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How to Unlock Your Organization’s Potential

Bob Little 

February 10, 2017

L&D expectations have risen dramatically around the globe over the last 12 months. No longer focused simply on delivering more courses for less money, L&D professionals now aspire to unlock their organizations’ potential. They want to influence culture, boost performance, improve organizational agility, and more.

So says a recent report from U.K.-based learning benchmarking organization Towards Maturity. “Unlocking Potential” reveals that, while L&D professionals are increasingly applying technology to fulfill their organizations’ learning needs, they continue to fall short of their aspirations.

The report includes data collected from more than 600 L&D leaders and 5,000 learners in 55 countries. Its key findings are that:

  • L&D professionals aspire to build a dynamic learning organization (93 percent of the 600 surveyed want to integrate learning and work, 95 percent want to respond faster to the speed of business, 98 percent want to support the sharing of good practice, and 90 percent want to play an active role in supporting business innovation).
  • However – alarmingly – only 15 percent of the L&D professionals surveyed believe that they’re delivering on these aspirations. Only 19 percent claim to be making progress toward responding faster to the speed of business, and only 17 percent claim to be playing an active role in supporting business innovation.
  • Learning provision today has not changed significantly in five years. Some 56 percent of L&D activities are delivered face-to-face, 22 percent are delivered via blended solutions, and just 19 percent of the L&D budget is allocated to learning technologies – although that represents double the use of learning technologies since five years ago.
  • The use of technology in learning continues to be focused on online course delivery, rather than performance support. Nine in 10 respondents are using live online learning and e-learning content, three in four are using learning management systems (LMSs), and seven in ten are using video and mobile delivery technologies.
  • Barriers to achieving desired outcomes include learners lacking skills to manage their own learning (reported by 62 percent of respondents), L&D professionals lacking skills to implement and manage e-learning (59 percent), and line managers being reluctant to encourage new ways of learning (58 percent).
  • The top-performing L&D professionals are at least twice as likely as non-achievers to report that they’re helping their organizations to unlock their potential by achieving such outcomes as improving efficiency, fine-tuning processes, boosting performance, cultivating agility, and influencing organizational culture.

For the first time in its history, the benchmark survey asked respondents about their backgrounds. It found that 71 percent of top performing L&D teams are led by learning professionals rather than by those with an HR or business background.

Changing Expectations

“Today’s expectations in L&D are about improving efficiency – doing more with less – but this report indicates that improving efficiency is not enough,” says Laura Overton, Towards Maturity’s CEO. “As L&D professionals, we need to improve the way we do learning for our organization.

“The report shows that we’re looking to improve productivity and reduce time to competence. We’re looking for a faster response to the changing needs of our organization and we’re looking to increasingly influence organizational culture.

“Where L&D professionals have achieved these things, they’re reporting resulting improvements including a 14 percent increase, on average, in organizational productivity and an 18 percent increase in customer satisfaction levels – but the report shows that, overall, we’re still struggling to achieve our professional aspirations.

“We could have produced a report that talked about ‘banging our head against a brick wall’ – but, in reality, there are some positive signs, notably where the top performers are concerned.”

Unlock L&D’s Potential

The Towards Maturity report identifies five key areas for unlocking L&D’s potential:

1. Efficiency

Overton explains, “The evidence in the report is that the key to improving efficiency is tactics, not technology. These tactics involve continually improving the relevancy of learning materials, regularly reviewing programs, and integrating technology into face-to-face training.”

2. Fine-tuning processes

“Again, there appears to be no correlation between the use of technology and results,” says Overton. “The tactics to achieve the desired results include analyzing the business problem before recommending a solution, expecting line managers to take responsibility for their workers’ development, and setting up steering groups to influence strategy and learning content decisions.”

3. Boosting performance

Overton says that the key, here, is to align learning to the organization’s needs and ensure you have the right resources to meet those needs, deliver the learning in time to meet organizational needs, and enable learners to practice the desired outcome.

4. Cultivating agility

Key tactics here are understanding and catering for people’s learning preferences, encouraging learners to make mistakes while learning, and using storytelling in learning design.

5. Influencing corporate culture

This includes understanding how work is linked to organizational performance, using the “stretch tasks” of experiential learning, and communicating learning success to line managers.

How are People Really Learning?

Jane Hart, writer, speaker and founder of the Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies (C4LPT), says, “The world of work is changing rapidly and learning professionals are waking up to the fact that we can’t just train colleagues once and then retain them for life.

Our work needs to move away from ‘pushing’ programs and ‘organizing’ initiatives for people to thinking about how people are really learning in the modern world and how to support them on a continuous basis. That means that we, as learning professionals, must expose ourselves to new ways of learning – and recognize that ‘learning’ is not just the preserve of L&D.

“Alarmingly, for many L&D professionals this awareness isn’t leading to action, let alone results.

The Towards Maturity report pinpoints the critical role of managers and the extent to which successful L&D organizations are working with the wider enterprise to support learning at work. It also highlights the importance of understanding how staff actually learn in the workplace.

The fact that almost two-thirds of learning leaders report that learners lack skills to manage their own learning and that line managers are reluctant to encourage new ways of learning confirms that change is needed to tackle these important issues.

Taking up that point, Mike Booth, Learning Technologies Manager at telecoms company Vodafone, said at the report’s official launch in London, “We’re now getting mobile devices and an infrastructure we can trust, so there’s every likelihood of an increase in mobile learning. We’re also seeing an increase in personalized learning – and a consequent blurring of the line between ‘learning’ and ‘communications’ that help people do their jobs better.”

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