5 ways to establish L&D departments as business critical

Published: 8th October 2017

Depending on your viewpoint, it is either a cliché or the ultimate wisdom of L&D that ‘People are our greatest asset’.  It is an assumption trotted out across all business sectors, but assuming that it’s true, how are L&D professionals going to ensure that employees are developed to drive up performance, introduce innovation and stimulate growth?

Previously, content was king.  Developing engaging learning content and pushing it out through a single channel was sufficient evidence that learning had taken place. Whether in the virtual world or the classroom, the fact that training has taken place, is not any guarantee of absorption. As attention spans lessen and our reliance on technology strengthens, the L&D community must become more adept at both outcomes-facing content development and mobilising a range of channels for learning delivery.

Content as king won’t wash anymore. Training and development approaches designed for a paper-based, age don’t cut it in the digital world.  Not only has the mode of training got to change to meet the expectations of digitally savvy employees, but the links between training  and the bottom-line have to be tangible. As part of the L&D offering, it is vital that they become integral to company culture, supporting continuous skills development and outcomes-focused behaviour.

The quality of learning content may still be an adequate starting point for predicting effectiveness.  It goes without saying that boring material, whether tangible or virtual, will never achieve good learning outcomes.  However, even excellent content is no guarantee of success.

So, how can you go about measuring the impact of training on business success and profitability?  How do you link the design of your training to measurable business benefits?

As Suhail Shamieh, Head of Middle East and African Learning at Fitch identifies, in discussion with Eldred Dizon, the Head of Reward and Talent management NCB Capital, “To be a truly effective component of talent management, an organisation has to establish L&D as an investment activity, where results are measureable and contribute to the organisation’s overall success…”

This perspective is reinforced by Dr Isam Zabalawi, President of The Arab Academy for Banking and Financial Sciences.  He too is clear that L&D strategy should not just dove-tail with HR strategy but link with other business strategies too.

In fact, only 30% of learning leaders deliver essential data to business and line managers. Traditionally, L&D assessment has focused on the responses of individuals and groups, not how they progress from training to implementing the knowledge and skills they have learned.  Numbers of courses completed, test results, evaluation forms, follow-up contact are all well and good in terms of measuring whether training has taken place. However, what they will not do is tell you if the learning has been transformed into behaviours that will help to achieve to strategic goals and drive up business performance.

So, what’s to be done? In a nutshell, put business strategy and goals at the heart of your L&D design, then work from there to what the individual or group needs to know, understand and deliver. In this way, employees will adopt behaviors that deliver to the strategic outcomes their organisation is striving to achieve.

What does business strategy and outcomes-focused L&D look like?

  1. Strategic business goals

What skills, knowledge and behaviours do individuals and groups need to drive the performance of their operations to support strategic success? Being clear about the skills required to achieve business outcomes will enable you to identify the skills gaps that need to be filled and develop a talent management program that will grow the people you need to achieve business success.

Remember – 40% of strategic implementation is hampered by talent deficiencies. It is the role of L&D to ensure that these deficiencies are minimised or deleted in their entirety.

  1. Develop the behaviours and skills that employees need to support the business’s strategic objectives

Once you have clarified the organisation’s strategic goals, you need to analyse the behaviours needed to achieve them and identify which employees need to develop them.  This is likely to involve identifying the A players who are capable of demonstrating these behaviours already in a successful career. These are the people who will be your role models for success, demonstrating to others what behaviours they need to emulate to achieve success, not just for themselves but for the company.

Bain & Company are clear about how applied behavioral science (ABS) can assist in developing behaviors for business success, harnessing the power of a strategic, outcomes-based approach. They adopt an ABS model that sets this out clearly.

ABS principles provide an effective road map for reliably creating the kind of “good behaviour” that is self-reinforcing. This pathway focuses on the following actions:

  • Pinpoint the few critical behaviors that most affect results
  • Identify who performs them
  • Develop a step-by-step plan to shape new behaviours
  • Devise ways to measure both the behaviors and successful results
  • Sustain the results through positive reinforcement

EY’s ‘7 Drivers of Growth Model’ identifies People, Behaviour & Culture as one of the seven pathways that lead to market leadership.  In a year in which the State Bank of India posted record growth in net profit, Arundhati Bhattcharya, Chairman of the bank identified the significance of the role of employees in working towards the bank’s business objectives “We …nurture loyal and dedicated employees who have made significant and lasting contributions towards achieving the bank’s strategic goals.”

  1. Create learning journeys, not one off learning events

L&D programmes are not just about developing skills. They also need to embed the understanding within the employees themselves about why their behaviours are so vital in contributing to business success.

The knowledge absorbed by the employee in a one off learning experience (think along the lines of a single training session) is next to none. According the forgetting curve, within a week, 90% of information is forgotten.

If you spread a learning programme out over multiple weeks/months. Not only will the learner actually learn more, but they will be more actively engaged in the process. They will understand how the content connects to their job role, why it will make them a more valuable employee and how they are contributing to the overall success of the business. With the reinforcement of this message over a sustained period of time, an opportunity to actively apply the learning in their job roles and some early wins (i.e. situations where exhibiting the taught behaviours leads to great results) – you have a formula for proving ROI on training and development.

As Jeff Green, EY’s Global Knowledge Leader points out, knowledge drives customer satisfaction, innovation and growth.

Content development must begin with an in-depth understanding of outcome-driven knowledge and skills.  This is what lays the foundation for building organisational capability and developing knowledge and behaviour networks that ensure employee behaviours are focused on corporate goals and success.

And don’t forget about the importance of meeting those corporate objectives for Boards, shareholders and stakeholders. They need the reassurance that investment in their people will pay off in improved business performance.  Ensuring that training in knowledge, skills and behaviour is assessed as effective by the participants is not the same as ensuring that they impact on business effectiveness.

Reporting on a recent highly successful L&D program for non-managerial employees in the hospitality sector in Dubai, Ionna Kananikola writes:

“Furthermore, despite the effectiveness of the Learning and Development, a major weakness relates to the lack of evaluation and follow up which in turn results to lack of reporting return-on-investment to executive board as well as shareholders.

Make sure that you are able to join the dots between training and organisational success.

  1. Ensuring that L&D content addresses the skills gaps – what do employees need to know?

Creating the content that ensures that employees adopt and foster the most effective behaviours in a broader strategy-centered approach is the final step in making that link between achieving corporate objectives and appropriate employee behaviour.  This is what aligns your L&D content with corporate achievement.

Filling that skills gap is a huge issue not just for corporations but across the region as a whole.  Lama Ataya, Chief Marketing Officer of Bayt.com, writing last year in Entrepreneur Middle East about skills gaps in the Middle East Bayt.com 2016 Middle East Skills Gap Survey, drew attention to how vital L&D is in supporting organisations to support companies in achieving their goals.  Lama writes “If the training is done appropriately then companies should have a healthy supply of employees to achieve their goals.”

  1. How Micro-learning supports adults approaches to learning in the digital workplace.

Micro-learning maximises learning absorption and enables sharing outside the classroom in a wide range of ways: face-to-face start of the day events, blogs, team-meetings, planning events etc. as well as on e-learning platforms that reinforce the impact of initial training.  Providing bite-sized chunks of interesting and challenging learning encourages continuous learning & development without being overwhelming and is a great way to involve employees in perpetuating the L&D message.  Learning from more experienced and skilled colleagues, through texts, messaging and blogs to share and absorb learning in a simple, technologically connected way should be commonplace in the digital workplace.

Outside the work-space there are many micro-learning innovations such as Ted Talks and 60 Second Science to engage adults with concepts that they might once have considered challenging,  but now engage with enthusiastically. Linking the power of micro-learning channels containing quizzes, videos, FAQ-based quizzes and tests  with employee collaboration and interaction is a sure-fire way to maximise retention. It encourages confident application of the skills and techniques learned in L&D events. Axonify’s micro-learning platform effectively supports the spread of this highly successful approach.

By identifying what employees need to know, you can create the best content to convey the right information, so that employees become confident in exhibiting the right behaviors. And, of course, this aligns directly with business outcomes. Presenting micro-learning content using a gamified question-and-answer format is a great method of building and reinforcing knowledge. Not only is this more engaging than passively consuming information, but asking people to retrieve answers through repeated retrieval and presenting content in small chunks – which is, after all, how we all learn to talk –  are proven brain science techniques for building and retaining knowledge. Our experience shows that employees will be encouraged to seek their own answers to questions with which they may have struggled previously, causing many of Axonify’s customers to badger for more training.

You’ll agree that’s a pretty good problem for the L&D community to have.

Using a corporate strategy and outcomes based approach places L&D front and center as vital to the organisation. You will be eradicate guess-work and hesitancy, instead empowering employees to adopt and foster behaviours that contribute to a learning culture that truly supports business success.

Phew that’s a lot to take in! Want some help in making your L&D department invaluable? Luckily you’re not on your own, and we’d be glad to have a chat with you about how we could lend a hand, drop us a note here >


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