Many metrics justify calibrated training efforts. But try this one: profit.
By Rania Stewart
Today’s business environment is highly competitive as a result of macro trends such as economic pressures and opportunities, as well as technology developments and innovations. In an effort to differentiate, and create or maintain competitive advantage, business leaders challenge managers and associates to think strategically to develop business initiatives impacting the bottom line and contributing to overall company success.
While the human resources department is often thought of as a cost center, common HR-driven processes, when executed effectively, can help companies increase profit and operate more efficiently. One such process is the development of corporate learning and training programs. According to a 2012 study by research organization Bersin by Deloitte, high-impact learning organizations (HILOs) generated, on average, three times higher profit growth between 2008 and 2011 than counterpart organizations. The study also concluded that HILOs are considered more efficient, effective, and aligned to corporate performance management.
HR professionals have an opportunity to improve the corporate bottom line by facilitating high-impact learning. That said, becoming a HILO is easier said than done. Many companies fall into the trap of offering training sessions, physical and online courses, and other certification programs, simply for the sake of doing so.
To begin properly, HR pros should consider two factors to determine if their learning programs will make the grade.
Is learning a part of corporate culture? The most effective learning programs are as much a part of a company’s culture as other workplace policies, employee collaboration programs, and the overarching corporate vision and persona. While some training programs directly correlate with culture—team building exercises, for instance—HILOs can help shape company culture by arming talent with the skills and training needed to be effective. Learning programs can also improve employee retention, ensuring that employees know that their managers are investing in their long-term success.
Do learning programs align with development? Various business process management and consulting firms have created learning maturity models to help companies more effectively design, implement, and evaluate learning programs. While the maturity phases differ slightly from model to model, the core components remain the same. Companies strive to move from offering reactionary or ad-hoc trainings to developing programs that are active, collaborative, and effective in orchestrating corporate talent development.
The Development Differentiator
Development is a common theme in most talent-related maturity processes and often the differentiator to moving to a more advanced level of maturity. In fact, proving that a learning program has impacted talent development should be considered a best practice and a way to evaluate the program. But in order to support talent development through learning, companies must work to truly integrate learning with other HR and talent management processes.
Most companies use talent management software, such as a compensation solution or performance management system, to streamline and organize HR processes. And as companies increasingly understand the value of effective training and certification, more and more are deploying learning management systems. In fact, according to the Bersin by Deloitte Talent Management Systems 2013 report, the learning management systems (LMS) market is reaching $2 billion worldwide.
LMS tools are used to manage the logistics of learning programs—course creation, registrations, schedules, trainers, etc. Talent management solutions track workforce needs, employee evaluations, skill gaps, succession plans, and company-wide competencies. The interactions of LMS and talent management systems provide HR professionals with real, tangible insight as to the specific training programs needed to ensure a productive workforce that can contribute to or sustain company success.
Some LMS and talent management software does integrate at a technical level and features development planning tools and activity wizards to ensure that appropriate trainings are administered to the right employees to support development. Some learning management software and talent management software is accessible by both employers and employees, spreading accountability for learning success across the organization.
Where Learning Touches Talent
Regardless of tight integration between software systems or informal integration, learning management intelligently fits into talent management processes at a few points:
• Competency development. Perhaps the most logical point to
connect learning and performance, employees can get insight into skills they need to develop and select training programs accordingly.
• Career aspiration development. The average U.S. job tenure in 2012 was 5.4 years, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute. Companies should support career aspirations within an organization to avoid, or at least minimize, job-hopping among employees. Alignment of training with career development puts an investment behind development.
• Succession planning. Regardless of efforts, employee turnover is inevitable. However, by weaving learning management into succession planning, HR professionals and other executives can identify the training that needs to be in place to ensure succession plans are effective.
• Talent pool analysis. In some cases a large subset, or entire workforce, might need access to a specific training. Talent pool or group development helps executives determine when overarching training is needed and can facilitate the program.
• Certification compliance. Integration at this point enables companies to better organize and report on mandatory training or certifications.
While companies have trained employees for decades, a formalized learning function within organizations emerged with earnest in the early 1990s. From that point, companies became more effective in aligning learning with corporate development, in many cases by integrating learning management systems with other talent management technology.
Social learning, built on the notion that employees learn best by observing others, has also gained momentum as companies have found new ways to leverage collaboration solutions. Via collaboration technology, employees can engage with internal experts on any number of topics as well as share their own insights. Social learning tools often include video or other content that can be refined and segmented for specific needs.
Looking ahead, learning will become more productive and customized from employee to employee as well as more granular as companies pinpoint specific skills needs. Not only will the number of channels by which employees complete trainings and learning activities increase, but also the breadth of programs and amount of training content available will grow. We will see a shift from employees going to training programs to instances where training programs and teaching moments will be delivered to employees when and where they want to learn.
Rania Stewart is senior product manager at Peoplefluent