It’s About Performance, Not Learning
The transformation of Learning & Development must start with how the function sees itself. Firstly, it means shifting thinking from ‘learning’ outcomes to ‘optimum working’ outcomes. This ‘performance mindset’ is one that looks at how things are working in relation to how they could (or should) be working for optimum results and then working with internal clients to achieve the desired performance. In contrast, the traditional ‘learning needs analysis’ looks for ‘learning needs’ to deliver ‘learning solutions’ quite often leading to a ‘course’.
This is what Charles Jennings calls the ‘course mindset’. Jennings points out that “the default solution (a course or programme) to address human performance problems is deeply embedded in most HR and learning professionals’ psyche and also our own development experiences.
The ‘course’ has been the linchpin of traditional L&D since The Industrial Age and in recent years, both eLearning and webinars have brought the classroom to our desks. But business requires a more dynamic approach to supporting performance and employees are looking for immediate support to real work challenges, either from colleagues or by looking outside the organisation (websearch).
It is only very recently, with constant connectivity and workers’ access to limitless resources online,
that far more effective ways of impacting business performance are being seen. The opportunity now is to help people be better at their jobs and improve their prospects with on-demand support and immediate access to created and curated ‘resources’ that link to the work they are doing and the goals of the company.
By looking past ‘learning’, refocusing on ‘performance’, and throwing off the shackles of the ‘course mindset’, L&D can focus on activities and outcomes that impact the work itself, embed learning in the workflow and help employees grow in line with the organisation’s strategic goals. This will not be done one class at a time but by having the potential to influence everybody, every day.
Agile responses to performance problems and opportunities for growth can impact people today, rather than in several months from now when a programme has been designed, launched and finally attended.
Resources Before Courses: Example For Presentation Skills
By providing digital resources where you would previously have run courses, employees access the appropriate support they need, when they need it. If an employee wants to know how they should prepare for an upcoming presentation, they would search for and find a range of relevant resources that show them, step- by-step, how they should prepare, some top tips from ‘experts’ and a series of video clips from people who are experienced at delivering presentations at their company. They share tips with other learners as well as the creators (and curators) of those resources and are recommended further resources for designing engaging presentations at the company. When the time comes to design their presentation, they search for and find top tips, a framework to follow, as well as advice from the best presenters at the company.
They engage with other learners and the creators (and curators) of those resources and are then recommended further resources for delivering engaging presentations. Just before they are due to deliver their presentation, they find top tips and video clips of experienced presenters in the company. They deliver their presentation with confidence having benefited from the experience that resides within their company in addition to tips and frameworks that helped them when they were faced with the challenge.
At each stage, they rate the resources on usefulness and provide feedback for improvements. L&D also survey them on ‘how much better they can now present as a result of their entire learning journey’ and how they would like to be supported further.
Making Decisions With Data
More agile approaches to Learning & Development can help you truly understand performance and capability gaps by working closely with employees to gain meaningful data, test assumptions, and build prototype solutions that can be improved (collaboratively with employees) over time. This means skillfully and attentively collecting data about your business, its priorities, the wider context in which it operates, where employees are at, and what needs to happen for the business to achieve its goals. To reiterate, this is in stark contrast to creating courses to meet learning needs.
Collecting data will better inform how L&D positively impacts business performance, the capability of its people and their confidence to deliver. Google took this approach to assess the merits of good management, looking at existing data, testing their assumptions and building contextually relevant solutions designed to impact management in a way that resonated with its people.
In Action: Thomas Rovekamp At Sanoma
“From the Employee Engagement survey, I discovered that respondents wanted more development on ‘digital’ because they felt the need to invest in their own future. This was a common theme across the board. So, I made the assumption that people wanted development opportunities in ‘digital’ and tested what that meant in conversations across the business. I discovered in conversation that whilst the company was going through a digital transformation the employees wanted to know what their role would be in that transformation.
I spoke with employees at all levels: upper, middle, and lower management, on how they see L&D, the broader business landscape, their experience at the company, their role here, and what they needed to know. My intention was to tackle the biggest priorities. I want every person to think about what’s best for the company. I’m confident that if they’re learning new things to help them become better and more relevant, whilst being provided with every opportunity to succeed, they will feel better about working at Sanoma.”
Look first at the data at hand that already exists in your organisation, for example previous Employee Engagement surveys. Find out what people think of the development opportunities that are available to them and their concerns about their own development. Make assumptions and test those assumptions in conversations.
Make it your business to know how people are developing themselves already. If you do not already support the Marketing function in developing their technical expertise and staying abreast of innovations, how are they doing so for themselves? If you see Senior Executives only once a year in programmes, how are they developing themselves in all manner of different topics throughout the year?
Strike up a conversation with as many people as you can about their business, their priorities and their development. For others, this will be the most obvious conversation to be having with L&D. However, this need not be an exhaustive exercise that holds you back from beginning your L&D transformation but instead a new ‘business as usual’: collecting data, testing assumptions, and finding new ways to uncover valuable data to inform and challenge your assumptions, whilst uncovering advocates and collaborators across the business.