Critical Imperatives For Your Learning Strategy

Critical Imperatives For Your L&D Strategy

This month LinkedIn Learning Solutions published their 2017 Workplace Learning Report.

I applaud them in their continued efforts to benchmark human capital and provide the report freely to business leaders and HR professionals.

I believe there are deeper, more important insights for L&D professionals than what is summarized in their report.

2017 LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report Summary

LinkedIn Learning surveyed 500 L&D professionals from the U.S. and Canada, who either influence or are decision makers for their companies’ L&D budgets.

The report details the Top 5 trends from their survey findings– and what they prescribe as 5 key strategies to “make the sift” including:

  • Don’t Just Take Orders – Identify real training needs.
  • Deliver modern learning experiences to meet expectations from modern learners.
  • Develop a tightly executed communication plan.
  • Report value to the individual and the business.
  • Build a culture of learning, one that rewards growth.

The Time is Now

I do not disagree with their general prescription. I do think they are not hard-hitting enough.

The key takeaway for me was that L&D is disconnected from commercial or business strategies. There is too much emphasis on administrative functions and HR as the owner of L&D. There is also a critical gap in the business partner mindset required for success.

Why? I believe we fall in love with the idea of what our programs deliver at the expense of starting with the business impact first and foremost. 

Here are some alarming stats from the report that illustrate this point:

  • 69% of L&D professionals stated talent was the #1 priority yet when asked what the main objectives of your L&D strategy, supporting the career development of employees was 4th on the list out of 4 items – behind training all employees globally in a cohesive way at #3.
  • When asked what the most important skills are for L&D professionals to train for, sales was 8th on the list while compliance training was 4th.  Even more alarming, marketing was 13th- behind administrative support at the 12th spot. At least customer service was 3rd.
  • 2/3 of L&D professionals say L&D is centralized within their organization, while 1/3 say L&D is decentralized across various business functions.  Of the 1/3 where it is decentralized, sales is 7th on the list and marketing is 8th on the list of where it sits.
  • Only 60% said L&D leaders have a seat at the table with their C-suite.
  • Business Impact is the No. 1 measure desired by CEOs yet only 8% currently see the business impact of L&D programs.
  • ROI is the No. 2 measure desired by CEOs yet only 4% currently see ROI of L&D.

We can do better. We must do better.

Critical Imperatives For Your L&D Strategy

The time for change is now. Here are the insights I believe are more critical in order to “make the shift”:

IMPERATIVE #1- RETHINK YOUR L&D STRUCTURE NOW

In an article I wrote recently entitled Your HR Strategy May Involve a Reduction in Headcount, I outlined that HR departments should be laser focused and organized around what I called the “Core 3”:

This requires senior HR teams to critically examine their organizational structure to support the “Core 3”.

The 2017 Workplace Learning Report only underscores this idea to me.

The report is not all bad news. On the question “What are the most important skills that you/your team provide training for?”, Leadership/People Management and Career Development/Soft Skills were #1 and #2 respectively. That is a focus on the “Core 3”.

There is an important point I was to re-emphasize from my previous article before we proceed.  No two HR departments are the same– and there is no “one size fits all” model.  It depends on the needs of your business.

Yet question needs to be asked as to where commercial skills training needs to sit.

I would suggest a decentralized model where sales owns sales training, or where marketing owns marketing training, is more often than not the better approach.  I understand the rationale for traditionally keeping it in HR e.g. consistency, leveraging resources, centers of excellence, common technology platforms etc.  There is no reason why these reasons can still not be satisfied in a decentralized model. There can be a matrix reporting structure.

Listing sales as #8 and marketing as #13 (behind administrative support at #12) is not sustainable. Clearly commercial training programs are taking a back seat. I wonder if you asked your C-suite to rank order the same list whether they would put sales at #8? I think not. If more than 60% want a seat at the table this needs to change.

Focus your L&D team within your HR department on what they should be doing best  – the “Core 3” and let sales do what they do best.

Critical Imperatives For Your L&D StrategyIMPERATIVE #2- ROI & BUSINESS IMPACT MEASUREMENTS ARE A MUST

There is a particular quote from the report I want to highlight:

We’ll be the first to admit, it’s extremely difficult to articulate the power of learning in the form of ROI. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to legitimately calculate the transfer of learning that occurs due to training investments. 2017 Workplace Learning Report

I understand. Really. It’s not easy. It’s risky. It’s time-consuming. L&D teams have limited resources. I get it.

However I disagree. It can be done. we can’t put our head in the sand and say “it’s nearly impossible”- we need to find a way.

In one of my former OD/L&D roles I developed a business case to roll-out a leadership development program tied to measurable business outcomes and a minimum ROI target per participant. At the time there was no money to do this – it was risky, and business was not good at the time. I took it to the CEO at the time and he agreed. One of the most thrilling and terrifying days in my career. It had to work. I used the Kirkpatrick Model at the time to develop a framework on how we would measure the business impact. I developed a reinforcement strategy to ensure it stuck. I partnered with our Finance team in the business impact measurement component to ensure there was validity and alignment on the data. Long story short we were able to show a $8000.00 ROI per participant.

Since then I had the opportunity to spend 3 days with Dr. Jack Phillips in a training program on how to measure ROI/Business Impact. With this knowledge I would do the measurement completely differently now. I learned a lot.

I sincerely share this with you not to brag. Quite the opposite. Anyone could have done it. You can do it too. It was hard and risky, but this is what we need to be doing more of.

You do not need to measure the ROI and business impact for every program  – only for the programs that are critical to business success. It was not a “perfect” study. Could you poke holes in the methodology? Of course.

That is the problem in my opinion. We are so afraid of it not being “perfect” we don’t try. My senior team was thrilled with the results. I was able show them business impact results which had not been done before. The data was not “my data” but shared with our Finance team.

The more we do it the better at it we get. We have to start now.

I also disagree with the ideas in the report on how to measure business impact and ROI with general statistics such as the cost of turnover or the cost of employee disengagement.

This is not measuring business impact. Too general, not tied your business nor your specific programs. Eyes will glaze over with your C-suite using these types of numbers. Don’t do it.

IMPERATIVE #3- PUT YOUR MONEY & TIME WHERE YOUR BUSINESS STRATEGY IS

In the report only 27% of L&D professionals are expecting a budget increase this year. 49% of L&D professionals surveyed stated having a limited budget as their #1 challenge.

All the more reason to implement imperatives 1 & 2. Over time this will change if we can show the value of L&D in a more quantifiable way.  Not only in a quantifiable way. In a more quantifiable way.

In the interim, be honest about where your current resources are being allocated. Stress test it with your C-suite. If there is alignment great. If not quickly tweak or change your strategy. Do not wait until the next planning cycle.

There are more insights and valuable data points from the report that I encourage you to read such as how to best engage learners.

To me this report was more than an interesting read. It was a wake-up call for L&D professionals. The current trend is not sustainable.

The time for change is now.

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