better educated on that side of things.
Kasper: So that’s, I haven’t heard of that. So, I will definitely check that out. So, to people who are listening, we will – both the blog and the book – we’ll put that information so you can actually click on it and go to it. So hopefully you were willing to share that, Louise. Yeah, finally your last question. So, I do hope that this series is sort of bringing itself forward. So, I don’t want to sort of pick and choose people. I want to pick a few starting points and then take it forward. So, my next question is, Who do you think I should talk to next? So, what is an interesting person to interview? According to you?
Louise: Yeah, well, I can tell you a person that I go to when I want advice and expertise around Learning & Development is somebody that I work with sometimes and consider to be a real genius in the field and her name is Diane Law. So, she’s a Learning & Development consultant for a company called Peppermill. And she just brings a really kind of interesting balance of cognitive psychology and business management in one. So, I find that she has a like really fresh perspective in the way that she looks at things. So, she’d be good to talk to.
Kasper: Oh, okay, cool. So, I will definitely reach out to her and see if she’s interested.
Louise: Thank you.
Kasper: The other side of things that I really want to explore in this series is the technology side of things, a bit more. So, next time, we’ll talk to somebody, his name is Alfred Remmits. And he’s the CEO of a company which is sort of working on a tool on the Five Moments of Learning Need. So, it’s a really different perspective but also an interesting one. So, that’s the second starting point of this series. But I will definitely follow up on your suggestion. Thank you, Louise. Thank you very much for joining this conversation. I really enjoyed it. And I’m looking forward to, actually, the next conversation that you introduced and the book so, thank you for that as well.
Louise: Thank you.