Balancing business priorities and individual needs

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Written by Seun Robert-Edomi on 15 April 2014 in Interviews

Laura Overton told TJ that it’s vital that companies strike the balance right so that they can engage learners and deliver effective bottom line results

One of the biggest challenges for learning and development departments today is to strike the right balance between the needs of the business and the needs of the individual.
Aligning to business priorities has always been crucial but there is now an increasing need for firms to pay attention to the individual requirements of staff.
Laura Overton, managing director of benchmarking company Towards Maturity, told TJ that it’s vital that companies strike the balance right so that they can engage learners and deliver effective bottom line results. 
“The balancing act is crucial - our research that we put out last year about the learning agenda was all about looking back at the last 10 years to see what we have learnt.
“Nowadays, a lot more firms are switched on to aligning learning with business needs, with the top ones especially doing this very well.
“The next phase and priority is about how to get that right. Historically, everyone has been busy delivering courses but it’s now about balancing that.”
Ignoring that balance could throw up several problems, Overton warned.
“When we purely focus on results and ignore the requests and wants of staff, this may lead to disengagement. 
“The learner needs to be able to get the learning where they need it from and at that specific moment too. The new learning agenda is about having customer activated learning. Staff are looking at programmes that are relevant to their jobs.
“Recognition is also really important to all staff, not just millennials. This includes the way they’re supported and the way they do their job. If we neglect that, staff aren’t going to engage with learning in the same way. Four areas are key for me here; alignment, speed, customer-driven approach and performance. Get this right and we’re well on our way to success."
One of the simplest ways of tackling the alignment need is to simply keep in communication with staff and understand what drives them.
“Setting up steering groups is a really good way of addressing the problem of balance. You need to be asking yourself what you can do in the business to support your staff.
“Ask for their feedback, ask what they want to be able to do differently. ‘If we did this, how would that work for you?’ It’s all about taking the time to understand your learners.
“The biggest benefit is that there will be a change in behaviour. They will engage with your learning more effectively. You will be able to design it better and apply it better. 
“For those who don’t, you will design programmes that aren’t used and applied properly, if at all. The learner will become more disengaged and you will drive them into other sources of learning experiences. They won’t go to the learning function. They will go to their peers and they will go externally but it won’t be with you – that then creates more problems.”
L&D should also remember to engage leadership in the process.
“I’d say that we should not neglect managers either. L&D needs to think about what we are doing for them to help their staff apply their learning back in the workplace. A high percentage of learners say their leaders influence their thinking so line management buy-in is crucial, mostly because they are the ones working with staff on a daily basis,” she concluded.


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