The past year has clearly reinforced the importance of learning as one way of dealing with the disruption that is impacting all organizations in terms of changing expectations, reinforcing the speed of execution and adapting to new and refined ways of working. This means the role of the Learning & Development function needs to change quickly so it doesn’t just focus on justifying its’ existence but on how the function can truly demonstrate tangible business value from what it does.
This is all happening at a time when the digital future of work is not only changing the landscape of organizations but is also demanding the future employee is able to learn far quicker, faster and more efficient than ever before; hence the increasing relevance of learning transfer in the workplace. This doesn’t mean that everyone now has to learn on their phone or tablet but digital or adaptive learning is about bringing learning to where the employees are. I see it as a way of learning, not a type of learning.
Learning and Development in the Future
5 Steps to L&D Strategy Alignment
Organizations need to more clearly connect its business goals and strategy to the learning solutions being offered. This seems to focus on five clear areas:
- Creating an Aligned Strategy and Investment Approach
This will involve the usual strategic business issues and the identification of those stakeholders, audiences and solutions that will determine the scope of the function’s activity. This means the strategy has to be aligned with the employee life-cycle, the solutions on offer (technology based vs. traditional delivery etc.) and the boundaries of responsibility in terms of ownership regarding the design, delivery and analysis of the business value/outcomes of the learning interventions.
Part of this strategy will focus on transparent investment principles so leaders, managers and employees clearly understand the methods by which business cases are established and agreed regarding future learning and development investment. It is critical there is a business impact approach that focuses upon the evaluation of the business returns based upon the investment made. The L&D function has to be aligned with other people analytics activity. This means ensuring that there is a performance measurement mentality in place that measures the original business need, the intervention’s effectiveness and the business impact made in conjunction with any process/productivity improvement.
- Focus on Improving Individual and Organizational Performance
Performance improvement has to be the main focus of all learning interventions (however they are delivered). Performance challenges are not always about learning issues and the whole function has to be focused upon solutions that add business value and improvements.
This might be a mind-set change but the dialogue has to be about performance, business improvement, productivity, outcomes rather than the more traditional learning, training, capability, learning styles and skills language. The function has to show that it can talk and understand the real business issues that exist; it’s about aligning expertise with commercial demands.
- Designing Effective Delivery Channels
Delivery remains vital and is probably one of the areas that L&D has least to worry about as organizations continue to focus on efficiency and effectiveness. Technology will continue to be a key driver but the correct mix of on-demand digital learning modules, self-driven learning with other delivery methods such as traditional facilitator led training will be required. Cost-effectiveness should not be the only driver. The appropriate mix of on-the-job learning, coaching and mentoring will be key to driving improved job performance and talent development. Again, the analytical based outcomes approach will be crucial to evaluate the effectiveness of any delivery channel.
- Organizational Talent Growth
The increased need for the L&D function to be aligned and involved in the talent development activity of an organization has been a noticeable trend. The dialogue has to now shift to another level by supporting the workforce and succession/scenario planning processes by ensuring that the talent pool for both senior and business critical roles become a key focus for a part of the L&D function.
This is about not just growing talent but helping to ensure that the best talent across the whole organization is retained for the future; talent is going to become scarce enough without organizations becoming complacent about the talent they already have!
- Demonstrating Value Time and Again
A lot of HR functions are on an analytics journey (which we know takes time, focus and effort to build a culture of data and analytical driven decision making) and the L&D function must quickly join that journey to ensure the focus upon measuring the value added by the function is demonstrated by business outcomes not just data regarding hours, programs, projects, people and processes. Its about showing what intervention adds the greatest value in terms of outlier job performance, organizational improvement and business impact. A number of L&D functions already have a ROI mind-set; now it’s time to build upon that activity.
Many organizations’ L&D functions will say these five themes are largely in place to some extent – really?
The challenge is to build the business and commercial credibility of the L&D function and hence the common theme of learning based analytics that is emerging. I’m a strong advocate of HR thinking as a profit centre and a shift in thinking by L&D practitioners to take the function to this level should be actively pursued. The role of line managers and leaders will be key to this so their emphasis will continue to be on improved performance and outcomes-based evidence that backs up any delivered solution. If the clients are truly perceived to be “paying for the services provided” it adds a commercial focus to the whole process. It also means managers need to be more selective in their use of learning solutions which is no bad thing given the desire for increased coaching and on the job learning.
Relationships across the organization will always be critical to the L&D function but it’s not about being “Partners” but about being “Thought Leaders” that shape and guide business leaders in what is best for the organization based upon data and insights that show the value of the solutions that the function delivers.
Challenges to the L&D function provide opportunities to shine and the time is here for the creation of better end to end data processes that support the shift in mindset that is now needed. Passion and desire to provide great solutions has never been in question; the L&D function now has to build on this.