Bringing commerciality to learning

Original Article:

From my own experience in learning I have noticed in the past few years alone, that the global workforce is constantly evolving. We have an increase in competition, added complexity, as well as the digital revolution which as I type this, is currently reshaping the mix of employees in our current organisations and the ones that will be hired in the future. We live in a world of uncertainty, with multigenerational employees, with a shorter shelf life for information and a thirst for knowledge.

With that in mind, I would ask the question; are you feeling comfortable right now in your learning role? If so, I believe you need to question yourself why? If we are learning we feel uncomfortable, and in the role of a learning professional this should be where you spend some of your time. Are you clear on why you chose a particular intervention or strategy that you are working on? Do you know what difference you are personally making to the organisation? Not only is the learning in today’s organisations ineffective, the purpose, timing, and content of learning is also flawed.

Many Learning and Development staff I have spoken to align themselves with flawed performance indicators, such as the total CPE credits an employee may earn, the number of views etc. When in reality the focus should be on the business impact created. The performance indicators may be easier to measure, however, one could argue that they are flawed incentives, hence flawed outcomes. So, what is the point?

People learn best when they need to learn, when its relevant and is provided at the time of need. Applying what is then learned to real live situations strengthens one’s focus, as well as the will power to learn. Many employees often learn various topics, on the schedule of learning and development, at a time when there is no relevance to their role or where the organisation needs to build its critical skills to grow. Many learning programmes invest millions of pounds into learning that is information and is quickly forgotten. We know that today’s fast-moving business landscape needs organisations and their people to adapt to changing circumstances rapidly and to have continuous learning. Organisations should work on uplifting the intrinsic motivation of their employees to learn.

In addition, we should consider how we guide learning. Move away from providing learning at specific intervals, as learning at the time of need embeds continuous learning into a live application on the job. Using today’s technologies, learning can be personalised, delivering tailored content which can be available for the employee’s needs at a relevant time, learning style, and delivery method. One can argue that human capital needs to have ongoing investment in learning to retain its value, or, is it more of a question that the budget we have is spent more wisely? We know that when an employee’s knowledge becomes outdated, their value deteriorates and should to be complemented by new learning at the point of need with the relevant work experiences. When engaged and inspired employees are challenged and supported as well as given the skills and opportunities that enables them to grow and learn. When employees develop and grow within their chosen field, they will feel more energised with the new opportunities which engenders satisfaction in their place of work.

Aligning the learning strategy with the business strategy

The learning strategy should be established on the organisations business and talent strategies. How effectively does the learning strategy support the organisation’s priorities and growth plans? As well as seeking professional development and build future skills across the company, this should be cost-effective. If done correctly, the learning strategy will enhance the culture of the organisation as well as help and encourage employees to live the values of the organisation.

The learning function should consider the employees critical skills and establish what the most crucial are, in order to manage the execution of the organisations overall business strategy and growth plans. This should be evaluated and aligned at least annually to ensure that the critical skills really reflect the priorities of the business and the organisations growth plans.

As new tools and technologies keep emerging and coming available on the market, we need to become more agile, pilot, and be ready to adapt our processes and practices if the pilots are successful. The learning function should be open to experimentation, and if it fails — fail fast and move on. Consider what you have learned. It may be uncomfortable, however, learning has taken place! That should be the nature of our roles as Learning Leaders.

Learning functions should work in partnership with their business leaders and establish a clear governance model where both groups have a shared accountability for prioritising and outlining learning requirements. This will help to embed learning in the organisations culture. Designing learning journeys with continuous learning opportunities at the point of need is required. This will take place over time and will include learning interventions that include for example, pre and post classroom digital learning, user generated content, on-the-job coaching, buddying, mentoring, and short classes (this maybe virtual or face to face).

Do we want to measure capabilities or critical skills? Many organisations suggest impact being measured by assessing people’s capability gaps against a wide-ranging competency framework. I find this to be cumbersome, as the big monster that the competency framework becomes is outdated quickly, not updated by employees and skills are being updated all of the time. So why not measure the critical skills of the organisation instead?

Access to decent analytics provides learning functions with excellent prospects to understand, evaluate and foresee the business impact of the learning interventions and also helps the function make commercial decisions. There are many technologies that are coming onto the market or are already on the market to help enhance this. Are you using them? Do you plan to? If so how and when?

As a learning function we have unlimited opportunities in the space of technology to plug and unplug systems. We can access the latest functionalities without a lot of expense and lengthy processes to implement a learning ecosystem. Learning Leaders should ensure that learning technologies fit into their overall system architecture, and supports the entire talent cycle, which should include onboarding, performance management, feedback tools, career development and succession planning to name a few.

As a Learning Leader I am increasingly aware of the challenges created by implementing large-scale transformation programmes. We can no longer slowly adapt our learning strategy and curriculum as needed. With the rapid development of technology, we as Learning Leaders can no longer delay. The importance of human capital is the fundamental factor to outgrowing our competitors in the years to come. To be an effective Learning Leader you will need to invest in innovative learning programmes, be flexible, experiment, pilot and be agile to master what is to come and above all be comfortable with being uncomfortable

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