Making Learning and Development Strategy work for your company!!

Article by Dr. Pratik P. SURANA (Ph. D.)

Chief mentor and founder,

Quantum Group.

As more organisations focus on return on investment, it has never been more important to create an effective development and learning strategy.

But what are the key pointers to developing a learning strategy where organisational, functional and an individual’s learning goals are aligned for the good of the organisation? What measures can you take to ensure successful implementation?

Herein lies the issue. Many organizations today undoubtedly see the benefits of L&D inside their organization, however, they overlook a critical component: the learning strategy. Having a learning strategy can mean the difference between training your employees and successfully training your employees.

A well thought out and developed learning strategy will help ensure the overall effectiveness of training programs, longevity of your training initiatives, as well as, help safeguard the transfer of learning between a training program and the employee. Below are a few steps organizations can take to help develop an effective learning strategy.

Training Needs Analysis

One of the most disregarded areas of L&D is needs analysis. Too often, organizations will offer random training programs without taking the time to learn what their needs truly are.

Haphazard trainings tend to be the result of using only subjective data or, even worse, guessing. Subjective data tends to be gathered through both formal and informal conversations with organization leaders and stakeholders. This type of data is based primarily on opinion, and by itself, rarely identifies the training needs of an organization. The danger comes when decisions as to which training programs to implement are based solely upon that subjective data.

Don’t get me wrong, subjective data is not a bad thing. Data through opinion and observation can be useful, it should simply never be used as a single source of information when determining training programs.

The main issue with this type of data is that leaders and stakeholders often have tunnel vision and see their specific area of business only. Furthermore, they tend to see what is directly in front of them and are often less aware of what is happening in the frontline. Occasionally, organization’s get lucky using only subjective data but more times than not, they miss the mark completely.

It’s important that we use a framework. My recommendation is based on the following:

Knowledge
Skills
Attitude
This in turn will have some intrinsic values such as ownership and the collective outcome is performance

To get a holistic view of an organization’s training needs, they must incorporate objective data using analytics tools such as:

Organizational Analysis
Work/Task Analysis
Performance Analysis
Content Analysis
Cost Benefit Analysis
Another useful analytics tool that many of today’s corporations currently have available is the annual employee satisfaction survey. This survey is a highly effective and cost-efficient way for organizations to gain valuable training needs data. By asking a few, well thought out, open-ended questions in an employee engagement survey, the door opens to a plethora of useful information.

The best, most effective learning strategies don’t come from using subjective data or objective data, alone. It comes from using a combination of this information to help paint a holistic picture of where the most critical training needs are and which ones to begin focusing on.

To see just how important L&D is from an employee perspective, we analysed employee survey data from 20 companies representing different industries, in different countries and of varying sizes. For 16 out of 20 of them – or 80% – training and development was a key driver of employee engagement.

But should we really be surprised? In the current working environment employees, and particularly high potential employees, want to progress quickly. They want to be invested in, to learn new skills, to develop themselves and to have a career path mapped out. And this is only set to become more important as our working lives lengthen going forward.

Furthermore, trends such as increased automation and other technology and workplace advances continue to have implications for job roles and skills needed. Quite naturally, employees and companies will need to keep up with such changes to remain competitive.

So, in order to hire and keep hold of the best people, you’ll need to get your L&D house in order. Here are a few areas you could choose to focus on.

1. Foster a learning culture

Top-performing organisations such as Silicon Valley tech giants Amazon and Facebook foster a continuous approach to learning. From the day new starters join, there’s a relentless focus on learning, self-improvement and development. Encouraging such an environment and mind-set not only improves skill levels, it also fosters greater creativity and innovation too.

Of course such investment in L&D doesn’t always come cheap. And there’s a risk that some employees will take the training on offer and decide to jump ship. Arguably though, the benefits outweigh the risks and then some.

2. Identify needs and enable self-led learning

There’s been a definite shift towards employees themselves taking greater ownership of their own development. The company’s priority should be to better enable them to do this by providing the required support, resources and tools.

Make it easy for employees to access tools online too so there are no barriers to development. This might include:

Training needs analysis or diagnostic tools
An always on’ online feedback system that allows employees to both give and request ad hoc feedback from colleagues in a current workstream
A more formal 180 or 360 degree feedback where they can complete a self-assessment and/or to ask for feedback from their manager and peers
Competency assessment – either technical or functional – to gauge aptitude against core competencies for a current or future role.

Participation in these kind of processes can offer invaluable insight into where an individual’s development priorities should lie, informing their personal development plan.

3. Create a career blueprint for employees

You can help to map out a plan or framework for employees. This should help them to understand how they can progress, and the kind of skills and behaviours they’ll need to develop to do so. When introducing this, it’s also good to offer online tutorials on how to use the framework for personal development planning.

4. Invest in creating your own coaches

Today’s line managers need many more strings to their bow. One thing that can be tremendously valuable is to train them (and others such as HR team members) as coaches. Coaches are highly sought-after in companies for good reason; coaching is an empowering form of leadership that helps employees to think for themselves. Coaching is particularly valuable if you are aiming to encourage self-led learning, as trained coaches will be essential to embedding learning and supporting development.

5. Offer learning choices

Where possible, offer employees different choices of how and when they learn. This is important both logistically, to ensure willing employees are able to fit in desired training around day-to-day work, and from a learning preference perspective too as we respond better to different formats.

The 70: 20: 10 learning and development model is commonly favoured and it’s certainly a useful proxy for most businesses. This model suggests that 70% of learning be ‘on the job’, 20% comes from interaction with others (informally) and 10% from formal training or workshops.

So, consider an L&D plan that incorporates a good mix of e-learning modules, video-based training, and workshops – perhaps in shorter ‘bite-size’ format. Modules should cover specialist and role-specific skills as well as transferrable ‘soft’ skills as well as technical and more specialist skills.

6. Encourage collaborative learning

Also consider how best to encourage informal knowledge sharing in a collaborative way among teams and individuals. This can be achieved through setting up intranet forums, social networks such as Yammer or through establishing working groups. You can even link online platforms to an e-learning hub.

But, whether done online or face to face, by routinely encouraging all those undertaking training to share their insights, experiences and feedback with peers, you can amplify the learning and share knowledge more widely.

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