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Commercial savviness needed for L&D transformation

The latest ‘Growth Through People’ Report from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) indicates that the economy is on the mend, which is great news. However, sustained economic prosperity in the UK is largely dependent on the skills and talents of its workforce. The problem is, productivity per capita is falling despite an increase in employment levels. Persistent skills shortages are hampering growth and competitiveness, and at the same time, the talents of significant portions of the workforce are being underused.

Soft skills training is vital

One of the causes of this decline in productivity is that we’re still seeing many large organisations coming under tight economic pressure, with spend on training going down instead of up. As training spend reduces, the remaining budget goes on compliance and process training, at the expense of soft skills development. But soft skills, such as leadership and management training, are what give employees the ability and confidence to make the big changes and bold decisions, and undertake the change programmes that deliver step changes in performance and productivity.

Consider the impact of budget cuts on best practice

Encouragingly, our recent Learning Curve study shows that despite most L&D budgets being lower than last year, the majority (62 percent) of HR and L&D professionals surveyed claimed their budget was in fact sufficient to achieve their goals. However, the lack of understanding about how learning affects productivity improvements, means that L&D may unwittingly arrive at a place where they can no longer support good practice.

L&D needs to think differently

If businesses are serious about cutting costs at the same time as adequately supporting workforce development, L&D professionals need to think differently. They need to be able to confidently communicate how and where learning contributes business benefit. Otherwise they risk leaving their training programmes hollowed out and ineffective. They need to understand much more about the process by which learning translates into performance improvement and then business benefit, and communicate that clearly to senior management.

Harness informal and social learning

The evolution of social networking and technology means Informal and social learning is becoming an increasing trend in the workplace, which L&D professionals should see as an opportunity to harness in their organisations. It is now both possible and necessary to communicate and learn from peers and experts in ever more nimble and accessible ways, at the point of need, and to embed that learning within communities across the organisation. A culture of learning that embraces all methods of improving skills and performance on the job is vital to rapidly and cost-effectively develop the workforce of the future. To help HR professionals become more commercially savvy, KnowledgePool offers the following top tips on the key shifts necessary for learning to achieve transformation despite budget cuts:

Implement joined up talent management, not ‘islands’ of activity:

In order to make learning more efficient and effective, you need to move towards a new operating model with one central L&D team, one set of best practice learning processes, and one central catalogue of recommended frequently used learning content, together with quality standards for creating new learning content. You also need one suite of integrated learning technology, one central reporting suite and one central control of all third party training suppliers. This new operating model should take into account informal and social learning and how it can be embedded in communities across the organisation.

Focus on improving performance, not just learning content:

In order to become more commercially credible, you should only accept requests for learning when the stakeholder can clearly state the performance shortfall and how they expect any learning will transfer into the desired performance improvement. This will ensure that learning is not just a short-term solution but that it translates into performance improvement.

Focus on the expected business benefit of learning, rather than the cost of learning:

Assess the business benefit from a variety of different learning programmes by interviewing a sample of learners approximately 3-6 months after the programme and probe them for evidence of impact on the business. Over time, you will build a library of evidence of businesses benefit, together with an understanding of the mechanisms by which this comes about. Use this evidence to estimate the expected business benefit of training interventions before they take place, then tell the rest of your organisation about it. The more you talk about business benefit, the more people will get used to hearing it. And the more they hear it, the more likely they are to accept it.