Here’s A Sraightforward Formula To Ensure Business Impact.
By Kieran King
We hear a lot of talk about getting more learning out into the business. That’s a given. What the industry really needs is more business in learning. After all, learning is a business process. Never thought about it quite that way? Well, it is.
A business process is a series of logically related practices that perform together to produce a result. In learning, the result is quantitative and qualitative business impact.
To get better, a business process must optimize its practices and abandon any efforts that distract from the core result. In order for an organization to attain a stronger result with any business process, each component must increase its efficiency and effectiveness. Within L&D, this translates to a perennial commitment to continuous improvement. But what’s really important to pay attention to?
While the Cloud-based industry doesn’t lack for guidance on what good looks like, it can be confusing to sift through the clutter. The most successful organizations don’t get caught-up by tangents. Instead, they apply unwavering discipline toward optimizing the four elements of the learning business process, which are:
Effective engagement is demonstrated when L&D teams have a systemic process for staying close to the needs of the workforce. The days of the annual training-needs analysis are long gone. A more nimble approach involves continual application of three essential practices:
>> Employ a formal performance consulting procedure to unearthing talent gaps and assessing the impact of closing those gaps across the enterprise.
>> Define measurable objectives up front with the initiative’s key stakeholders. Since budgets and resources have limits, stack rank the impact of addressing the initiatives.
>> Encourage active sponsorship at the middle management level so those managers appreciate the performance gains learning provides and will support their team’s participation in the learning programs.
According to the U.K.-based research organization Towards Maturity, seven habits emerge when describing top learning companies exhibiting tight strategic alignment. Well-aligned L&D organizations:
>> Actively involve business leaders in learning decisions
>> Use strategic business objectives to determine learning priorities
>> Focus on results
>> Integrate with HR and talent strategy
>> Demonstrate business value
>> Ensure staff members understand their contribution
>> Enjoy proactive management commitment
In its 2013 benchmark study, Towards Maturity found that organizations scoring well in the Alignment Index are more likely to report that managers agree that online learning delivers a range of business benefits. Compared with those in the bottom quartile, those in the top quartile are at least four times more likely to deliver:
>> Increased organizational revenue
>> Improved productivity
>> Improved staff engagement
>> Reduced staff turnover
>> Decrease in their training costs and delivery time
Just as Cloud-based learning is not measured in the same manner as classroom learning, it’s vital to also recognize that the former is not consumed in the same manner as the latter. One of the key propositions of Cloud-based learning is that it’s “just for me,” where learners can participate in the resources that relate to their unique needs for as long or as short as they wish. This is not possible within a classroom construct. Technology is the only way to enable this high degree of individualized tailoring while simultaneously achieving greater scale.
Cloud-based learning adoption success looks like:
>> Repetitive use by the target audiences
>> Embedding learning into the workflow of the most pervasive enterprise applications
>> Active promotion of targeted content throughout the employee lifecycle
>> Unencumbered access to discover and launch learning resources
>> Mapping resources into other talent management processes such as performance appraisals and succession planning
For decades, the limiting belief that learning’s value cannot be measured has left too many leaders with no data for decision-making. There is no need for that mindset to paralyze measurement progress. Again, this is where we need to remember that learning is a business process. While causal relationships of any kind are revealed through deep scientific evidence, most organizations don’t find that depth necessary. Most business functions operate successfully by applying “roughly reasonable” estimates toward their own business processes. Think about how this plays out in other functions. Are revenues not forecasted by your sales team? Are budgets not based on approximations? Of course they are. Business decisions involving investments are routinely made by applying estimates and learning is no different.
Also keep in mind that Cloud-based learning’s value is built, not born. That’s precisely why objectives should be clearly outlined through your engagement efforts at the front end, not assembled after the fact. If you find your organization frequently scurrying to quantify value of its learning solutions after roll out, that’s a warning signal that there is a major flaw in your learning business process. That type of activity is akin to setting out on a journey without a compass and attempting to define your destination depending on where you happen to be.
While charting value objectives upfront, plan to evaluate results through the three lenses that apply to all other business processes — efficiency (how much), effectiveness (how well), and outcomes (so what). As you weigh what to measure, there is a lot to consider. Does the metric help monitor employee agility and productivity (outcome)? Does the data you are collecting help identify under or over-investment (efficiency)?
Does the data help identify strengths and opportunities (effectiveness)? The efficiency, effectiveness and outcome data you collect should inform future business decisions. All other data simply satisfies a curiosity.
If your organization is focused on optimizing its efforts across the four building blocks of Cloud-based learning success — engagement, alignment, adoption, and value — there is no doubt your team, and in turn your enterprise, will be more successful.
—Source: Towards Maturity (“Aligning Learning to Business” report, May, 2014)
—The author is the global vice president of Loyalty Strategy at Skillsoft.