The Association for Talent Development, in its 2014 State of the Industry report, indicates that spending on training and development is on the rise. With gains in certain areas of the global economy, increased expenditures are likely to continue. Three content areas contribute to the bulk of learning and development spending: compliance, managerial development, and industry or profession-specific training. Among competing organizational interests, perceptive learning and development leaders and other executives will be challenged to maximize value from training expenses and investments. In addition, the relevance and utility of learning and development activities will continue to receive the critical attention of employees and executives.
Well-conceived and executed learning and development activities have important effects on company culture, leadership effectiveness, and talent retention. The importance of culture and talent on organizational outcomes is a given, yet complaints about learning and development persist. Availability, relevance, and timeliness are common complaints. To address these and other concerns, a new approach and framework to innovating the Learning and Development department is necessary. Five elements demand attention in refreshing, renewing, and revitalizing the Learning and Development department.
Everyone a Learner: Alignment and Stewardship
The Learning and Development department enjoys the benefit of having many stakeholders, who come to the task with varying commitment. Some experience learning and development activities as required rather than essential. Astute learning and development leaders provide organizational executives and learners with approaches that engage employees in realizing strategies and objectives while strengthening the employer brand. It’s essential to take diverse interests in learning and development and to bring those into an aligned organizational strategy, with identified short and long-term gains. Beyond that, it’s necessary to identify and support those who steward organizational commitment and resources to deliver on those outcomes — without bureaucratic bloat or uncertain pledges to do better.
Transparency in Outcomes
The zeal or dismay that accompanies many learning and development activities is unequaled when compared to many other organizational events and processes. Learners frequently positively report on personal outcomes associated with learning and development; fewer are able to relate personal experience to desired organizational outcomes. Consequently, the need for transparency, particularly as learning and development relates to talent development and succession, is essential. Complexity brought on by globalization requires a transparent framework that managers and learners can access. Learning and development stewards need to promote clear and agreed-upon outcomes so that all stakeholders experience value from the department, long after an event. Moving from events to outcomes promotes transparency.
Programs and Projects Demand Portfolio Management
Learning and development fosters commitment, and is often center-stage, in organizational change activities. Change might be related to increasing or to maintaining employee engagement, to foster goal and strategy alignment, or to improve personal and team effectiveness. In addition, learning and development offers typically reflect what is important and valued in organizational life and have a clear line of sight to performance metrics. Learning and development professionals must balance a portfolio of approaches that support current initiatives and enduring organizational needs (e.g., delegating, presenting, influencing). Without a balanced approach, learning and development departments are divided, some anchored in classrooms and screens and others in the here and now of organizational life. For organizations of any substance, a blend of competence development and organization development is required, requiring skilled learning and development leadership.
Talent All of the Time
A key focus in innovating learning and development functions is learner-centricity. Whether a focus is on on-boarding, coaching, or high-potential talent, learning and development leaders consider both employee and organizational life cycles. Training may look very different at a start-up versus a mature enterprise, and learning and development leaders always work towards developing the best — not just what is good enough. Developing the best requires careful selection of learning and developing leaders who are curious, reflective, and decisive. Innovation requires a commitment to action and reflection. Powerful learning experiences and cultures make it possible for employees to do their best work, enabling the possibilities of delighting customers and other stakeholders.
Robust Processes and Systems
Successful realization of organizational outcomes through learning and development is supported with systems that allow everyone to see the forest and the trees. Systems should be robust so that employees know an organization’s commitment to the future through learning and development. For managers, systems should be easy to access, providing relevant information concerning career development. For executives, systems will link to important organizational metrics and commitments. While systems will vary based on both need and organizational size, the need to realize outcomes and results is universal.
The best learning and development executives will sustain their focus on innovating the learning and development department. With increasing expenditures and demands for measurable outcomes, innovating in this area is no longer discretionary. How will you lead and steward learning and development this year?