Learning in organisations, has traditionally been a push-driven approach. While the learning methodologies and learning preferences have seen a paradigm shift in the last 4-5 years, what most companies still grapple with, is how to create a culture of learning in their organisations.
When it comes to content, L&D/HR professionals are spoilt for choice considering great content is just a few clicks away, but it’s increasingly becoming important to address the business context. And it’s just as important for them that the initiatives they plan align with the organisation’s goals.
This brings us to the bigger question of how the learning function aligns its initiatives to business goals. In the last few years, there’s been an immense change in the way L&D & HR professionals are looking at developmental programs. Historically, learning interventions were focused mostly on getting people to enhance their skills to perform better at their current roles. Today, while that part remains unchanged, the focus now includes preparing employees for the future. Therefore, working closely with business teams to identify those future-ready learning areas is a key agenda for HR and L&D.
The pace at which Digital is transforming the game and making many traditional skills redundant, even business is feeling the heat to reskill the workforce. Therefore, unlike any other time in history, the need to work together is pertinent for both business and L&D, without one entity feeling obligated to another. This has given a clear mandate to the learning function to ensure their interventions are helping business achieve their goals. It’s not a check box activity anymore.
We have heard several arguments on how the L&D function needs to work closely with the business & their programs need to create the elusive ‘business impact’. What I find lacking, however, is not the alignment of L&D with business, but the other way around:
- I seldom see business teams/business sponsors getting involved in the initial stages of program design which essentially decides how the entire intervention is going to be, and what exactly is in for the learner.
- The business needs are usually communicated and the learning function is left to figure out everything on their own, right from designing the program, to sourcing/creating content, to identifying the right vendor partner, to keeping the learners motivated, to ensuring high completion rates, to keeping a check on the feedback, and later assessing the behavioural change, or the business impact that they set out to achieve.
It’s too much of an ask from the L&D/HR function. Instead, I have seen those developmental interventions succeed instantly where business sponsors were involved throughout the journey and spent time at regular intervals to take stock about the intervention from both L&D and the learners. Business involvement adds more context to the program, and creates a sense of purpose within the learners that their time is being well spent, and there’s something which they’ll be able to take back to their jobs and apply. Skill development cannot be outsourced entirely to the learning function, and business expecting phenomenal results. Rather, business needs to walk the whole nine yards if they really wish to create a highly skilled, motivated and future ready workforce.
The third key stakeholder in the success of a learning intervention is the learner. For an intervention to be a success, while getting the agenda and design correct, it is incredibly important that the learners are communicated to about:
- a) What’s in it for them if they undergo this learning
- b) The big picture about how they will be able to add value to the business
- c) How it will help the organisation reach its goals
- d) What is the impact if they don’t take the learning intervention seriously.
In essence, all three parties i.e. L&D/HR, Business & the end learners need to have equal skin in the game.
There are many studies done and a lot of data published (I’ll spare sharing such data points and their sources) about how the learner preference is changing, thanks to the eruption of digital platforms, and different learning methodologies taking shape. Such changes are only gathering steam and will continue to do so. What the learning & HR function can reflect and work on is the ‘constant’. Like Jeff Bezos once said, “If you want to build a successful, sustainable business, don’t ask yourself what could change in the next ten years that could affect your company. Instead, ask yourself what won’t change, and then put all your energy and effort into those things”. Similarly, learners & business teams have their constant as well that don’t change with time. Designing interventions to address the constant will surely help a great deal to achieve the desired business impact, and of course, take them closer to the often talked about, and the equally elusive ‘seat at the table’.
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