Andy Lancaster - CIPD

"Learning has been the golden thread running throughout my career."

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For the first in the series, we were delighted to catch up with Andy Lancaster, Head of Learning at the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development.

Andy shares with us the eclectic career path he has taken so far, the importance of grabbing opportunities with both hands and why supporting people in their development is in his DNA.

We learn why Andy strongly advocates for a personal network of learning peers to stay informed, inspired and innovative and why the CIPD’s digital learning transformation project has accelerated during the pandemic. He gives us a valuable insight into the key trends that will facilitate effective lockdown learning and the best and most challenging aspects of his senior role.

Andy tells us why he’s a leap-out-of-bedder rather than a snoozer, why Spotify has enabled him to relive his love of The Who and why, over and above everything, there is nothing more important than your health.

Photo of Andy Lancaster, Head of Learning CIPD
Andy Lancaster, Head of Learning CIPD

Hello Andy. Great to have you on board and thanks for joining the series. To kick things off, could you tell us a little about the CIPD and what its key activities are?

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) is the professional body for HR and people development. It’s the voice of a worldwide community of 155,000+ members committed to championing better work and working lives and many other professionals who access our support and services.

The CIPD has been setting the benchmark for excellence in people and organisation development for more than 100 years. Through the CIPD’s expertise, research, and services, it provides a valuable point of view on the rapidly changing world of work for our members and beyond.

In a nutshell, what are your key responsibilities in your role as Head of Learning for the CIPD?

As Head of Learning at the CIPD I lead the development and delivery of learning solutions for people professionals (namely, those in Learning & Development, Human Resources, Organisational Development and managers) through an award-winning team of 33 people and over 100 subject-matter experts.

These learning solutions range from digital products (increasingly) to support professional development linked to the CIPD's Profession Map, blended learning for the CIPD’s business-to-consumer (B2C) market, and bespoke solutions for its business-to-business (B2B) client base of over 250 organisations.

We’re curious to know more about how you started your career in L&D…

I was inspired by my Dad, a brilliant teacher, to pursue a career in teaching.

Initially, I trained as a design teacher and completed a research Master’s degree in instructional design. I didn’t exactly plan my subsequent career moves in the more traditional sense, but instead grasped the opportunities that came along.

My eclectic career journey includes lecturing at university in computer-aided design, working as an instructional designer for a global computer-software company and leading learning for a substance misuse and recovery charity and a large housing association.

I have to admit, being the lead for learning at CIPD was never in my sights. The opportunity came along after I delivered a case study on positively disrupting traditional management development methods at a major CIPD conference. This was back in late 2013 while I was working in social housing. I had also previously taken part at a CIPD’s Leading in Learning network meeting where I had shared my vision for the future of learning. Peter Cheese CEO at CIPD and Gill White, one of the then directors, were at the event - so that must have got me on CIPD’s radar. I was delighted that my passion for creative learning got me noticed! So, I’m an advocate for investing in networking which can provide a springboard for opportunities.

Had you always intended to work in learning / education, or did you explore any other routes along the way?

Learning has been the golden thread running throughout my career.

I couldn’t really imagine doing anything outside of L&D. Supporting people in their development seems to be in my DNA. It’s a privilege to play a part in resourcing professionals in their learning journeys.

Andy Lancaster - CIPD

When the key focus of your role is other people’s education and development, how do you ensure you take care of your own learning needs as well?

Having a personal learning network is vital!

I’m now in a position where my responsibilities demand that I embrace diverse aspects of learning — and that simply wouldn’t be possible without being plugged into a wider community of practice.

For me, inspirational learning peers are the lifeblood of innovative ideas; and being connected with them is key to remaining at the cutting edge of professional practice. I believe that, in our fast-changing world, to stay innovative now is not only a matter of what you know, but who you know.

What’s been your most memorable career ‘up’, and ‘down’? Why, and what did you learn from these moments?

My most memorable ‘ups’, which turned out to be career changing moments, were when I received two professional accolades.

I was runner up for the 2011 Training Journal award for “L&D Professional of the Year” and then my team won the TJ gold award for “Best Operational Programme in 2012, both whilst I was at Hanover Housing.

And my book “Driving Performance Through Learning” came second in the 2020 Business Book Awards “HR and Management” category. That was a welcome surprise and also a definite ‘up’.

These awards have provided a shop window for my work and propelled me into a wider professional orbit. I’m a great fan of professional awards! It’s not necessarily about the winning itself, although that’s nice, but more about submitting work for peer review. To me, that process really matters. And, it’s now a privilege to be a judge for a number of awards.

The most memorable ‘down’ was, unwittingly, encountering burnout in an early role which ended up with me seriously ill in a crash room in A&E. I had ignored some important warning signs!

I cannot stress enough that no job is worth making yourself ill over, but it took a near death experience to realise that. I truly believe that it is possible for us to be fully committed at work without it negatively affecting our well-being, providing we carefully prioritise. There is nothing more important than your health.

It’s important that we all keep a careful eye on pressures, seek support when we need it and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Andy Lancaster - CIPD

What advice would you give to anyone who is keen to start a career in L&D or progress further in their current role?

Be curious! It’s not possible to have an effective career in L&D without being a passionate learner yourself.

For that you must be interested in diverse contexts; my career has required me to embrace knowledge and practice in adult learning, computer-aided design, drugs and alcohol rehab, housing, and leprosy, amongst other things. The key is connecting with and listening to knowledgeable people.

How has the current pandemic impacted the CIPD, its work and / or your role in particular?

At the CIPD, we were already in the midst of a significant digital learning transformation project, but the pandemic really accelerated that.

In the space of a few months, we developed a new range of online professional development products which have had a huge take-up. That included key themes like how to develop and deliver online learning, strategic workforce planning, business partnering and organisational design and development.

We have also developed two free online FutureLearn MOOCs in people management skills and HR essentials which have attracted over 150,000 learners from over 170 countries.


We now see “global digital delivery” as our default learning design starting point rather than “local face-to-face”. That’s a massive shift!

How do you think the L&D industry will need to adapt and flex to overcome the challenges?

I believe that COVID-19 triggered a long-overdue reflection in organisational learning. For many, the treadmill of running face-to-face courses has been disrupted by enforced remote working.

There are four adaptation trends I see emerging from those succeeding in facilitating effective ‘lockdown learning’, which now need to be baked-in to our practice:

  • Prioritise: What are the critical organisational learning needs and how do we respond rapidly?
  • Digitise: How can online learning solutions be flexible, accessible, and collaborative?
  • Socialise: What are our intentional tactics for successful online collaboration and communities?
  • Humanise: What diverse personal learner factors must we consider in designing learning?

These four considerations are at the heart of flexible learning solutions. I go into far more detail about these areas and how to design and deliver learning “in the flow of work” in my book “Driving Performance Through Learning”.

Who do you look up to or reach out to for inspiration — either in the L&D industry, your networks or in general — and why?

For me, a vibrant online learning network is vital. I rely on platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn to gain insights into latest thinking and to connect with those who are shaping future-focused practice.

There are too many people to name and so many peers with great ideas, so I dedicate time each week to read thought-pieces. One interesting report I’ve been digesting is the output from a CIPD hackathon called “People Profession 2030: a collective view of future trends”. The world of L&D, HR and OD is changing fast; we have much to think about.


And, please do feel free to connect with me if that would be helpful.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given and why has it remained with you?

Don’t be afraid to take risks … and feeling professionally uncomfortable is a good thing.

Innovation rarely comes from being comfortable; that has certainly been my experience.

What or who motivates you to get out of bed in the morning and start working?

To support people by facilitating transformational development opportunities that can be accessed in the moment of need.

What would you say are the latest L&D trends and innovations we need to know about?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is an increasing game changer in learning, and life. It creates huge opportunities for targeted, effective learning and development.

AI supports meaningful needs assessments, provides targeted and personalised content to increase engagement, improves the efficiency of evaluation and reporting and even provides coaching through chatbots. It’s a game changer that learning professionals must embrace.

AI is transforming learning and will increasingly do so in the coming years.

What time does your alarm go off? Do you snooze… or leap out of bed?

It’s pretty much 6.00am every day for me and I leap out of bed — the body clock has been long set for that time!

During the COVID pandemic, the absence of a commute provided welcome time to be quiet, think and read. Going forward, I think the location of work for many will change with more remote working which provides room for a different rhythm. As my role has become busier, I’ve realised that the start of the day is crucial — some reflective time is vital for thinking and planning.

Andy Lancaster - CIPD

What would be your dream breakfast and where would you eat it?

A bacon roll and a flask of black tea sitting on an isolated beach somewhere.

I love the coast and it doesn’t have to be an exotic location; a quiet beach with waves crashing in would be spot on.

That sounds idyllic! OK… what’s your actual breakfast and location?

Normally, it’s porridge while catching the news headlines before turning the laptop on.

We would love to know what you're reading, watching or listening to at the moment…

For reading, I’m often now an audiobook listener. I have recently appreciated Brené Brown’s “Braving the Wilderness”. So much of it resonated; about it being OK to be me and not necessarily having to fit in.

The last physical book I read was a first edition copy of Arthur Ransome’s “Secret Water” which I found in a second-hand bookshop. I used to sail as a child and Ransome’s books were always to hand. It was nice to reminisce with a book published in 1939. That book was probably treasured and read by a child during the war. It reminded me that we are all temporary stewards of what we have.

For listening, Spotify has revolutionised my music consumption. I’m reliving my youth with the likes of The Who.

For watching, I recently enjoyed “The Great Pottery Throw Down”. My first degree was in design, so I like creative stuff. I loved the way one of the hosts, master potter Keith Brymer-Jones, gets genuinely emotional when people make great things. It’s brilliant to see people who love what they do so much that it gets their emotions going.

What can’t you get through the day without?

A cup of Assam Black Tea. I’m not a coffee drinker — so a really good quality cuppa is vital. I also couldn’t manage without regular interactions on social media; the inspiration of a learning network and the amazing content that’s posted are essential for my job.

Andy Lancaster - CIPD

What’s the best part of your job?

Without a doubt, being able to lead a skilled, motivated team to support people professionals worldwide with brilliant learning opportunities.

We often get feedback about how a course, content or community has really helped someone in their career. That’s so encouraging.

…and the most challenging?

Having a big vision which can only be delivered in stages. Innovation requires patience, perseverance, and the willingness to try things out and to test and learn.

What do you like to do in your spare time, or after work?

One of my key involvements is as the chair of the board for The Leprosy Mission of England and Wales.

It’s an amazing charity which is leading the fight against leprosy with many projects that help empower people to attain treatment, well-being, dignity, and life in all its fullness.

It’s great to be able to use what skills I have in serving the board, help develop the strategy and support the senior leadership team.

Oh and I’ve started growing fruit and veg in the garden; that’s new for me.

I’m learning again, it simply never stops!

Would you like to feature in the series?

Our interviews are conducted by Nicola Greenbrook, a highly experienced HR specialist-turned-writer.

If you would like to chat about your own experiences in Learning & Development, Human Resources, or Talent Acquisition, we would love to hear from you - please use the contact form below and we'll get right back to you.

Andy’s award-winning book “Driving Performance Through Learning” is available from Kogan Page publishing.

Andy Lancaster - CIPD

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