Recently, we were talking about training and development practices with an industry colleague. Suddenly, she paused and asked, “Why is workplace learning so complicated? Isn’t it simply about improving employee performance?”
She has a point. Successful workplace learning is notoriously difficult to achieve. But is this perception really deserved?
Afterwards, as Teresa and I reflected on that conversation, we compared notes about why and how organizational learning seems so complex. Are business leaders demanding too much accountability? Is this a self-inflicted wound? Or are other factors at play? These questions deserve closer inspection.
Workplace Learning — Evolving Expectations
More than 20 years ago when we started our careers, employee training was simply about equipping people with the core skills and knowledge required to do their jobs. But soon the bar was raised, and training (or “learning” as it is now known), became focused on improving job performance. Eventually, the charter expanded to improving organizational performance. And more recently, increased business competition and scarce resources and have led business decision makers to seek financial accountability for every dollar they allocate to training.
Certainly, today’s environment is much more demanding for learning professionals. However, effective workplace learning doesn’t have to be mind-numbingly complicated. Here’s why:
From a leader’s perspective, the mission is fairly straightforward. All they expect from “learning” is a workforce with sufficient skills and knowledge to meet business objectives. These are the standards they’ve been taught. Their requirements haven’t changed. Today’s business environment may be different, but leaders aren’t adding complexity to the agenda.
The Solution Starts Within
So, where is the problem? Much of it rests with learning professionals who aren’t equipped to communicate effectively with business leaders. However, this isn’t difficult to fix. If you feel overwhelmed by questions from decision makers, empower yourself. Start with these steps:
1) Develop Your Business Literacy
The most glaring skills gap in corporate learning is not with employees — it is with people in the learning organization. Learning professionals are hired for their functional expertise — but their business acumen often falls short. Understanding business and financial concepts is essential. Why?
– Senior executives don’t differentiate between business activities. They see them as a collection of investments that move the organization toward its objectives. Every business activity is expected to provide a financial (or non-financial) “return” for funds allocated to it. Learning organizations must focus on non-financial returns, rather than financial “ROI,” as some experts suggest.
– You must clearly communicate results to leaders. This requires you to speak their language. Think of yourself as visiting their “country.” When in another country you must adapt to the language and customs that will be understood. Frankly, leaders don’t need to understand our “learning” jargon. All they need to know is your initiative delivers results that support their business objectives.
– It’s important to use appropriate terms. Some experts are trying to capitalize on the “learning accountability” bandwagon by inappropriately adapting specific business and financial tools. But incorrectly applying business concepts such as “ROI” and “ROE” can undermine your credibility with knowledgeable executives. Always rely on a trusted resource for business education and guidance.
2) Demonstrate Performance
Here’s an important fact: Your leaders expect training to improve employee performance — not to provide direct, positive financial results. This is not to say financial results are irrelevant. However, business leaders think of learning as a cost center that contributes to business objectives.
So, don’t bother trying to prove “training ROI.” Instead, focus on relevant business activities. Clarify objectives and performance expectations. Conduct an assessment to define learning needs that support those expectations. Next, develop targeted learning solutions that address the specified learning needs, performance expectations and business objectives. And finally, close the loop with meaningful metrics.
3) Let Go of Unnecessary Complexity
Three words: Keep it simple. Leaders don’t expect complicated or convoluted solutions. They want one thing from learning — a trusted partner that drives continuous workforce improvement.
If learning strategies become clouded by multiple agendas, step back and reclaim your perspective. Focus solely on the objectives your leaders have articulated. This provides a reliable framework for your priorities, and will guide you in addressing operational needs across the organization.
Begin with theses steps, and your efforts will deliver more tangible results and greater value to your company. It doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that.
Have you attempted to make learning initiatives less complicated at your company? What were the results? Would you add any “simplification” tips to the suggestions listed above? We welcome your feedback and comments.
Let’s Talk at DevLearn!
Want to learn more about this topic? Join our session at DevLearn, Oct 29th: “Gaining Business Leadership Support for eLearning as a Capitalized Investment.” Or stop by our book signing earlier that day.
About The Authors: Thanks to our guest contributors, Ajay M. Pangarkar CTDP, CPA, CMA, and Teresa Kirkwood CTDP, founders of CentralKnowledge and LearningSource AMS. They are employee performance management experts, award-wining learning assessment development specialists, and three-time authors who most recently published The Trainer’s Balanced Scorecard: A Complete Resource for Linking Learning to Organizational Strategy. To read more of their insights on learning strategies for today’s business environment, follow their Workforce Revolution blog. Also, you can connect with Ajay on Twitter, on LinkedIn, or by email.
Photo credits: Pixabay