20 September

Student Story: Justine Leigh- Senior Director of Learning & Development | Professional Development Learning | Learning Production, at ICON PLC

Could you tell me about yourself, your role, and the focus of your team?

I’m one of the Senior Directors in the ICON University. There are three of us in the management team that feed through to the Senior Vice President, who is overseas in ICON University and HR Shared Services. My team is responsible for the curriculum that supports the core areas of the business – and I specifically say core areas, because ICON is massive. So there are also smaller niche areas that we do our best to support as well. However, that is not our primary focus. 

Our focus is to upskill the bigger cohort of the population, which includes our clinical research assistants, managers, etc. So if stakeholders have a learning need, they can put a ServiceNow ticket request through to my team. We then validate that need according to a number of principles, such as stakeholder management, whether it’s aligned with business needs and whether it is a high priority. 

We don’t have a massive team of resources. My team of 100 supports every facet of the curriculum for 40,000 employees. And so we’ve got to make sure we’re diligent in the way that we approach the learning solutions we take on. So our function also includes an element of stakeholder advising, which supports the business in making the right decisions around what learning they’re investing in. And of course, we’re there to help support their actual curriculum offering as well.

Why did you choose Digital Learning Institute?

From a strategic perspective, the reason we chose this course specifically was because we found we had a pool of L&D professionals who’d been doing their jobs for 5-10 years, but had never really studied the methodology behind areas like instructional design. I could see that they had been putting together courses and delivering instruction pretty much on the run. So we wanted to embed that into a stronger foundation of instructional design so that people could better connect the dots. It became more about not just showing up to deliver, but actually understanding the ‘why’, the taxonomies, and the methodology that all underpin the L&D approach. 

So that was quite unique to the team – and perhaps many teams are like that nowadays. I think that the L&D profession is diluted in skills at the moment. So I was really looking to bolster that. We found that investing in people led to a swing in their approach – even when they started project leading, as many of their roles would be project leading curriculum. And although they might not do some of the design elements, there was an added plus that they were multi-skilled and could dip into that if needed. So the approach and the decision to go with this program was multipronged. 

I had actually been through this program myself with an earlier team. And that’s why I recognized that this is the right one for my team to go through as well. And it is because it fills those gaps. It takes you through those fundamentals that you need to understand in order to be able to be a true L&D instructional design person. However, it also teaches you how to better deliver, since in order to deliver training, you need to understand some of those foundational aspects as well.

So the multipronged element involved looking at the development of individuals and asking: In which areas could we help you further develop in order to maximise your role in L&D? Many of these employees were trainers, so we wanted to see if we could dive into a small fraction of design. Of course, design is much more advanced and there would be other elements of it that they wouldn’t have been exposed to. However, this course was a starting point to see if there was interest. 

And we have found people willingly wanting to put their hands up to cross skill from the facilitation team to the production team, which is something that we enable when there’s capacity. During down periods when people are not facilitating, we then pull them into the design team to support projects. And this has helped us from an organisational perspective because we have a cross functional team. We’re not trying to dilute the skills, but we’re doing it in a structured manner for them to be able to start the design. And then of course, they’d be mentored around what we’re looking for in the next step. 

We’ve also seen benefits in how we work with external vendors. We can now go into our discussions with the vendors with better expectations. This way, they know to ask the right questions from the instructional design point of view – which is massive. Before this course, they were just turning up, taking what the vendor says and asking whether it looks good or not. It’s definitely helped even our production team have to do less on that from the project lead side. Now the project lead is able to include the right information on the scoping doc, which previously had to be done by our production team. So there are definitely more robust skills in the team to leverage. 

As you work with many different contractors and SMEs, can you share some more around how the course has helped you overcome inefficiencies?

Because the team is now familiar with the process of what should go into instructional design, it certainly eliminates any efficiencies, wasted resources, wasted money, and time that it previously took to have to rebuild. We no longer get to the end point and realise that we didn’t do something. So it gives us a nice structure to follow.

It has been challenging because we’ve recently acquired a whole separate production team that had a very different way of working. Previously, the ICON University team was 60 and now the combined team is close to 100. This team supports the LMS, the technology, the design, the delivery, and all aspects of learning and development in the organisation.

I think definitely having the knowledge of L&D and the course essentials helps you make sure the learning is meaningful. Ultimately, what we are about as an L&D team is to add value to the bottom line for the business. We are here to support the business. And we’re here to advise the business. So when the business comes to us with a request to build a curriculum, we’re not just gophers – and we shouldn’t be. So this would be a challenge that we have. You may be used to receiving a request and putting it into your LMS. But then you have 40,000 courses as a result since you have every SME developing what they believe is a good course. And this is a massive inefficiency when you have an LMS that has redundant courses sitting in it. 

So overcoming those inefficiencies involves making sure you invest in the right solution at the right time. And that’s actually part of our motto: ‘just in time learning’. Anyone can just produce something that they call a learning event. But learning should be meaningful and be making a difference. So we are now making sure we are investing in the right solution – which increases overall efficiency. And since the governance underpins everything, it’s important to consider how you select a vendor so that you can make sure it’s a vendor that actually subscribes to the principles that you have defined for the team. 

All of those things affect efficiency at the end of the day. And now in our production team, we have about five vendors with whom we work diligently. These vendors meet our criteria and are aligned with us in terms of what we’re looking for. So we’ve definitely pruned that to a finer choice in terms of what actually supports instructional design principles.