Our industry has often struggled to be the strategic partner it has the potential to be:
- According to research by Emerald Works (2020), 99% of learning leaders said that improving organizational performance was a priority. But only 21% reported achieving this. Furthermore, the impact of Covid-19 is adding more complexity to the issue and raising questions about how to best serve organizations and clients;
- 94% of L&D professionals who took part in a recent study by Fosway Group reported changing their strategy because of the pandemic. Two-thirds reported even considerable changes to their approach and practices.
While this uncertain backdrop poses considerable challenges, it also provides learning and development with an opportunity to pause and reflect. Even more, we can review how things have been done in the past, and redefine how things will be done in the future.
A modern approach to Organisational Learning & Performance
To respond to this challenge and opportunity, in April 2020 I began writing a series of posts about L&D at its best. These were designed to generate discussion on how the profession can move forward in a purposeful way. By supporting businesses and individuals through one of the hardest and most complex contexts we’ll perhaps ever find ourselves in. Over 20 posts and thousands of comments later, the dialogue has been both enlightening and encouraging. The output is a model for a modern approach to organisational learning and performance.
The model outlines how learning and development teams can ensure they are delivering real impact at an organizational and individual level. As an add-on, it focuses on bringing insight and intelligence into how we do this.
At the core of applying this model are 10 characteristics outlined below. For some L&D teams, these characteristics will require an evolution of the practice. For others, they won’t. Regardless, they provide a practical framework that can be used to review our approaches and practices.
1) Focused on Performance
Perhaps unsurprisingly, learning and development is most frequently associated with learning. Ultimately the function exists to build organizational capability and help teams and individuals be more effective. Our focus, therefore, should be on driving performance. As such, the conversation, the analysis, and the solution should all be centered around performance improvement. Sure, we need to to understand how to help people learn. But it is equally, if not more important, to understand how to help people perform.
What this means in practice
This takes a shift in mindset from learning to performance. It involves detailed analysis to understand how people are currently performing. Asking what are the barriers to effective performance and focusing on solving performance gaps. Doing this involves:
- Conducting a thorough front end analysis;
- Using techniques like performance consulting to understand performance gaps and their causes. Without being blinkered by a temptation to root the conversation in learning or training needs.
2) Insight-Led Learning and Development
Identifying barriers to performance, designing effective solutions, and tracking impact all rely on data and insight. An insight-led approach is fundamental to effective learning and development. However, the previous 4 years of Industry Benchmark Reports by Towards Maturity (now Emerald Works), reported that learning and development teams are lacking analytics/ data management and performance consulting skills. Clearly there is a skills gap here.
Shifting from gut feel to an insight-led approach will be critical. It will lead to improvements in how we define problems and performance gaps. It will help us design more effective solutions. So in the end, we’ll have better ways to communicate with the business and measure solution effectiveness. It isn’t all about quantitative data and business metrics. You can gather some of the best performer analysis data through interviews and focus groups with your specific audience.
What this means in practice.
This is about asking the right questions to test hypotheses. About better understanding performance gaps or learning needs, and the root causes. It’s about being close to people and performance data. It’s about responding to requests for training with analysis first, solutions second. All of this requires some comfort with data analysis and statistics. Thankfully there is an abundance of support and guidance out there. LinkedIn Learning has recently launched a free data analysis pathway as a way to support job seekers with building skills for the future.
3) Focused on Value Not Volume
Learning and development functions often talk about their “offer” and describe a range of programs. As each new request for training comes along, the offer expands. Furthermore, advances in technology mean that it is easy to scale this up and provide a mass of content for employees to access.
Adopting a lean approach can help when trying to find a balance between supporting employees without overwhelming them with content. Less is often more. In an environment as challenging as the one we find ourselves in now, it is critical that we focus on what people need and what will bring the most value to them.
What this means in practice.
This is about being critically focused on what will support the business and its employees. All by using data and insight rather than assumptions and gut feel. As this Training Industry article states:
“It’s not about the learning method or type of tool that determines whether learning is lean. It’s about how you apply and utilize available resources to deliver and derive the most learning value.”
4) Brings Learning into the Flow of Work
Traditionally learning and development focused on creating and offering solutions that take people out of their workflow to learn. Workshops, e-learning courses, even catalogs of online learning that are accessible on-demand still require employees to step away from the flow of work to learn something. Bringing learning into the flow of work is about providing information and performance support to people. Everything while they work in the systems and the context in which they are performing the task.
What this means in practice.
Adopting this approach, learning and development professionals must combine their understanding of employees’ challenges and knowledge gaps with an understanding of where the work takes place. This will help in surfacing content to meet learners’ needs at the moment they need it most. In its most basic sense, this is about:
- Understanding employee pain points or performance gaps;
- Designing targeted content to address those pain points or gaps;
- Bringing the content as close to where they experience that pain point as possible.
5) Brings Learning Closer to the Moment of Need
In our personal lives, we find motivation to learn something when we face a problem or hit a roadblock. Trying to figure out how to keep your lawn green. Writing a speech for a wedding. Working out how to make homemade soup. Whatever it is, it’s most likely that we do our learning at the moment we actually need it.
The same can’t be said of traditional corporate learning. For ease of coordination and administration learning is often delivered with little alignment to the employees’ specific moments of need. For example, take the management training program. We deliver it to delegates who have been managing people for months already. Or do an interview workshop for every line manager, regardless of whether they are currently hiring or not.
There will always be value in bringing people together to share ideas, discuss challenges, and learn about concepts for the first time. However, we need to look beyond event-based training in order to bring people the support they need at the moment they need it most. When they’re applying what they’ve learned in context.
What this means in practice.
The immediacy of performance support is fundamental to this approach. Therefore involves understanding and mapping out performers’ moments of need for learning with any given task. The work of Conrad Gottfredson and Bob Mosher of APPLY Synergies can help with this. They determined when developing the capability to perform tasks, employees experience 5 moments of learning need:
- Learning how to do something for the first time;
- Learning more about it and deepening knowledge;
- Applying what they have learned;
- Solving problems when things don’t go to plan;
- Learning new ways to do something in response to a need to adjust or change.
Corporate learning is so often centered around moments 1 and 2. But genuine performance improvement involves supporting and informing people in the context of application.