Welcome to eXplore – BLP’s new vlog series where we explore what’s possible in workplace learning.

In this episode, Steve Boller interviews Melissa Daimler, Principal of Daimler Partners. Melissa has been an executive at high-growth companies for over twenty years. She created and built Learning & Organizational Development functions for Adobe, Twitter, and WeWork. Now, she works as an executive coach, advisor, and facilitator.

In the interview, Melissa discusses the challenges she faced in developing learning programs for these large corporations. She also shares her plans for her keynote presentation at eXLearn 2019, BLP’s second annual workplace learning conference.

Watch the full interview here or read the excerpts below.

1. Give us a quick overview of who you are and what you do.

I have led organizational development and learning functions for over 20 years at pretty iconic companies. I was at Adobe, Twitter, and most recently, WeWork. And I care a lot about companies getting their culture right. I have had the opportunity to do that internally and now I’m doing that externally with a number of different companies.

I wrote an HBR article last year that was what I consider the manifesto of my career. I started to think more about what culture is and how to operationalize it into things we can control and define more intentionally. So a lot of the work I’m doing now, again similar to what I was doing internally, is helping companies define and build their culture.

2. What is it about your background and interests that led you to seats within organizations like these?

I credit Adobe a lot for giving me an opportunity to explore different areas and functions. I was actually in HR there as well as worked in parts of OD. I launched the first coaching program there. I got to work with every function (sales to engineering to marketing to legal) and really got to understand the business and what the business needs versus what we from an HR perspective wanted to give. This was the same with Twitter.

I credit my boss Janet Van Huysse. When we first looked at the position, it was scoped as learning and development. But we expanded it to focus more on organizational effectiveness. I love being part of these fast-growing companies and continuing to figure out how to mold and iterate on a lot of the practices and processes.

3. What do you enjoy about looking at an entire organization and its challenges versus just learning and development or a training program or something that’s more tactical?

I really love the whole systems perspective. I’ve always believed that you can’t look at individual development without also looking at organizational development. If we want to develop people, then we have to figure out what skills we want and what we expect of our employees in terms of those skills. Then how are we as an organization going to make that sticky? How do we reinforce those skills? Do we have a consistent decision-making model? These are some of the challenges I deal with. So making a learning experience relevant and real is really important. I think it’s crucial to recognize the intersection between the individual and the organizational development as an entire system.

What gets me really excited about this whole field and the work I’m doing is the thought that work is a great opportunity to grow not just as an employee but as a human being. And I can’t think of a better place to help identify what triggers us, challenges us, how can we listen better, make decisions faster, or prioritize more effectively. I think if you’re really going to have an organization where that can happen, you have to create the space and the practices and the time to help people reflect on what they’re learning along the way.

 4. At Twitter and WeWork, your role was to build the L&D function from the ground up. What are some of the challenges or key things in doing that?

I think Adobe had a strong learning and development function and there was a really great woman who led that for a long time. She ended up passing the baton to me and continued to work on my team and act as my mentor as I was transitioning. But the biggest shift we were trying to make was moving from pushing programs out and thinking of ourselves as a training function to thinking about what problems we were trying to solve. What solutions were we trying to offer up to the business? So we worked side-by-side with our business partners and business leaders to understand their issues. We still had kind of our flagship learning experiences but again we tried to use opportunities to reinforce what we were trying to develop in people.

The biggest transition I had to make from Adobe to Twitter was this whole concept of getting V1 out there as quickly as possible. I had more of the luxury of time at Adobe. We worked really hard to craft the problem statement to figure out what we were trying to do. We had six months and sometimes a year. I don’t think that’s the case anymore these days.

I remember at Twitter the CEO at the time was passing by my desk he’s like, “When are we going to get the first framework on this management learning experience?” And I was shocked because I had been there for two weeks. I still hadn’t gotten to know everybody or talked to about what needs to happen. But it was such a great learning experience because we ended up having a good conversation about it. We created this learning experience very quickly and were able to apply design thinking and iterate along the way. It was this huge shift to be OK with something not being 100 percent. It was good enough knowing that we were going to co-create and iterate later.

5. Tell us a little bit about your consulting practice. What are some things that you’ve really enjoyed or what are some things that you’re really excited about that you’re getting to do with your clients today?

I think a myth out there about culture is that once you’ve defined culture you’re done. So I’m really excited about a couple of companies that I’m working with that are in completely different places. One is a startup where the CEO is really forward-thinking and knows that defining an intentional culture is an important part of creating a strong foundation for the company. So I work with them to define values and behaviors and operationalize those into things like the interview guide, how they give feedback, and how they recognize people.

Another company I work with is one that’s been around for over 20 years. They have a great culture. But it’s more fragmented. They’re now at an inflection point where they realize they actually have to have a more cohesive culture – one that’s defined across a consistent language. So I’m doing a similar exercise with them. But again in a very different place of their lifecycle.

6. At a high level, what are some of the themes you’re planning on talking about in your keynote presentation at eXLearn?

I think it’s a lot of what we’ve talked about. I think you can’t talk about learning without also talking about culture. You can’t talk about culture without also talking about learning. I’ve started to do a lot more research on culture and how learning plays into healthy, functional cultures. Some of the companies that have been most successful have these learning environments and these learning cultures in which you know they’re not necessarily hustling harder and failing faster. I think we’ve done ourselves a disservice especially in Silicon Valley to kind of have these catchy terms that don’t necessarily move the needle forward long term. So I’m going to talk about the intersection between culture and learning and how you can create that at different phases of a company and what that looks like. I want to share a lot of examples from my own personal experience and then some of the examples most recently that I know that I have had the privilege to be part of.

The Fast Five

1. A person you love to follow on social media? 

Jocelyn K. Glei. She has a podcast called Hurry Slowly. She’s just such a great interviewer and very thoughtful about both her questions and how she thinks about work in the world.

2. A great piece of advice you have received? 

A good day starts the night before.

3. Biggest lesson learned in business? 

Say yes even if you don’t think you’re ready. 

4. Favorite website, blog, or podcast? 

I love Maria Popova.

5. App you can’t live without? 

Focus at Will

Excellence in Workplace Learning Starts Here

Join us in Indianapolis September 4-5th for BLP's second annual eXLearn conference.