Far more than ensuring staff stay current and compliant with basic performance standards and training, the learning and development that such a culture calls for is farther reaching and more complex.
While the issue must fundamentally align to business strategy, this is not achieved by all businesses; failure to co-opt learning and development into the organizational vision can be down to any number of reasons, such as a lack of resources, interest or understanding of the purpose of L&D from business leaders.
Real learning and development is less about teaching, and more about creating an environment that facilitates self-learning. Individuals can process information into knowledge, values and skills at their own pace while guided by the company. In this respect, learning becomes an active, participative and far more rewarding process.
3 Key features of successful L&D culture
John Eades, CEO of Learnloft cites three key elements that make up learning and development:
1. Encouraging thought leadership
The best L&D comes off being proactive instead of reactive. Eades argues that new ideas and thought leadership should be encouraged within the organization, and proposes “finding the bright spots”, a concept taken from Chip and Dan Heath’s book, Switch. As such, individuals are given the chance to solve major organizational problems and to take ownership of greater responsibility.
2. Supporting innovation
According to Eades, “innovation and thought leadership go hand in hand”. Bringing fresh perspectives and new ideas into an organization affords the change to align innovation with “learner demand”. The importance of innovation is echoed by Apple, who note that “business leaders recognize that the new competitive frontier in the world of work is place-based innovation-the ability to innovate again and again within one environment.”
3. Flawless execution
The best learning and development process is dynamic, able to “identify and execute” on a learning opportunity in a timely manner. This is vital if L&D is to be a core driving force within an organization.
Why Learning and Development is crucial to performance
In the words of Stanford professor, Richard Sutton, “Creative ‘weird’ ideas work because they provide three key things: an increase in the range of an organization’s knowledge, the ability for people to see old problems in new ways, and an opportunity to break from the past.”
In a corporate world, this creativity needs to be harnessed be aligned to business strategy, as Sutton warns that “creative environments are often “remarkably inefficient and terribly annoying places to work.”
Learning and development also brings benefits in the following ways:
Improved employee satisfaction
Being valued is crucial to employee satisfaction. The opportunity to learn and develop produces achievement and responsibility. If rewarded and recognized with promotional opportunities, then elements of Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory of Motivation start to fall into place. These are key elements to work place ‘satisfiers’ which make for a happier, more dedicated workforce.
A more content workforce will reduce chances of employees leaving the company. Similarly, if properly motivated, staff will want to fulfil their potential within the firm, improving competencies, target-meeting and enhancing the value of the organization.
When departments do not co-operate with data sharing within the same company, the firm’s overall efficiency will drop and this may eventually impact on morale as employees experience an erosion of productivity. This failure to share between sectors is known as the silo mentality; a problem for organizations of all sizes, and a headache for executives who need to break the destructive mind-set it perpetuates.
The maxim, ‘knowledge is power’ is perfectly applicable when combating the silo mentality. Learning and development initiates knowledge and collaboration within teams that need to rely on one another to problem solve. Learning also nurtures understanding and appreciation of other perspectives, which is a powerful antidote to the silo mentality in itself.
To complement the L&D dynamic, management teams are encouraged to create smaller meeting rooms, reduce the number of long meetings and create an education/training system that crosses departments.
Sheffield Business School researcher, Dr Louise Suckely says that courses “not only inject fresh skills into a business, but also help to generate new ideas and revenue streams while inspiring staff to achieve more.” To help measure ROI, Suckely refers to “The five levels of impact for the ROI model”, which considers engagement, learning, application and implementation, and business impact to calculate ROI.
Brian Keady says that different firms will find it easier to work out returns from learning and development, and proposes involving the right stakeholders as the basis to making sense of your organization’s ROI.
Staying ahead of the curve
Integral to a firm’s success at all levels, learning and development is crucial if companies are to compete in their marketplace, as the demise of UK firms such of HMV and Kodak have demonstrated. The fall of IMB’ SNA technology serves as a similarly stark warning of what can happen to the strongest of corporates when they fail to realize the importance of keeping speed with industry-wide learning and development.
6 steps to create an L&D strategy
To get the best possible return on investment in L&D, it's vital to have an overarching plan that ensures your development programs are designed to suit learners and to generate value for the business.
Following these steps will help you come up with an L&D strategy that delivers results for employees and the business:
1. Devise a structure
Deciding on a comprehensive structure for your L&D strategy is important because it ensures your program is being delivered in a systematic way that reflects the needs of learners and the goals of the business.
According to the UK's Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development, a learning strategy should consist of three main elements:
- An umbrella strategy that stays fairly consistent
- A set of learning initiatives that support current business needs, goals and resource requirements
- A set of choices for how the learning process will be managed
Each of these components will be informed by the answers to key questions relating to your long-term corporate goals, short-term needs, and how your L&D program can be delivered in a way that works for learners.
2. Align with organizational goals
When you’re creating your comprehensive umbrella strategy, it's important to think about how learning can help the business achieve its most important goals, particularly long term.
For example, if one of your fundamental objectives is to cut down on lost business by improving customer satisfaction, your overall L&D strategy should reflect this.
Your goals should also dictate some of the finer details of how learning is planned and delivered. If you want to strengthen client relationships, think about how development programs can help your employees become better communicators and more adept at anticipating problems before they impact customers.
3. Ensure executive support
Like any significant business investment or project, your L&D strategy needs to have full support and buy-in at executive level if it’s to be properly implemented and executed for maximum results.
Senior figures within the business need to be fully informed about every aspect of the plans - from objectives and deliverables to the cost and time requirements - and should be fully onboard before the program goes ahead.
It's equally important to keep line managers and team leaders fully updated and involved, since they’ll have a critical part to play in the delivery of the learning strategy.
4. Identify needs
You can find areas where the organization is most in need of skills development by analyzing your workforce as it stands and identifying capability gaps.
According to McKinsey, some companies make little effort to assess capability levels within their workforce, while others fail to conduct thoroughly sufficient analysis of their employees' skills and ability levels.
Once again, this process should be closely aligned to the company's goals and priorities. If the organization wants to maximize efficiency by taking an increasingly digital-first approach, for instance, you might want to assess your workers' aptitude with cloud applications and automated systems.
5. Involve employees
One of the most significant recent trends in the L&D space has seen more emphasis being placed on employees taking ownership of their professional development. Rather than simply being told what programs they have to follow, an increasing number of workers are being given the freedom to dictate their own learning paths.
As long as the choices people make are in line with your wider L&D strategy and the overall goals of the company, this approach can prove highly effective.
Research has shown that 58% of employees want to learn at their own pace, while 94% would stay with an organization for longer if it invested in their career development.
6. Measure results
It's impossible to draw clear conclusions about the returns you're getting from investment in L&D without measuring results.
One of the most important steps in this process is deciding what metrics to use. Your measurements should be closely linked not only to your business and its priorities, but to your industry as a whole.
In sectors such as retail, for example, many consumers - millennials and gen Z in particular - are attaching more importance to principles such as brand responsibility, transparency and sustainability.
Finding metrics that help you determine whether focused L&D programs are helping you make progress in these areas could prove hugely beneficial.
Learning and development must “comprehend, role model and embed the culture and performance framework of the organization by providing intervention that enable the business to increase its KPI performance and achieve its strategy”.
Within this fundamental role of L&D, organizations are challenged to meet organizational and learner requirements while staying competitive in fast-paced environments.
As such, teams concerned have to work collaboratively, making sure that L&D remains agile and timely. This dynamic element must be blended with technological developments and emerging insight, with one eye always on the future for professional competencies to manifest themselves in a way that sustains company growth and drives organizational success.