Dec 22, 2020 - Josh Zimmerman  

Building a Handbook First Remote Learning Culture

An overview on how to build a handbook first remote learning culture

Learn more about the GitLab Learning and Development team!

This blog post is Unfiltered

Learning & Development (L&D) is a vital function of any organization’s People or HR team. When most professionals think of L&D, they may remember sitting in the back of a conference room hearing a corporate trainer deliver slides, or maybe accessing self-paced training once or twice a year, or perhaps taking a survey on how to grow their skills. At GitLab, L&D is a huge priority and we do it differently than most organizations!

Since GitLab is all-remote and our Handbook is our primary source of learning, you may be asking yourself, how does L&D create and reinforce a remote learning culture?

GitLab’s Handbook is over 8,000 pages long, and it grows every day. We consider each page to be a source of learning & development material. Pages are for training new team members on GitLab processes, culture, ways of working, and much more. The Handbook is publicly available worldwide, and anyone can learn about GitLab Remote working culture and DevOps. It’s a ton to digest, and from a learning perspective, the text-based format can lean heavily on reading and video. For GitLab to scale L&D, we need to make our Handbook more consumable where it is easy to learn new things!

I joined GitLab eight months ago from management consulting to help build a learning culture. It’s an exciting opportunity. Our team is growing fast. We deliver more resources to the community, and we are helping team members learn more by introducing new handbook first learning modalities. I wanted to share my thoughts on some of the biggest takeaways on building a handbook first remote learning culture. Consider these ingredients to scaling L&D:

Build a Learning Infrastructure

GitLab’s Handbook is our primary source of training material. Every piece of content pulls from the handbook. As GitLab continues to grow, we needed to invest in a learning technology infrastructure that can enable personalized/self-service learning. By taking material in the handbook, we can apply a level of interactivity to allow various learning styles to consume bite-sized content. We recently invested in a Learning Experience Platform (LXP) by EdCast that will significantly improve our ability to provide certifications, assessments, and self-service learning.

We also invested in a content library from LinkedIn Learning for off-the-shelf content. Team members will have access to the library for courses that can supplement GitLab’s customized learning content. There's also our use of Articulate 360, which we use to build interactive handbook first courses in the LXP.

The L&D team has pursued various certification programs that complement our values, such as Tracom Corporations Social Styles facilitator and Crucial Conversations certification from VitalSmarts. Our plan is to equip the L&D team with as many tools to design and deliver scalable training. By continuing to invest in learning technologies, we want our team members to know that growing your skills is a top priority for the future of GitLab.

Design Social Learning Experiences

Remote work can have some drawbacks. One of those challenges may be a lack of connection with your coworkers. GitLab L&D uses our live learning courses as an opportunity to build relationships and a sense of community with team members. There may not be a lot of forums outside of coffee chats, AMAs, group conversations, or 1-1 meetings where team members can Learn From Others. We have started to adapt our live learnings to serve as networking activities where team members work on scenarios in small groups, get to know one another, and share lessons learned. We’ve noticed increased engagement across learners and an atmosphere of encouraging collaboration. Social Learning is the cornerstone of how we will design learning experiences. We can’t expect participants to pay attention to slides for 25 to 50-minute sessions, so we decided to throw out most of them! Team members want to network and build connections during sessions. Why not use learning as a forum to do just that?

Prioritize Leadership Buy-In and Sponsorship.

GitLab’s CEO, Sid, is very passionate about L&D. He wants to be part of our learning initiatives and share knowledge from his experience growing the organization. Sid has partnered with L&D on recording interviews and advocating for up-leveling our handbook first learning content. In order to scale, we receive executive support from Sid and the rest of the e-group on essential initiatives. Our leadership is behind us. Without their support for learning, it would be difficult for L&D to grow and show our people we are invested in them.

Change Management for Learning & Development

Asking team members to take time out to learn new skills takes time and energy. Everyone at GitLab is incredibly busy, and carving out time to reskill, and upskill requires a proactive approach. We use GitLab communication vehicles such as Slack channels and Issues to spread various learning initiatives. With the introduction of new tools, technology, initiatives, and courses, L&D has to conduct continuous change management with a heavy focus on communications and enablement. Some of those methods include a monthly continuous learning call and quarterly newsletter, where we highlight what’s happening in the L&D space.

Focus on Developing your Leaders

One of my first initiatives at GitLab was developing a manager enablement program. The program’s focus is to reinforce behaviors through a set period of time, 3 weeks, to train our leaders on remote management practices. We applied neuroscience techniques so that participants can learn at their own pace through positive engagement and social learning. We also recognized that learners might have various attention span ranges, so why not create a program that allows participants to complete activities through daily challenges that take 20 minutes to complete. The program is bite-sized, blended for different learning styles, flexible, and engaging with the focus on equipping managers with critical skills.

By focusing on managers as a key priority for L&D, we were able to pilot a program and iterate on future deliveries rapidly. We now have a group of managers who are learning ambassadors that can advocate for learning initiatives in the future.

Reinforce GitLab Values

C.R.E.D.I.T. is the acronym GitLab uses for our six values. One way for us to reinforce our values is by threading them throughout our curriculum design and development. The values serve as the cornerstone to how GitLab operates as a Remote organization. I’m lucky to work for an organization that takes them so seriously, and it makes my job as an L&D professional easier. By rooting learning in our values, we can reinforce behaviors.

Prove L&D is a high-value organization

L&D is a relatively new organization within GitLab. Our team considers ourselves strategic enablers. We are striving to develop a mindset that feels responsible for driving strategy and leading change. Think bigger and broader by being proactive in understanding GitLab’s goals, methods, and operations. We have a goal to align every aspect of L&D with the rest of the company. By piloting and iterating new initiatives, we let the organization know that we are here to enable behavioral change that directly increases results!

We have a colossal charter set out for us in L&D. But with the strong encouragement from our leadership, we know that building a handbook first remote learning culture is top of mind. Hopefully, some of the points outlined in this blog will equip you with a few tips on building a learning culture within your organization.

To learn more, check out our handbook page, GitLab Learning and Development, or contact learning@gitlab.com to speak with a member of our team.

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