Talent Tips: The Answer Is Blowing in the Wind

Learning and development took some hard knocks with the recession. Now we must set our sails for the directional learning needs ahead.

By Roy Saunderson

As we scour the Internet, study research journals, and review the latest leadership and learning and development books, it is easy to get a little overwhelmed about where to focus and how we can best make a difference in the workplaces we serve in.

Sometimes we can get sidetracked and confused by the evolutionary changes of the learning methods in today’s marketplace, where we move from classroom to blended learning to cloud-based learning platforms. But we all learned to use computers fairly quickly, and many of us have smart phones now and have assimilated them into our lives without major difficulty. The same outcome will result with the delivering and serving of our organizations’ learning needs.

The late Richard Carlson reminded us: “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” Training delivery methods and learning content are the small stuff. Much bigger, and looming on the horizon, are the shifting needs of businesses and aligning education with the strategic directives of the companies we work for. Making this change will place L&D at the strategic planning table, just as Human Resources claimed its seat.

Let’s take a quick global scan of some findings that are emerging. Then we can see how they apply to us and perhaps help set a better course for L&D professionals in solving and serving the learning needs of business leaders. We need to become contributors to our organizations’ bottom line.

Reality Check from the UK

Take, for example, the recent findings released by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in the United Kingdom. Its research revealed three-quarters of employers reported a lack of leadership and management skills. Furthermore, from the managers polled, too many of them had an inflated opinion of their own ability to manage people. That is a huge competitive loss for a country if you only have 25 percent leadership and management capacity to draw upon.

Ben Willmott, head of public policy at CIPD, indicated, “A small increase in capability across this huge population of people managers would have a significant impact on people’s engagement, well-being, and productivity. However, too many employees are promoted into people management roles because they have good technical skills, then receive inadequate training and have little idea of how their behavior affects others.”

Contribution factor: Imagine the difference L&D can bring to the table by evaluating managers and leaders on their leadership skill strengths, building self-awareness via 360-degree reviews of leadership skills and behavior, and providing targeted learning sessions and coaching—either online or in person.

We must do a much better job of communicating the benefits and direct business linkage we can create from our L&D contributions.

Strategy from Down Under

A little farther afield in the Southern hemisphere, we gain some interesting insights from our cousins in Australia on the value of leadership training.

From the 2011 National Learning and Development Index conducted by the Australian Institute of Training and Development, we discover that the type of L&D activities producing the highest return on investment (i.e., contributing to revenue or preventing loss of revenue) included leadership training with a rating of 49.6 percent, which was just in third place behind induction/ orientation training and any legislated compliance training, where applicable.

Respondents to this survey indicated the least effective and most time-wasting L&D activity reported by employees was teambuilding activities. We need to evaluate the importance of such activities and how much time we devote to this oft-requested area.

Interestingly, fewer than half of the responding organizations (45.8 percent) reported that their L&D activities and their outcomes were linked to the organization’s business strategy. Nearly 1 in 5 companies saw little or no alignment of their L&D initiatives with the strategic plan and goals.

Clearly, we as L&D professionals must become more strategic with what we deliver.

Contribution factor: Take your organization’s strategic and business plan and determine how you can assess the capabilities of your leaders and managers to achieve the stated objectives. It becomes an easy next step to propose potential learning objectives that then can be prioritized and scheduled.

You can measure those capabilities pre- and post-learning, provide reports on application of the newly learned skills and behaviors, and then provide solid contributing ROI indicators of the difference L&D has produced.

Here in the U.S.

Research from Bersin & Associates provides evidence that organizations are beginning to spend significantly more on employee development following years of recession-motivated deep cuts. We have to invest now to combat the apparent skills gap emerging in the current labor market. Spending on employee development reportedly rose 9.5 percent to an average of $800 per learner in 2011.

In addition, companies are moving more toward online training and social learning and creation of bite-sized, shorter learning modules to accommodate “just-in-time” learning and the needs of remote learners delivered through tablets and smart phones.

The increasing demand for greater technology-delivered training places a greater emphasis on the competencies required of L&D professionals. Instructional design simply moves from the classroom to the electronic realm, and L&D becomes much more consultative than simply stand and deliver.

Contribution factor: As L&D experts, we have the opportunity to align ourselves with the leaders of our organization to help them achieve the business objectives and help our organizations build people, performance, and, ultimately, profits.

Creating alignment will allow L&D to be recognized truly as a business partner as we help solve the leadership and talent crises we find ourselves in and leverage learning as the great elevating tool for business success that it truly is.

Roy Saunderson is author of “GIVING the Real Recognition Way” and president of the Recognition Management Institute, a consulting and training firm specializing in helping companies “get recognition right.” Its focus is on showing leaders how to give real recognition to create positive relationships, better workplaces, and real results. For more information, contact RoySaunderson@Rideau.com or visit http://www.Rideau.com.

Talent Tips

Training magazine is the industry standard for professional development and news for training, human resources and business management professionals in all industries.