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L&D Issues as Seen From the Top

Bob Little 

July 28, 2017

A survey of more than 1,000 senior professionals from Europe, the Middle East, Japan and China shines an interesting light on attitudes to L&D.

The research was carried out by the Financial Times|IE Business School Corporate Learning Alliance, which connects academic excellence with insights from FT journalists and global business leaders.

Its second annual ‘Corporate Learning Pulse Survey‘ examines a range of areas, including business learning priorities and feelings about L&D’s ability to deliver results.

Four Key Views From the Top

The research reveals a difference in views on learning-related issues between senior leaders (C-Suite, Presidents and MDs) and HR/L&D professionals, as well as between different countries. However, four key views emerge:

1. Senior professionals understand and recognize the long-term benefits of learning and leadership development, even if they aren’t top priorities for their organization.

2. Learning and leadership development programs haven’t lived up to senior professionals’ expectations. But these professionals are optimistic that future programs will be worth the investment. The 2017 research, however, shows a “disconnect” in perceptions of L&D performance between the very top and senior professionals. Senior leaders tend to take a more optimistic view of programs’ success than others in the organisation.

3. Although organizations have attempted to measure the impact of executive education and leadership development, they don’t always succeed – despite this being a priority.

4. Compared with 2016, learning priorities have remained roughly consistent among senior professionals in 2017.

Top Three Priorities

Senior professionals’ top three priorities for 2017 are in-market growth (33 percent), strategy development and execution (31 percent), financial management (26 percent) and cyber security (26 percent). Executive education and leadership development (24 percent) are sixth on the priority list, with 22 percent also seeing this area as a challenge that they must address in the next three years.

“The top three things that senior professionals say need immediate attention include recruitment, training, along with executive education and leadership development (38 percent each),” says VanDyck Silveira, FT | IE Corporate Learning Alliance CEO.

“Furthermore, over 80 percent of senior professionals believe that executive education/leadership development has improved their skills, is vital to achieving business goals, and is more important than ever. In addition, 58 percent of them believe that executive education and leadership development are the key to holding on to their best employees.”

Jo-ann Robertson, of communications agency Ketchum, says, “For companies to thrive, they need to have access to the best talent. Sometimes, that’s about outside talent but it’s also about being able to move people within your organization.

“The most important thing is investing in the people that you have, today, in your organization because they’re already here and they’re committed,” she adds. “Actually, the talent you have within your organization – investing in them and developing them – is more important than continually refreshing the pool.

“Executive education and development is critical to our process, so we see investment in our senior leaders as future-proofing our business and accelerating our growth.”

Regional Differences

There are regional differences in perceptions of the impact of learning and leadership development programs. Satisfaction with these programs is highest in China (72 percent), Spain (64 percent) and Germany (57 percent). The lowest satisfaction ratings come from Japan (16 percent) and the Nordic countries (37 percent).

Respondents, especially  in China, Spain and Germany, believe that the senior leaders in their organizations are optimistic about future investments in executive education/leadership development.

Regional differences are also in evidence among the 43 percent of senior leaders who report that they haven’t seen added value from past investments in education/leadership development. That figure is 67 percent in China and 25 percent in Spain. The UK’s response matched the overall number.

L&D Is an Investment, Not a Cost

Business coach Hugo Heij says, “People come back from a workshop and they say it was great – but then the question is, what are you going to do with it?

“L&D is an investment and not a cost but, so often with L&D, it’s all intangible – it’s subjective. Nonetheless, we’ve moved from an industrial worker age to a knowledge worker age, so it’s even more important now that we have the right people – and that the people have the right skills.”

Pessimism From Leaders

The main reason for pessimism from senior professionals over past investments is that organizations have struggled to measure the outcomes of these programs.

Where they have tried to measure the outcomes of past corporate learning efforts, the focus areas of impact have been:

  • Employee satisfaction.
  • Customer satisfaction.
  • Employee engagement.
  • Revenue, profit and margins.

Only 37 percent of respondents report seeing a tangible impact on employee engagement and 34 percent see benefits for customer satisfaction. Revenue, profit, and margins, and employee satisfaction both return figures of 32 percent.

“You need to measure by proxies and you need to be cunning in terms of how you’re going to organize the organization,” says VanDyck Silveria.

“Yet, it would appear senior professionals agree there’s room for improvement when it comes to executive education and leadership development – including better alignment with business goals (41 percent), more engagement from employees (40 percent), and better long-term planning of programs (37 percent).

“This research further highlights the place of corporate executive education and leadership development, along with today’s key issues in this area across a large proportion of the globe.

Reaching Strategic Goals Through L&D

“As such, it contains great deal of data to inform would-be suppliers of corporate learning and development programs. In addition, hopefully, the resulting report will spark conversations about how an organization can reach its strategic goals through learning,” he says.

The 2017 Corporate Learning Pulse Global Survey report is available to download free and a video summary of its findings is also available.

Among its conclusions, two issues stand out. “At present there is a perception gap  [of L&D] between the most senior people within organisations and those more removed from the boardroom,” says the report.

It adds, “The learning and development industry needs to help organisations find valid and reliable measurement and evaluation techniques. It’s clear from the 2017 results that organisations haven’t cracked the evaluation code, despite an overwhelming desire to link current and past programmes to business results.”

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