I assume that if you're here, you have some sort of learning & development role. If that's the case, let me ask you. How many times do your stakeholders ask you to organize or design and deliver any of the following pieces of training: time management, project management, cross-team collaboration, or coaching? Is your answer — "many times"? Then follow along.
Do you remember the last time you wanted to push back and ask some questions? What is the problem they are trying to solve? What do they expect as an outcome of the training? What will change as a result of it? What data points pointed them toward this solution? You might have gotten any of the following reactions — vague answers or pure hostility. Who are we to ask these questions? They know best what they need. We should execute.
We’ve been thinking in terms of training for far too long. Even if our department is officially called Learning and Development, Leadership & Capability Development, or Organizational Development, most of our interventions are limited to the design, development, delivery, or procurement of training programs. At best, we might spice up our offering with coaching and mentoring programs too.
Then, when we start budgeting, we keep getting those unpleasant questions about training effectiveness, impact on business results, and overall return of investment. This is where we start pulling data in a panic -- Excel formulas, 4 levels of evaluation, hours of training, the number of participants, what not?! The purpose: proving we’re still helpful to the organization.
Why do I believe this is no longer working? The goal and outcome of learning & development is not learning itself. It is to improve performance on the job. Even when organizations invest in a “continuous learning culture” they don’t do it to make their employees better students and learners. They do it for performance and productivity. The same thing goes for engagement. Organizations invest in engagement to achieve productivity, not happiness.
The conclusion? The end goal of all our interventions is performance improvement, whether that is on the individual, team, or organizational level. But performance is a very complex equation. And it can't only be achieved or improved by the development of skills or knowledge.
Imagine a person 165cm tall trying to change the light bulb on a 3-meter high ceiling. After 15 minutes of failed attempts to stretch their arms beyond reach, a “manager” comes in and says “you are obviously not capable of changing the light bulb. You don’t know how to do it!”. The person replies “but, I don’t have a ladder”.
Another version of this story would be trying to change the lightbulb without success while actually there is no electricity.
The moral of the story is? For an individual, a team, or an organization to improve performance, there are many factors we need to consider. More often than not, these are not just new skills and knowledge. A performance equation is not a simple sum of elements. It is rather a complex set of interrelated factors that enable better performance.
The following graph shows 6 performance improvement factors that can affect individual, group, and organizational performance.
Think about yourself for a moment. In your current role, what do you need to enhance your performance?
I bet you didn’t think only about knowledge and skills. The truth is, we need to explore the problem holistically and understand the root causes so that we can deploy a set of right interventions. Oftentimes, this is a combination of things, rather than one thing. This process is called performance consulting.
Performance consulting is a results-focused and solution-neutral intervention that helps determine the reasons behind business and performance gaps. Only after completing the influence analysis which helps us distinguish between different factors and root causes that caused the gaps, will we identify the right solution to implement, and finally evaluate the impact of the intervention.
Even though this seems like common sense, there are many challenges to introducing this way of working. Let’s explore some of them.
Solution: Schedule conversations to educate your internal clients on this approach. This can be as simple as showing this chart about 6 performance improvement factors. No one so far told me they didn’t think this was true.
Solution: It’s not easy. Invite the rest of the HR colleagues as well as the business stakeholders to join the discussion. Gather all the data (engagement, employee performance, business results), and organize structured interviews with key performers and business leaders. Holistic solutions require collaboration.
Solution: No, for God’s sake, no! :) Accept the challenge and take up the role of the project manager to follow through with the performance improvement intervention.
Solution: That’s ok as long as training is really a part of the solution. If you have the gap analysis to prove that training is not part of the solution, challenge back or at least explain to your stakeholders why doing a training might even be counterproductive.
We’ve all been there. We get a demotivated dysfunctional team for training and then that ends up being a venting session about problems they are facing and how annoyed they are for being sent to learn and develop.
Present your gap analysis to your stakeholders and let them know which combination of solutions/ interventions would solve the performance problem they have.
Solution: People will always need learning and development. However, to truly tackle performance problems, we need to do more than that.
The truth is, most likely your job does not look like it used to 10, 15 years ago. Learning marketplaces such as LinkedIn Learning, Coursera, and Udemy, just to name a few, are already changing massively what you have to do. Now you are probably more focused on the enabling side of L&D -- coaching and mentoring programs, building a learning culture that inspires employees to take ownership of their development, acquiring tech solutions, or designing performance & talent/ career management frameworks.
The L&D profession is ever-evolving and to be at the forefront, we must be the best continuous learners in the organization and also be honest with ourselves when things are no longer working as we are used to.
Finally, Performance consulting/ improvement is not something you do. It’s a way of thinking, a mindset to adopt — looking at problems holistically and working collaboratively with the business to solve them.
A company, let’s call it X, faced a problem of early attrition within the first three months. More than 20% of new employees from a particular business unit were leaving in the first three months of their employment.
The first thing that came to everyone's mind was? People are leaving because of the training provided in the first weeks of joining. The team was on fire to start redesigning the training.
Until someone stepped up and went back to the analysis stage. To dig deeper into the reasons why they deployed an onboarding survey to measure the experience after one, two, and finally three months. Additionally, they looked closer at exit surveys to capture additional relevant and complete data. The idea was to investigate deeper what was driving leavers’ decisions after such a short tenure.
After a few months of analysis (to capture a representative sample), the why became more clear. Data showed that the questions regarding role expectations and belonging have come out significantly lower than the rest. After digging deeper in a more qualitative manner, it was apparent that new joiners were missing (especially in a remote environment) a connection with their team leader & the team. They felt they were thrown into training without spending any time with their colleagues.
So instead of jumping to training, a mix of solutions was implemented:
The same process brought them to another interesting insight. The role and expectations weren't clear to people before joining. So the recruitment team was briefed that they need to better explain the role in employer branding initiatives & throughout the recruitment process.
These simple interventions have helped reduce the early attrition, without jumping to typical L&D solutions.
Shifting how L&D teams are perceived starts with our own mindset change. It’s an opportunity for us to learn and test things that so far weren’t in our reach. Being assertive and pushing back might lead short-term to backlash from stakeholders, of course. But long-term, as our solutions improve thanks to the performance consulting approach we will become more valued and impactful.
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