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Learning the hard way | Print – Issue 159 | Article of the Week

Carol Leaman

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Every employer would swear that putting employees at the heart of corporate L&D to drive results is essential. But L&D is failing to deliver the development experiences and career progression that today’s employees put at the top of the list of must-haves. Little wonder then that valuable talent is leaving. Annually, $140 billion is spent on employee training, yet 92 percent of CEO’s are unable to see the business impact. This article is from issue 159 of theHRDIRECTOR. Contributor Carol Leaman, CEO – Axonify.

The above is a stunning statistic that begs the question, why? Why does L&D struggle to prove its value to the business? For me, there are three main reasons: L&D has difficulty grabbing the employees’ attention and interest. Their programmes typically don’t promote the right knowledge, or include any reinforcement. They can’t measure learning’s effectiveness beyond test scores and completion metrics. Corporate learning deserves better. By re-thinking old methods and taking a new approach designed to have an impact, organisations can put the employee at the center of learning, drive engagement and deliver results for the business. The time is now to break with tradition is now. For far too long, the focus of corporate learning has been on pushing out information to workers in a classroom format or via a series of modules through their learning management system (LMS). This approach is failing on multiple levels. It fails to take into consideration the characteristics of the modern workforce, or the way in which people learn in the age of Google and YouTube. For many companies, learning still relies on the ‘one-size-fits-all’ and the ‘one-and-done’ approach. It is neither continuous nor personal. We fire-hose workers with information, often frontloading during onboarding, with little to no reinforcement. The employee experience of learning becomes one of frustration and boredom. We aren’t allowing our people to learn the way they want, and they aren’t learning what we need them to know to perform at work.

Most employees show up every day wanting to do a good job and value the opportunity to learn things that will help with their performance. Companies who can effectively engage their employees in learning are reaping the benefits. For instance, take a look at websites like Glassdoor, where employers are rated based on the opportunities they provide for learning and development. Data from Glassdoor suggests; “the ability to learn and progress is now the principal driver of a company’s employment brand”. The point is well taken. Millennials, for example, place a high premium on professional development, even higher than their paycheques. In fact, millennials view training and development as a top job benefit. The problem is, many companies are still not delivering training that engages millennials – or any employees, for that matter. Those that do command a huge competitive advantage are more productive, more innovative, and more profitable. This should be a wake-up call to everyone else. Create a better employee experience or risk falling further behind.

Organisations must make the mindset shift and recognise that people are employees who need to perform, not students who need to be taught. They already know what’s possible through their personal digital experiences. Employees need support in the moment, and they want relevant knowledge that’s geared to their specific needs, skills, and experiences. The good news is, new tools already exist that can take the ‘boring’ out of learning, get people excited to participate, apply new methods to make knowledge and behaviors stick, and enable you to measure the impact of learning against actual business outcomes. Modern companies are evolving their learning through a 24/7 approach that leverages new training tools and is convenient to access on a break or during the commute to work. These companies fit learning into the workflow, in short segments that are delivered daily, in five minutes or less, and are accessible on any device. Gamification techniques are being used to harness natural motivations, make learning fun and help tune out the inevitable distractions. The result? Employees are no longer passive recipients of learning, they are active participants and directors of their own learning journey. Making learning appealing isn’t enough. You also need to know if your employees will retain this knowledge and if performance and behavior improvements will be sustained over the long-term. To ensure this, modern companies are building learning with a purpose that starts with business outcomes and focuses on the behaviours that will achieve those outcomes. They’re also boosting knowledge retention over time by using brain science techniques and adjusting learning in real-time using adaptive algorithms and behavior observations. The result is that learners are both learning and retaining the knowledge they need, and more importantly, they’re using it.

Experiential businesses see a significant return on their investment, whether it’s from reductions in turnover or higher overall profits and revenues. When it comes to employee training, these modern businesses aren’t satisfied with simply checking the boxes, exit quizzes or taking attendance. They analyse a broad range of data including individual knowledge levels, behavioral observations, and even employee confidence to tie it all back to business outcomes. They are also using this knowledge to empower frontline managers to target coaching, professional development opportunities and to expose possible future risks to the employees or the business. Here are a few examples of progressive companies who were able to do all of these things and are achieving impressive results: Northgate Gonzales Markets, a specialty US grocer, implemented a micro-learning platform which is accessible on employee’s phones or tablets the company bought for the breakroom. With a focus on reducing safety incidents, the company boasts a 90 percent voluntary daily participation rate on the platform. They’ve also seen a 68 percent reduction in safety incidents and saw $585,000 in savings in one year alone. Walmart Logistics and e-Commerce operates ones of the largest distribution networks and private trucking fleets in the world. With a goal of creating a world-class safety culture, they adopted a targeted micro-learning approach with employees in their own work areas and used gamification to instill and reinforce safety concepts. They also used a platform that automatically adapts to each individual employee to identify and address knowledge gaps that has proven to be highly successful. During a pilot, voluntary participation in learning averaged 91 percent a few times a week. They decreased safety incidents by 54 percent and 96 percent of behavior observations by managers have been positive. Employees are engaged and they’re exhibiting the safe behavior and business outcomes the company wanted to see.

Engagement = positive employee experience. It’s a simple formula, but traditional approaches to learning seldom engage employees successfully. Training is often something that we just want to get through. Forward-thinking companies are flipping that notion on its head and leveraging learning as a tool to engage their people. The days of fire-hosing our people with information are over. Bloomingdales, the upscale U.S. based department and home store company, understands the importance of making learning more appealing. “I’m not sure if a lot of people can use fun and safety in the same sentence, but we’ve been able to do that”, says Chad McIntosh, Vice-President of Loss Prevention and Asset Management at Bloomingdale’s. He credits his store’s use of both gamification and micro-learning for saving the company $2.2 million in safety related costs each year. These new tools also allow for a consistent message and enables continuous learning that both challenges and builds confidence – regardless of company size or how dispersed the workforce might be. A home décor superstore, faced a familiar challenge. It needed to deliver a consistent message to a quickly expanding workforce, with a lean training team, all without breaking the bank. They implemented a mobile training system that delivered brief learning bursts using gamification techniques and saw a 99 percent voluntary participation rate amongst store associates and has reduced onboarding time by 90 percent. Turnover has also been decreased from a staggering 400 percent from when the company was using traditional learning.

Employees who don’t feel confident in their jobs are more likely to make costly errors and more likely to disengage. The modern workforce ranges widely in age, experience, and yes, knowledge. So, why take a one-size-fits all approach to training? They demand relevancy, not just in the job they’re currently doing, but also in the career paths they envision for themselves. Modern tools allow you to both personalise and adapt learning to individuals. Imagine if training could take 3-5 minutes a day and adapt to every employee’s knowledge levels automatically? This type of training exists today. For example, if someone isn’t performing well on specific topics, they will see questions repeated. On the other hand, those who perform well will move on to other topics. Employees are at the center of learning, they are engaged, knowledge is retained long-term, behaviours are changed, and the results tie directly to business outcomes. Companies like Bloomingdale’s, At Home Décor, and Northgate Markets boast high voluntary participation rates multiple times a week, have a more confident sales force, and are seeing a modern approach to learning directly impact their employees and the business objectives they are trying to tackle. Top performing companies are building a positive employee experience through learning and development. They’re able to tie their investment in people to actual business results, and in the long run they’re building the capacity to both attract and acquire talent in an increasingly competitive environment. Employees come to work every day, not to learn but to perform, and we have to give them the tools to do just that.

First and foremost, independence is the core strength of theHRDIRECTOR. Unlike many competitor publications in the HR sector, we do not publish paid for articles. When we commission an article, the journey from synopsis to completion is through carefully considered collaboration with the author, both parties clear about the main objectives; to deeply explore the subject, and always to bring a new and informative perspective to the page. With the needs and expectations of the reader firmly in mind, the magazine has maintained unrivalled standards and enjoys an enviable integrity.

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