Insights

Sausage Rolls and the Next Decade of Learning Strategy

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Luke Merrick

Picture the scene:

It’s a frosty winter morning as you queue up on the pavement with dozens of other eager shoppers in front of the glass-paned store. You arrived long before opening time and anticipation courses through you as you rub your gloved hands together to keep warm.

There’s been a lot of buzz about this new product online and you find yourself peering through the window to try and catch a glimpse.

Despite the cold, you wouldn’t miss the opportunity to be among the first to get your hands on it. The doors finally open and the first successful customers gleefully trickle out of the store, giddy with excitement.

You proceed at a glacial pace, inching your way ever closer to this much-anticipated release. After what feels like an eternity, you reach the front and the cashier hands you the prize you’ve been waiting for.

You’re barely out of the door before you reverently peel away the packaging. You look down, admiring its sleek rectangular design in your palm for a moment, and then take a bite of the Greggs vegan sausage roll.

It may not have been the latest iPhone, but like Apple, Greggs tapped into something when they launched their vegan sausage roll last January. Despite some initial grumbling and social media scrutiny, it proved to be a big hit with consumers, fuelling sales growth of nearly 15% in the first half of the year for the chain. Their newly released vegan steak bake looks on course to have a similar impact this year.

But what does a new version of this classic British ‘delicacy’ have to do with our industry, and what does this story of meat-free success mean for us? I believe that there are three key lessons we can learn from the vegan sausage roll. 

1.   Evolve with Consumer Habits

Five years ago, a vegan sausage roll would likely have been a flop. Nowadays, the rise of veganism and the growing awareness of the negative impact that a high-meat diet has on the planet mean that the conditions are ripe for this sort of change.

It’s not just eating habits that are changing either. The way we purchase products, the types of products we purchase, and the way we consume content have all changed dramatically and continue to be in flux. Even enormous home and furniture companies like Ikea are investing heavily in the digital side of their business.

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However, many L&D strategies look the same now as they did 10 or even 20 years ago – even those that have a heavy emphasis on digital. The assumption is made that what worked for learners then works for learners now, whether that’s over-reliance on classroom training or the habit of turning everything into a 45-minute-long eLearning course.

The time has arrived for us to evolve and meet the needs that our learners have in 2020.

2.   Boldness Pays

Greggs had never produced a dedicated vegan product before. Historically, it wasn’t something that they did. Regular sausage rolls, steak pies, and pastries were their staple, and very few would have expected them to do anything different.

However, instead of sticking to the tried and trusted methods that had brought them so much success, they decided to try something different. Yes, they were given a hard time by some and there was the predictable combination of social media celebration and disproportionate outrage, but they stuck to their guns and enjoyed a 58% half profit rise in 2019. It paid off, and they’re planning on introducing more vegan options in the near future.

In the current climate, we can often face pressure to avoid risk and play it safe with our strategies. Unfortunately, ‘playing it safe’ is not devoid of risk itself – it assumes that the current approach works.

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As a learning design professional who has worked from the vendor-side for many years with a wide variety of clients, I’ve seen how ‘playing it safe’ often results in ineffective solutions that waste company money, waste learner time, and fail to build capability and drive performance. I’m grateful for every single client who’s willing to be bold and try a different approach.

3.   Be Customer-Focussed

The vegan sausage roll wasn’t dreamt up in an innovation lab or by a boardroom of executives. Customers themselves were asking for vegan menu options; all the decisionmakers had to do was listen.

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Being customer-focussed is a key growth point for our industry too. Only our ‘customers’ are learners and the ‘products’ are the courses and resources we create to improve capability and performance. It’s worth consulting these customers and listening to their voices. While those tasked with innovations play a valuable role and often come up with the goods, there are times when the key to unlocking the change you need is held by learners themselves.

Another point here is that whatever experience or resource we design has to focus on what’s going to work best for the learner, not just on what message needs to be sent from management. We need to ask questions like ‘What actions do we want the learner to be able to perform as a result of this?’ and ‘What resources do learners need to help them apply what they learn on-the-job?’

What’s your vegan sausage roll?

As we kick off the new decade of learning design, ask yourself what will be your vegan sausage roll?

Maybe there’s a strategic change you’ve been mulling over for a while but you’ve been holding back. Or perhaps you’re relatively satisfied with your offer but can’t shake the feeling that there might be something better out there.

Whatever position you’re in, talk to your learners and be more sausage roll.

If you want to find out more about how you can evolve your learning strategy to meet modern needs, come chat to Junction-18 next month at Learning Technologies (Stand F05) and attend our live seminar on February 13, at 12:30 p.m., in Theatre 2.