Many corporate executives still view learning and development programs as cost items rather than strategic investments. Accordingly, executives’ involvement and expectations often remain low, and there is little company-wide clarity surrounding the Learning & Development (L&D) program’s purpose.
Strategic L&D programs have the power to drive business goals, elevate careers, and boost the company’s bottom line. But for L&D teams to help drive performance, they need to garner the support of company leaders by promoting the value of learning. Companies that do are reaping rewards. According to a recent Harvard Business Review study, 70% of companies that align learning with business priorities are able to improve company revenue.
Consider these findings from a 2014 McKinsey & Company survey:
- Few organizations (18% of respondents) have a structured, objective approach for assessing their current capabilities and identifying skill gaps. Instead, most use one-off self-assessments, which McKinsey suggests impedes a company's ability to design effective L&D programs.
- Although most executives encourage employees to develop their skills, fewer than one in five said their HR and business units co-own the learning function. McKinsey reports the co-ownership of L&D reinforces the importance of employee skill development and aligns the company’s learning objectives with its business needs.
- One in five respondents said their company does not measure the impact of L&D programs. Of those that do, most rely on employee or manager feedback rather than quantifiable measures.
- More than 50% of the respondents said they either don’t know whether their L&D programs have achieved quantitative targets in the past three years or they have not set targets.
Every company has the potential to benefit from a well-informed L&D strategy, but where do they begin? This article breaks down the 7 key steps for creating a strategy that will inspire employees, generate necessary skills and encourage positive company culture.
1. Examine your company's current L&D strategy and pinpoint any areas that need improvement
Your business environment, strategies and workforce are evolving by the minute. Companies that pursue a tactical rather than strategic approach to L&D may find their efforts are coming up short. Without a strategic framework and a means of measuring it, employee and executive goals often remain unmet.
Meanwhile, many company executives indicate their greatest challenge is finding the right talent. The number one pressure cited in a recent Aberdeen survey was the shortage of key skills among job seekers. Similarly, another study of corporate executives revealed that most believe only 37% of their employees have the potential to be top performers. For companies that wish to remain competitive, these insights underscore the need to develop talent from within.
2. Determine the key transformation areas
The good news is that your management team needs the learning and development function more than ever. Most executives consider it “very important” to maximize organizational talent and empower employees. Furthermore, most identify “capability building” as a top strategic priority in their organizations. The skills executives deem most important to performance include strategy, operations, marketing and sales.
Given these trends, L&D teams likely will experience growing requests to expand their programs from high-potential leaders to a wide range of employees. According to one study, formal mentoring programs may grow 131% over the next two years, while many companies plan to invest more in learning technologies, such as LMS and knowledge sharing platforms.
Meanwhile, McKinsey reports most companies have shifted their spending on capability building to frontline employees. One-third of companies surveyed ranked this employee group as the one slated to receive the most resources for learning and skill development (up from 22% in 2010), followed by senior management.
Companies seeking to transform their L&D program from a business cost to a true business driver must take their learning program from tactical nice-to-have to strategic must-have. After educating yourself on the features of an effective L&D program, how can you integrate them into your business?
3. Align the goals of the organization, the leadership and the workforce
Aberdeen Group suggests defining the core competencies required to achieve top performance and using this information as a guideline for developing and evaluating talent.
4. Elevate learning programs as a means to flatten the business hierarchy
Reach across the aisle to all lines of business and secure a seat at the table during quarterly reviews. When learning transcends the organizational chart, all participants see themselves as “owners.”
5. Employ effective strategies for developing and sharing knowledge
Successful companies tailor their programs rather than relying on a uniform program for everyone, combining traditional learning methods with mobile technology, social media and video to enhance the learning experience. McKinsey believes a “blended” approach, combining in-class learning with real-work situations and coaching, offers the best results.
6. Establish objectives with results that are measurable and repeatable
The only way to determine if a learning program is effective is to focus on metrics, measuring participant progress against specific targets to identify successes and performance gaps. Your CFO will thank you for clear reports on how your programs influence key business performance indicators such as NPS scores, satisfaction ratings and employee retention.
When companies create a culture that values learning and makes professional development a priority, knowledge flows in both directions — from the top down and from the lower levels up.
7. Elevate the profile of your L&D program
For most companies, developing a “learning culture” within the next two years is a priority. This suggests there is plenty of opportunity to elevate your company’s L&D efforts and your personal profile.
L&D teams can take steps to ensure executive-level support and recognition of the learning strategies that enable and drive company results. These efforts include:
- Operating as a strategic partner in the business rather than a support role.
- Developing a detailed understanding of your company’s products, services, processes, systems, and finances.
- Integrating all aspects of L&D with the systems and processes of each line of business.
- Crafting L&D solutions that not only enhance employee productivity but also identify new business opportunities and markets.
- Adding value to hiring, development, and appraisal processes by becoming a material part of review meetings.
Organizations with strong learning cultures tend to significantly outperform their peers in terms of employee productivity, competitive advantages, customer service and high-quality products. Accordingly, it’s crucial to communicate your program’s success stories with your company and your customers. Promoting your L&D efforts and accomplishments will strengthen and enhance your company’s learning culture while helping to ensure continued business success.