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Interview with Matt Ash

5 min read

An interview with Matt Ash, Director of Learning, Media Zoo

Media Zoo is one of the UK’s leading award-winning, creative communications agencies with a blue-chip client base. With well over 100 awards to its name over the last five years, and a team of 100 full-time multimedia professionals.

How would you describe the journey of the past 4 months personally and professionally?

Everything hit us in one day and we have a big film team that was ground to a halt overnight. The larger production team work mostly with digital assets and the transition of their work was pretty seamless. I have a big belief in freedom and autonomy but even I was questioning how we would make sure people were working from home. I needed have worried though, the team have been amazing.

The fascinating part has been how much I feel we have been missing out on ideation and face to face sessions with clients. It's such an important part of our creative process. But I have gotten closer to my teammates from a distance - when we talk it is much more personal because we are at home and we have our guard down a bit.

As we enter this ‘next normal’, what are some of the biggest challenges you are facing as a Learning leader?

I have a team, I try to make sure people's wellbeing is taken care of and making sure that they have what they need.

When the furlough scheme ends at the end of this month the real damage will be realised for our clients... The fears around the future, as we are an agency and rely on other businesses making revenue, so we are right in the firing line. Understanding that client budgets are dropping, so how are we maintaining the service when they have less money?

What skills do you think are more important now than ever before?

Resilience is needed more than ever. People need to understand what they are doing and why getting them through the unknown. Meta skills and the ability to learn is now crucial and so is adaptability and agility for individuals and teams.

"Metaskills and the ability to learn is now crucial"
Are you experimenting with anything different to upskill your people?

We traditionally don’t have a formal L&D program so we have always played with the idea of setting high expectations, defining clear goals and then helping the team achieve them.

We are starting to use the workplace by a Facebook tool. All of our virtual collaboration is being done over zoom and Miro and our day to day communication is being moved from slack to Workplace - a lot of the team prefer workplace so far.

The only downside is that we used to have a channel for every project. As a leader, it was great for me as I could drop in and see updates on all projects in one place.

Using Workplace by Facebook as a way to provide learning content has a lot of potentials. It would work for some people and not others if you can find a good use for it now.

The biggest benefit of leveraging a tool like a Workplace for learning and development is the UI - as it’s Facebook it's really easy for people to use.

What are your favourite books/podcasts/sites/resources for L&D right now?

The Future of Learning podcast is a must-listen. The Mind Chimp podcast by Danny Seals is a must-listen. I'm still a fan of the Knowledge Project by Shane Parrish.

The Learning and Development industry is inward-looking. I, therefore, like to take inspiration from other industries to get creative inspiration. The best way to come up with ideas is to bind two things together and sometimes you can lift and shift stuff from other sectors and make it work for L&D. For me it is about seeing stuff around you and reflecting on it.

I'm also listening to a lot of northern Soul music right now - I go through different phases when it comes to music!

What do you think the future holds for L&D as a department?

For the next 6 months, we will still be reacting and dealing with the COVID situation. Hopefully, we will get over the initial excitement of moving everything virtual and getting back to identifying the actual problem for the user.

A trend I see coming is a move away from choosing a technology solution and then trying to make it fit for the user. There are a lot of talented people moving into the industry now that are proponents of design the learner experience and solution instead of diving in tech first.

"There are a lot of talented people moving into the industry now that are proponents of design the learner experience and solution first instead of diving in tech first"

It is going to become more about organisation design before L&D. If people are struggling to sell it may be that they don't have access to the right resources as well as a skills gap. Learning and development need to take into consideration these wider macro challenges on teams and the wider business strategy.

I am probably in a bubble as there is a huge swathe of businesses that are still operating in a very traditional sense and through no fault of their own this is how they have always done things. That said, I can feel the tide turning for learning and development as an industry.

"I can definitely feel the tide turning for learning and development as an industry"

L&D is starting to feel like it is 'professionalising' and there seems to be a more rigorous approach to what we do now which is exciting.

The great thing about L&D is that people will jump in and challenge you and as a profession, we are open to hearing new ways of doing things.

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