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Linking Learning to Business Values and Strategies

Bob Little 

March 18, 2016

A dissatisfied and frustrated workforce is unlikely to work hard to exceed expectations, provide exemplary customer service, and enable the business to achieve its goals. Team members with these feelings are unlikely to espouse and enthusiastically embrace the business’s values and strategies – and that’s going to make organizational success difficult to achieve.

In a large organization, it can be easy to point the finger at others for causing this frustration and dissatisfaction. However, according to a recent report from research company Towards Maturity, corporate L&D professionals must take their share of the blame.

In particular, the report concludes that corporate L&D programs are “wildly out of sync” with how employees learn. Building on the findings of its 2015/16 Industry Benchmark Report, Towards Maturity’s recent report, The Consumer Learner at Work, found that most L&D initiatives weren’t providing the things that motivated, consumer-focused learners wanted to support their career progress.

Most of those questioned for the research, who pay for their own professional development, say that they’re keen to progress their career, which is why they want to learn. By contrast, these respondents felt that only 21 percent of organizations supported workers’ personal career aspirations.

Moreover, while the research showed being able to access learning wherever and whenever is a key driver for self-motivated learners, only 11 percent of the organizations polled encourage staff to solve problems via social media, and only 12 percent use curation tools.

According to Towards Maturity, 80 percent of learners use Google® when they need to look for resources, 70 percent use their own smartphone, and 52 percent use their own tablet for learning purposes. All of these activities are outside the guidance, control, and often even the knowledge, of L&D professionals, let alone any learning management system. In short, the corporate L&D options generally available are at odds with, and often irrelevant to, the needs and desires of self-motivated learners in those organizations.

Laura Overton, head of Towards Maturity, believes that these shocking, though not unrealistic, findings should be a “wake-up call” for L&D professionals. She says, “Clearly, corporate L&D is not providing what motivated learners want. Think about the impact this will be having, too, on those who’re less motivated!”

Paolo Lenotti, head of marketing at the personalized learning company Filtered, which partnered with Towards Maturity to produce the Consumer Learner at Work research, comments, “While we’re all busy talking about ’70:20:10,’ ‘online versus face-to-face,’ ‘social learning’ and ‘gamification,’ how often do we ask ourselves why – and how – learners learn? And are their learning behaviors recognized – as well as being encouraged and facilitated by L&D professionals – in the workplace?”

One of the key messages coming from Towards Maturity’s 2015/16 Industry Benchmark Report was that most L&D teams aren’t able to provide services that will have a significant impact on business agility or organizational and individual performance.

Where it does happen – among the best performing L&D teams – the report shows that L&D is having a big impact on both business and individual performance. For example, it shows an average of 12 percent improvements in productivity, 21 percent increases in employee engagement, and a 16 percent reduction in costs being reported.

The Benchmark Study found that these L&D teams’ approach to learning moves away from the delivery of courses, in favor of finding new ways of supporting learning and performance. Ninety four percent of the top-performing organizations believe that the course is just one option for building skills, and 86 percent adopt approaches that support learning in the flow of work.

Overton says, “The L&D teams in these organizations have clear working partnerships with the line of business. Compared with the ‘average’ L&D teams, they’re twice as likely to identify key performance measures that are important to the business and twice as likely to have a plan in place to meet those goals.

“Their management teams are twice as likely to assign board-level accountability for learning and 90 percent expect managers to take responsibility for the learning of their staff. This close working partnership means that L&D is in a position to apply innovative solutions that deliver an appreciable contribution to the bottom line.”

Overton and her team conclude that, if today’s corporate L&D teams are to act in accordance with business values and strategies, they need to understand and use marketing and stakeholder management techniques, learning analytics, digital content creation – and facilitate collaboration among learners.

“There’s evidence, from the report, that top performing organizations are embracing change throughout the business and are realizing their vision of the future, providing a direction for others to follow,” comments Overton’s colleague at Towards Maturity, Dr Genny Dixon. “They’re recognizing that a consumer-focused, technology-enabled learning strategy builds business performance and employee engagement.”

Overton says, “In the face of their many challenges, a number of L&D professionals appear to be shy of using data and evidence to inform their decisions. Currently, only 16 percent of L&D practitioners are using learning analytics to improve the service they offer – and only ten percent actively use benchmarking as a performance improvement tool. Yet 84 percent of those who’ve benchmarked this year have found new ideas to take their strategy forward.”

On the surface, things look bad for L&D professionals. Recent research suggests that they’re ignoring the needs of self-motivated learners in their desire to provide what has always been acceptable. They could also potentially be driving them to take their enthusiasm and skills elsewhere. This could also impact less well-motivated learners, and all of this combines to confound business values, strategies, aims, and goals.

Yet there’s evidence that top-performing L&D teams are adapting appropriately to new learning needs and new learning delivery technologies, and are closely allying their new activities to business values and strategies. All may not yet be lost for “traditional” L&D professionals – but, increasingly, the evidence suggests that their time is running out.

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