S4:E6 • February 22, 2024 •
Navigating the Future of L&D: Maximizing ROI and Embracing Disruptive Trends in 2024

In this episode of the Digital Adoption Show, host Mayank Arora, a Customer Success Manager at Whatfix, welcomes Rob Lauber, an esteemed figure in the realm of learning and development (L&D). Rob, the founder of XLO Global, boasts over 30 years of experience in L&D, with notable roles at companies like McDonald’s and Yum! Brands, as well as advisory positions. Rob emphasizes driving business value through innovative L&D strategies, leveraging technology, and enhancing organizational learning. His insights stem from a blend of deep industry knowledge and practical experience. As the former Chair of the Board of Directors for the Association for Talent Development, Rob is dedicated to advancing the L&D landscape.


Show’s Introduction

Welcome to a new episode of the Digital Adoption Show, your premier podcast for groundbreaking insights and transformative strategies in today’s evolving learning landscape. I’m your host, Mayank Arora, Customer Success Manager at Whatfix. Today, we are diving into navigating the future of L&D, maximizing ROI, and embracing disruptive trends in 2024.


Guest’s Introduction

Today, we have the privilege of speaking with Rob Lauber, a luminary in the world of learning and development. Rob is the founder of Excello Global, where he focuses on helping learning teams drive more business value. Rob has also played a pivotal role in shaping learning strategies for a variety of sectors.

His background is rich, with over 30 years in the L&D space, marked by his tenure at renowned companies like McDonald’s and Yum! Brands, and his advisory role at various organizations. His expertise lies in driving functional transformation, leveraging learning technologies, and implementing innovative L&D strategies that deliver real business value.

Additionally, Rob has served as the Chair of the Board of Directors for the Association for Talent Development, further highlighting his commitment to advancing the field of L&D. Rob’s approach to L&D is both strategic and hands-on, blending his deep industry knowledge with practical solutions.

He is passionate about enhancing organizational learning, promoting skill development, and preparing businesses to succeed in a rapidly changing world. We are excited to delve into his insights and experiences, uncovering the strategies and philosophies that have made him a key figure in transforming the L&D landscape.

Welcome to our podcast, Rob.

Rob Lauber: “It’s great to be here. Thanks for having me today.”

Mayank Arora: “Lovely, lovely to see you, Rob.”


The Digital Pulse

Before we dive into our main discussion, let’s kick off this new episode with our segment, The Digital Pulse. This is where we try to connect the dots between passion and profession, uncovering how individual journeys shape visionary leadership.

Mayank Arora: “So Rob, is there a passion or activity outside of work that’s particularly close to your heart?”

Rob Lauber: “Well, I have three daughters, so that’s been a passion or activity that I’ve spent a lot of time on over the last 20-plus years. But they’re growing up now and becoming much more independent, which is good.

“I spent a lot of time with them in sports, specifically hockey. In the U.S., they call it field hockey, but it’s just hockey in general. Many of the audience members are familiar with it. So that’s been my passion and activity, along with my family. My secondary passion is affordable housing.

“I have some investments with a few friends where we build homes that people can afford to live in. We do this in various places throughout the United States right now.”

Mayank Arora: “Wow, that is pretty great, especially how multifaceted your personality is. You’ve been working on the professional front and also contributing to the community. Thank you for that insight.”


Rapid Fire Round: Triple Strike

Now, we’re going to move to a short rapid-fire round. We’re calling it the Triple Strike, where we ask our guests three quirky questions and expect fun answers to get a deeper glimpse into their minds. Are you ready to be triple-struck, Rob?

Rob Lauber: “Yeah, sure. I can’t wait to see what these questions are. So, let’s go.”


Mayank Arora: “If a biography was written about your life, what do you think would be the title of the book?”

Rob Lauber: “That’s a really good question. I don’t know. I always think about it as something along the lines of ‘Right Where He Was Supposed to Be’ or ‘In the Right Place at the Right Time.’ Someone more clever than me could come up with a title, but it would be something like that.”

Mayank Arora: “Nice, and that just shows me how humble you are, Rob.”


Mayank Arora: “Okay, here’s your next question, which is a funny one: If animals could participate in L&D programs, which animal do you think would be the most enthusiastic learner and why?”

Rob Lauber: “The most enthusiastic learner would probably be the biggest trick. I dabbled a bit in horse racing a few years ago and thought about horses and their relationship to human performance. Some days, horses just don’t feel like running, and other days they want to be out in front.

“But enthusiasm always makes me think more along the lines of dolphins and porpoises, which have a bigger intellect in the animal world. They tend to be excellent learners and seem to demonstrate a lot of enthusiasm.”

Mayank Arora: “Pretty good. I’ve heard dolphins are the most intelligent mammals in the world.”

Rob Lauber: “Yeah, some days they’re definitely smarter than humans.”


Mayank Arora: “Right. Here’s the next question. I don’t know how many languages you speak, Rob, but if you could speak any language fluently, which language would you choose, and what’s the first thing you’d do with your new skill?”

Rob Lauber: “That’s a good question. I think, for practical purposes, I’d choose Spanish. My kids speak Spanish fluently because they’ve learned it from a young age. Sometimes, they have conversations that I’m not a part of, so it would be handy to know what they’re talking about when they don’t want me to hear it.

“I also interact with the Hispanic community in my work around affordable housing. Many builders and recipients don’t speak English, so speaking Spanish fluently would be great. If someone could wave a wand over me, I’d be happy. I know AI could help, but fluency would help me connect personally with people.”

Mayank Arora: “Great. My New Year’s resolution was to learn French so that whenever I visit Paris, I can talk to people in French, but yeah, long way to go for sure.”

“Hello, and I’m probably missing that right now, but anyway, moving on to our next segment. I do want to say that those are truly extraordinary answers, and we truly loved them. Now that you’re comfortable and settled in, let’s dive into a more serious conversation here. This is something our listeners have been anticipating for a while. So, let me start with the first one.”


Rob’s Journey into Learning and Development

Mayank Arora: “So, Rob, could you share with us how your journey in L&D began and what motivated you to pursue this particular path?”


Initial Steps in L&D:

Rob Lauber: “Yeah, interesting. My journey began, I don’t know, it depends on how far back you want to go. But from a work perspective, it started early in my career when I was at my first company, Dun & Bradstreet, after a few part-time jobs during my early years.

“My first full-time job was with Dun & Bradstreet, focused on collecting business information. I got quite good at it, especially at spotting business fraud. I became proficient, and soon enough, I was asked to teach others to recognize it and share what I knew with them.

“I started conducting workshops locally and was then invited to join a national training team. I moved to the national office and began teaching classes, doing this for around three years. That was my first foray into learning and development, though I wouldn’t say it unlocked my passion at that point. I liked it because it was fun and gave me the opportunity to meet three or four thousand new people each year.”


The Turning Point:

Rob Lauber: “In 1993, our business president told us that classroom training would be discontinued due to high costs and turnover, similar to the conversations you hear today. However, he didn’t let us go and instead asked us to propose a new training program within 120 days.

“This was probably the pivotal moment that unlocked my passion. It opened my mind to different possibilities and prompted me to learn basic instructional design principles and adult learning theories for the first time. It ignited my enthusiasm and helped set the trajectory for my entire career. It was at this point that I realized this profession was what I wanted to pursue, regardless of the company I worked for.”


Reflecting on the Journey:

Rob Lauber: “I’d say that my start in this field was less intentional and more accidental. However, it ultimately aligned with the theme of the biography I mentioned earlier. The experience unlocked the passion I was looking for as a young professional, setting my career trajectory.”

Mayank Arora: “Very nice! Sometimes, you just need that one push or pivotal moment that changes everything. Without that, we might not have you here today.”

Rob Lauber: “I’d hate to think where I’d be otherwise!”


Lessons Learned Across a Diverse L&D Career

Mayank Arora: “Since you’ve had such a diverse career—from your roles as Chief Learning Officer at McDonald’s and Yum Brands to founding your own venture, XLO Global—how have your experiences been different, and what are some of the key lessons you’ve learned that you’d like to share with our listeners?”


Diverse Roles and Challenges:

Rob Lauber: “Yeah, each role I’ve had has posed a unique challenge, organizationally speaking. After Dun & Bradstreet, I worked in consulting at what is now PwC. For me personally, I was working with tax associates in the U.S. and knew nothing about taxes, other than paying them. Right? Levels of discomfort have always characterized my experiences, where I step into a problem that needs solving but don’t necessarily have the immediate answer. However, I can leverage the organization to figure it out.

“From a lesson perspective, I’d say this: always be open to the challenge. When different organizations looked to me for a role, it was usually because they didn’t know how to solve a particular problem. They were seeking someone curious and experienced enough to chart a new direction. In my last three roles, that’s been my purpose: ‘Help us figure this out and move forward.’

“It’s really about embracing that challenge, being comfortable with discomfort because you don’t always know the answer, but also confident that you can figure it out with the help of others. With collective effort, you can find a better path than the current status quo.”


Strategic Flexibility:

Rob Lauber: “Another lesson I’ve learned is that strategies and approaches should vary based on business circumstances. Centralizing versus decentralizing L&D is a classic debate that’s been ongoing for my 34 years in this field—and will likely continue for 30 more. The answer always depends on what’s happening in your organization.

“At Yum Brands, my job was to decentralize the organization, ensuring that talent was distributed globally, so the company could operate independently but interdependently. At McDonald’s, my initial task was to unify disparate global learning communities into a more collaborative, community-based approach where people could recognize each other.

“Recognizing where your company is and what will work based on its goals is crucial. Tailor your strategy accordingly.”

Mayank Arora: “And well, you’ve spent 34 years or 30 years in the L&D space. I’m sure there’s a lot more. 

 Rob: “You learn, yeah, you learn a lot. You make a lot of mistakes and you definitely learn from them as well as you go. “

 Mayank: “Absolutely. And I also believe in the same thing that true growth happens when you get out of your comfort zone and believe in yourself that you’ll be able to figure it out.”


Key Disruptions in L&D for 2024

Mayank Arora: “So, now coming to the topic of L&D specifically, with 2024 being termed the ‘Great Disruption’ for L&D, what key disruptions do you see happening, and how do you think they will impact the L&D space?”


Navigating Disruption:

Rob Lauber: “I think the ‘Great Disruption’ for L&D is interesting. There have been many disruptions across the last 25 to 30 years, probably since the Internet or personal computing began. I see 2024 as another disruption point, not necessarily the greatest, but one that will push L&D functions to think differently.

“In a good way, these disruptions will force organizations to focus more on how people learn versus the ‘product’ of training that they create. That’s a positive change.”


Shift Toward Enablement:

Rob Lauber: “Another key shift involves moving more toward enablement. Take AI, for instance. Prompt engineering is a new skill that helps people learn to use tools effectively. L&D will need to focus on enabling people to learn within these tools, rather than just creating training programs. This is a shift toward empowerment.

“The emphasis will shift away from creating training programs and lean more into unlocking an individual’s ability to learn. It will also involve providing them with the tools to perform at the highest level.”


Adapting to Instant Gratification:

Mayank Arora: “In a world where people watch short videos and want instant gratification, there’s a demand for immediate answers. What used to involve searching through encyclopedias now takes seconds on our smartphones.”

Rob Lauber: “That’s right. Microlearning has been talked about for years, but it’s not really a new idea. People just realized that no one was watching their 30-minute videos. Instead, learners want that 15-second nugget that solves their problem.

“This idea isn’t new; it’s simply the next iteration of unlocking what learners seek: retrieving the answer with minimal effort to solve a problem and keep moving forward. Tools like ChatGPT offer potential here. They don’t fully deliver yet but point to a future where this becomes much simpler.”


Challenges and Solutions for Large Organizations

Mayank Arora: “You’ve been a strategic advisor to organizations like Live in Advisory, Cognita, and many others. What challenges did these organizations face, and how did you help them?”


Understanding the Supplier Community:

Rob Lauber: “One of the biggest challenges in the supplier community right now is getting people’s time. With disruption happening, people are busy with their jobs and trying to cut through the noise. As a Chief Learning Officer, I don’t have much bandwidth to respond to random calls, which is especially challenging for startup and early-stage companies without big brand names.

“My goal has been to help them understand the perspective of the Chief Learning Officer or the potential buyer they’re targeting. This includes understanding the lives of instructional designers, the corporate environment, budget cycles, and decision-making processes. I spend much of my advisory time helping these organizations grasp these pieces.”


Sharpening Strategies and Marketing Approaches:

Rob Lauber: “With this insight, I assist them in refining their sales pitches and marketing strategies, ensuring they’re delivering their message at the right time and place to maximize attention. This allows them to better focus their efforts where they have the best chance of capturing their target’s attention.”


Defining Success and Measuring ROI in Learning and Development

Mayank Arora: “One of the biggest challenges in L&D is justifying the ROI on these investments. How do you show tangible and quantifiable metrics and results?”


Understanding ROI Approach:

Rob Lauber: “Interestingly, I don’t focus much on ROI in the traditional sense. Sometimes, calculating ROI costs more than the ROI itself. Instead, I work with my clients to define success measures upfront before creating or building anything. I strive to understand the problem we’re solving and, most importantly, what success looks like. Sometimes this is numerical (e.g., a 5% increase in sales) or intangible, like the feelings, words, or behaviors I want to see.”


Aligning Success with Stakeholders:

Rob Lauber: “Getting clear with stakeholders about what success looks like and whether relevant data exists is essential. If you know what success looks like beforehand, you can make choices that align with those expectations. I’ve had situations where stakeholders present challenges that are difficult to measure. In these cases, I propose experimentation and testing before significant investments are made.

“We might pilot in specific locations or geographies to gather feedback and results that indicate a high probability of achieving success measures. Often, we uncover that the issue isn’t just an L&D problem but might relate to compensation, procedures, or equipment.”


Providing ROI and ROE (Return on Expectations):

Rob Lauber: “I focus on clearly defining success measures and ensuring the results match those measures on the backend. Sometimes this requires ROI, but other times it’s about ROE—return on expectations. Clear expectations help us confidently prove the value delivered. This approach prevents situations where executives ask for ROI (often code for ‘I don’t see the value’).

“If stakeholders have been involved from the outset, they’ll answer skeptics’ questions directly or you’ll have enough data to justify the success measures.”


Solution-Oriented Approach:

Mayank Arora: “I’m intrigued by your value-based, solution-oriented approach. By reverse-engineering, you work your way to success.”


Overcoming Barriers to New L&D Strategies

Mayank Arora: “What are the common barriers you see in adopting new L&D strategies, and how do you overcome these challenges?”


Identifying the Main Barriers:

Rob Lauber: “The biggest barrier most L&D organizations face is making a strong business case, specifically answering the ‘why’ question. Articulating the rationale for a strategic shift or investment requires clarity, connecting it to what’s valued and important in the business.

“For example, I can discuss leadership development and how it creates better leaders and engaged employees, but if the primary concern is driving sales, I’m wasting my time. If leadership development can help drive sales, then a credible link needs to be made, and I must clearly communicate that connection.”


Challenges of Budget Cycles and Change Management:

Rob Lauber: “The 2023 budget cycle saw companies reconciling investments made during COVID. Budgets are tighter than in previous years, returning to a pre-COVID mindset. This creates challenges, as some programs launched during the pandemic are being shut down.

“While these programs served a purpose, their time has passed, and it’s better to reallocate resources toward more impactful initiatives. This often disrupts teams because employees associated with those programs must find new projects. Change management becomes crucial in this context.”


The Importance of Timing:

Rob Lauber: “Timing matters a lot. Across my career, I’ve encountered brilliant ideas that couldn’t move forward due to poor timing. Sometimes, I’ve had to tell my team to hold onto the thought until the organization is ready or the timing aligns with broader needs.

“It’s essential not to discard good ideas just because they’re ahead of their time. Timing mismatches can create significant challenges, so it’s vital to recognize when it’s the right moment.”


Storytelling for Clarity and Support:

Mayank Arora: “I agree that storytelling is crucial to clearly explain the importance of a program, ensuring people understand why it’s needed.”

Rob Lauber: “Indeed. Missing the timing can present challenges for any team.”


Key Advice for L&D Initiatives: Ending Programs Effectively

Mayank Arora: “Given your diverse experience, if you could leave us with one actionable piece of advice that organizations can implement immediately to make a meaningful impact in their L&D initiatives, what would it be?”

Actionable Advice for L&D Teams

Rob Lauber: “My experience has shown that L&D professionals struggle to end programs. We often build up our program catalog, thinking more is better. My advice would be to focus on what truly matters to the people you’re serving rather than what matters to you. If it matters to you but not to them, swallow hard and stop it.

“Curate yourself. I’ve encountered situations where I’ve had to eliminate my own job instead of cutting others, acknowledging it was a viable solution to maintain productivity. Recognize when something no longer adds value, and don’t be afraid to shut down outdated initiatives that were important in their moment but aren’t anymore.”


Sunk Cost Fallacy and Credibility

Mayank Arora: “This is what the sunk cost fallacy is based on, right? Don’t keep spending effort on something that’s not yielding expected results.”

Rob Lauber: “Exactly. We tend to invest a lot of time, energy, and effort into maintaining something. However, it’s important to ask, ‘Why are we doing this?’ If we stopped, would anyone notice? Any L&D organization could likely identify five things that could be stopped with no one noticing. By doing this, you build credibility, demonstrating that you’re willing to eliminate what no longer works.”



Mayank Arora: “True. And that pretty much sums it up. Your expertise and experiences in L&D have shed light on how we can work in this evolving landscape and its impact on organizational success.

“To our listeners, you can tune into our podcast on major platforms, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google. Simply search for the ‘Digital Adoption Show’ and hit subscribe to keep up with the latest episode. This is Mayank and Rob signing off. Bye-bye!”