We are all familiar with the refrain: Management finds employee performance to be slacking off while certain routine matters are flagging. What are the common responses to an issue and what are needed to provide or revive knowledge and skills within an organization? The typical answer, of course, is training. While effective, if designed and implemented right, one would think at some point whether training is the only solution, and how does it really impact on the business strategy.
Many companies, especially the more progressive ones, now look at learning solutions as an integral part of their business strategy. They adopt a broader perspective and approach for assessing and meeting their organizational requirements. Based on my experience with some of these organizations and their leaders, I have chosen three key principles, which I now put forward to other companies for consideration and, if deemed appropriate, apply them. They are:
Make the Learning & Development (L&D) group your internal business consultants
The L&D group is often looked at in an organization as just a provider of training and seminars. This calls for a change in mindset, from being a training provider to an internal consultant. As consultants, their value comes from them being able to understand the “business” of the company, including how it operates, its product and service offerings, its constituents, its business strategy, etc.
Thus, when a problem that is initially identified as a training issue is given to the L&D group, they should first find out what the business and performance requirements are, determine the issues and the root causes of such problems, and only then recommend the appropriate solution. In some cases, it may turn out to be outside the scope of L&D. This should be fine. But thinking only like trainers, on the other hand, would often limit them to the discussions they have with you and their solutions might just be too focused on the training needs. That will prevent them from seeing the bigger, truer picture.
So, how do you make them consultants? Make the L&D group your business partners, and encourage the group to ask questions; the right questions. Typically these questions are open-ended at first, so that they will encourage a broader discussion of the issue. Questions like, what keeps you awake at night, what is the problem you are trying to solve or what does success look like, may seem to be simple and trite, but it really opens up the discussion to explore the different areas that may be contributing to the needs or even beyond.
Provide a variety of learning solutions, not just training
Learning solutions, unlike training, provide a broader perspective that considers a wider array of learning approaches—experiential, social, and structured programs—typically referred to as the 70-20-10 Principle that were introduced by the Center for Creative Leadership, to enhance organizational competencies. In this model, training is just one of, but not the only, solution.
So how do you apply the 70-20-10 Principle? Consider ways by which your organization can enhance the learning experience. You can implement on-the-job programs through secondment, cross-team postings, or individual swaps/exchanges. These assignments can even extend to clients or external organizations. You can also cascade a coaching and mentoring process where constant feedback and knowledge sharing is done across all levels. It’s about building a culture and structure where your employees seek and are able to learn by application and from others, through programs or ad-hoc opportunities.
Align the learning strategy with the business strategy
Learning can be strategic as well as tactical. A major difference between the two is that strategic learning focuses on supporting the organization’s vision and strategy, while tactical learning focuses on addressing performance gaps. Strategic learning is long-term and tied up to organizational metrics while tactical learning is short-term and measured through team or individual performance indicators, typically around productivity, quality, and timeliness. Training done across the organization is not necessarily strategic unless it is aligned with organizational outcomes and goals.
So what do you do to start aligning your learning programs into strategy? A useful first approach is auditing your learning initiatives. Determine which of those initiatives support your strategy and which address specific team or individual performance needs. It’s a simple method to see where the gaps are, but it really challenges you to evaluate whether the effort and resources are being channeled to where they make the most impact and sense.
As we strive to direct our organization forward, there has to be a deliberate effort to realign our learning perspective and paradigms. Positioning L&D closer to the business core, and providing a wider range of learning experiences, will help increase organizational effectiveness, improve employees’ morale as well as the company’s chance of success.
Mon San Jose is a director with the knowledge management group of P&A Grant Thornton, a leading audit, tax, advisory, and outsourcing firm in the Philippines, with 21 partners and over 700 staff members.