L&D professionals need to adopt a new approach to learning in order to achieve transformation, Al Bird says
Our recent Learning Curve research found that despite most L&D budgets being lower than last year, the majority (62 percent) of HR and L&D professionals surveyed claimed their budget was in fact sufficient to achieve their goals. This indicates that while many HR and learning departments are in need of larger budgets in order to transform and innovate, there are other ways to unlock the potential of learning and development. In fact, our latest whitepaper, Learning Transformation, suggests that L&D professionals need to adopt a new approach to learning in order to create the key shifts which are necessary for achieving transformation.
So what are these changes and how can they be achieved?
Ensure talent management is joined up
Many businesses find that when it comes to talent management, there tends to be separate ‘islands’ of activity whereby multiple systems for L&D are in place and various people have responsibility for managing this. However, in order for learning to be more efficient and effective, there needs to be a shift towards making the learning machinery more efficient and this can be achieved by having one centralised approach. This involves having one dedicated L&D team, one set of best practice learning models and one catalogue of recommended frequently-used learning content. At the same time, there must be quality standards for creating new learning content. It is also beneficial to have one suite of integrated learning technology, one reporting suite and one control of all third party training suppliers. Organisations that take this approach will see immediate benefits in terms of efficiency and effectiveness but also in relation to cost savings as it means that costs do not need to be split amongst many different budgets.
Focus on improving performance, not just learning content
Once a centralised approach to learning and development has been agreed on, the next step is to consider the performance improvement that should result from the content that is being used. Taking this approach and setting up clear benchmarks will enable L&D professionals to become more commercially aware and demonstrate to business leaders how certain training is having an impact on business performance. Therefore, L&D consultants should only accept training requests when the stakeholder can clearly state the performance shortfall and how they expect any learning will transfer into the desired performance improvement and fix a business issue. While these sorts of conversations might be difficult, in the long-run it will earn L&D professionals more credibility and engagement with the business and business leaders. This is due to the more nimble commercial focus on ‘results’ rather than alienating L&D departments by making it too much of a science. It will also ensure that learning is not just a short-term solution but that it translates into business productivity.
Think about business benefits of learning, not just costs
Many learning professionals feel they need to scientifically prove the ROI of all learning investments and in many cases, they should. But L&D departments often get too caught up in a vicious circle whereby they end up losing credibility because they’re unable to provide irrefutable scientific evidence by isolating the impact of other influencing performance factors and this can be very frustrating. There is, however, a solution that involves thinking more actively about the clear business outcomes of effective learning, not just the costs.
Assessing the business benefit from a variety of different learning programmes by interviewing a sample of learners approximately three to six months after the programme has ended, and probing them for evidence of impact on the business, is a very good start. This will present L&D professionals with a library of ‘evidence’, together with an understanding of how these results came about, which will be beneficial for future programmes. This less formal ‘evidence’ can then be used to estimate the expected business benefit of training interventions before they take place. The more it is discussed, the more normal it will be for it to be discussed and the more people hear about it, the more likely they are to accept it. After all, if the Board can approve marketing budgets based on expected payback of promotional activity, the same should be said for L&D departments if they are able to demonstrate the clear business outcomes of effective learning activity.
What will the outcome be?
If businesses are serious about cutting costs at the same time as adequately supporting workforce development, L&D professionals need to think differently. They need to understand much more about the process by which learning translates into performance improvement and then business benefit, and communicate that clearly to senior management. These three shifts that we have discussed should and will happen together, rather than one after another or in silos. This will result in a transformed, commercially-minded, L&D operation that could even earn a seat at the ‘top table’.