Paul Bleier of TELUS on the power of modern learning technologies, stripping away your fear of failure and managing the chaos

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Paul Bleier is the Director of Sales Ennoblement at TELUS. With over 12 years of Learning and Development and Strategy experience, Paul has lead business-driving Enterprise Learning programs alongside senior executives at TELUS and has advised multinational organizations as a Partner in the TELUS Transformation Office and as a Consultant at Korn Ferry Hay Group. He is a passionate leader in the world of Learning and Technology, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Stout (Masters), McMaster University (BA) and is a proud father of two.     

Looking back ten years, where did you think you’d be by this point in your career? How did you get here?

I’ve been working in the L&D space for about 12 years now but getting here has been a non-traditional trip. Initially, I was interested in entering the field of Counseling Psychology and was working with children who had autism while applying to Counseling Psych grad programs. Despite these aspirations, I was rejected from the programs I had applied to and ended up returning to the Cruise Line industry (which I worked in while in undergrad) to start reassessing what I wanted to do next. This is where I discovered that the talent development world would be an exciting next step for me due to the conversations that I had with the training manager of the ship I was on. I knew the field of training would be a good fit for me as one needs to be a business partner who works through people-related issues in an empathetic and positive way. In retrospect, getting rejected by those programs was one of the best things to happen to me.

After finishing my Masters in Training and Development, I landed a consulting job at Hay Group (now Korn Ferry). Being a new graduate, I sent out 100 personalized cover letters and resumes, receiving only 7 responses which led to 3 informational interviews. I was very lucky that my first leader and mentor at Hay Group, Edwina Melville-Gray, was willing to take a risk on me. She along with the team gave me a crash course in all things related to people and business and provided a lot of breadth in terms of the projects that I got to work on.

Having spent four years at Hay Group, I wanted to start doing more innovative work and find a company that was focused on integrating technology and learning. Being an early adopter of social media, I tweeted Dan Pontefract who today is the Chief Envisioner at TELUS after seeing a Microsoft case study that featured the work he was doing regarding social and collaborative learning. After a year of meeting with key stakeholders across various business lines in TELUS, I was offered a position as a Learning Consultant for the company’s Customer Solutions group. To date, I’ve held three different roles at TELUS which have allowed me to be in rooms with some of the most influential and experienced people in the organization including our executive leadership team and CEO. It’s a truly amazing company with a sound strategy and intense focus on people and culture.

What are some of the most important business lessons you have had to learn the hard way so far? How have they contributed to your current success?

The decision to leave Hay Group and move to TELUS was tough. I realized however, that if you are unhappy with where you are career-wise, you need to take calculated risks and exercise control over your destiny. If you feel stuck, you need to do something about it. Everyone has a passion and, you need to strip away your fear of things not working out. Taking a leap of faith is essential to getting what you want.

Throughout my various positions, I’ve also learned the importance of organizational awareness and having knowledge of the political landscape inside a company. Often, people are too forceful with their approach when they try to get things done and it puts others off. I’ve been in situations where I’ve needed to manage these kinds of conditions and being cognizant of such circumstances is important. You need to build credibility, trust and develop a goodwill bank account with the individuals who have influence and decision making authority. This is the only way in which others give you license to propose new ideas and take risks on new initiatives.  If you can build your credibility and establish a track record of getting things done, everything becomes possible.

You have gotten to work with a lot of different leaders. What does leadership look like to you and what do leaders need to do better in today’s changing business environment?

First, a great leader is like an umbrella. When it’s raining outside and things are dark, an umbrella provides shelter much like a leader provides shelter to their team during stormy times. Conversely, when times are good, an umbrella opens up and let’s light through, just like how a great leader provides credit to their team when they are successful. Leaders should get their energy from helping others be successful.

Second is this visual of leadership as a bag of golf clubs. Much like how one uses different clubs in different situations, leaders need to act differently in different situations. There is a leadership style for every situation and leadership can’t be a one size fits all approach.

Lastly, leaders need to lead from the side. They need to put their team in front and give credit for great work. In turn, they must also be able to absorb the impact of difficult situations with a bullet proof vest. Synthesizing learnings and relating those learnings back to one’s team in a way that teaches, not reprimands is so important.

I love Eric Schmidt’s (Alphabet) idea around leadership and innovation. Eric believes leaders should not tell people how to innovate. Instead they should get out of the way and manage the chaos. I definitely think that today, leaders need to get better at managing the chaos in order to foster people’s ideas. From my vantage point, leaders also need to become increasingly comfortable with not being perfect, especially when it comes to the team launching new programs, products or adopting new technologies.

Increasing self-awareness and being more open to asking for criticism is also an area for improvement that I see in the world of leadership today.

What are some of the important trends going on in the L & D space and how does an organization drive a culture of learning?

Formal, informal and social learning activities are being introduced more and more in companies today. As our business environment increases in complexity, learning programs must evolve and be tailored to the individual. Think of it like a bespoke suit. Learning programs must become “made to measure” to drive increased business value because individual context is so important. The more that learning can be fit into one’s day-to-day workflow, the more effective it will be. I foresee micro-learning moments becoming a part of someone’s daily activities which are actioned based on specific tasks that need to be accomplished in real time. AI is going to add a lot of value to this space. L&D also needs to move past the LMS as a repository for course selection. My vision for the future is that new learning systems and tools automatically recommend the learning assets that are tailored to the individual, their current projects and their customized career development plans.

Video-based learning and audio-casts are also very exciting developments in our industry. Today’s businesses have an unparalleled opportunity to leverage and share the knowledge of their people through these kinds of mediums. It’s great to bring in external vendors but it’s imperative that you focus on ways to unleash peer to peer learning within an organization. There is so much untapped value in what an organization already knows. Let’s breakdown those silos, but using the right technologies people love.

What do you do outside of work and how have your passions and hobbies made you a more successful professional?

I have a young family which occupies a great deal of my time.  I love learning from my kids who are 2.5 years and 3 months old. If you want to develop more grit and resiliency to support you at work, become a parent!

I’m also an L&D Adviser to a non-profit entity called The New Sports Economy Institute. The organization is on a mission to end sports gambling through innovations in sports finance. They ultimately want to make sports performance an asset class and give industry participants and consumers a way to both hedge and speculate in the sports industry without making a single bet. We also want to teach finance through sports. It’s a very cool initiative that is almost 15 years in the making.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to those new to the workforce to help them get ahead of the game in today’s marketplace?

You need to be persistent, demonstrate grit and build resilience. The job market today is very competitive and you can’t get disheartened too quickly. Have a thick skin, make sure to demonstrate that you will add value to an organization and that you are willing to speak up or challenge the status quo.

Many people are afraid to speak up out of the fear of being wrong. You can’t let this deter you from being vocal. By speaking up, it shows you are not afraid. If you do this consistently and be thoughtful about the questions that you ask, you will add a lot of value. Another one of my early mentors at Hay Group, Rick Lash, gave me some great advice. He said: “Don’t worry Paul, you are going to fake it until you make it and no one will know otherwise as long as you are respectful, thoughtful and get stuff done”. These words taught me the importance of demonstrating confidence in everything that you do, and approaching new roles with this kind of mindset is a great way to gain traction early on in your career.

Aubrey Chapnick