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Major paradigm shift needed for L&D to become more commercially credible

New Whitepaper suggests change in approach rather than increase in budget is key to unlocking potential of L&D.

Learning and Development (L&D) needs to change dramatically in order to drive real business change, according to a new Whitepaper entitled ‘Learning Transformation’ from managed learning service provider, KnowledgePool, a division of Capital Learning Services. For many years, learning departments have been under pressure to cut costs. One indication of the extent of this reduction comes from the CIPD annual Learning and Development survey which shows that the average annual training spend per employee has reduced from £361 in 2002 to just £286 in 2014.

KnowledgePool’s Whitepaper draws on the recent Learning Curve study which 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 Whitepaper warns that businesses still need to consider the impact that a reduced L&D headcount could have on resources available to support best practice. For example, L&D could end up becoming compliance-based with very little developmental learning, and e-learning could become driven by the need to cut costs and won’t achieve its aims.

Al Bird, Managing Director at KnowledgePool, explains: “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 understand much more about the process by which learning translates into performance improvement and then business benefit, and communicate that clearly to senior management. “L&D professionals also need to harness rapid evolutions in informal and social learning in the workplace. Changes in social networking and technology mean it’s possible for employees to learn from each other and to embed that learning across the organisation where appropriate. 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.”

Top tips to L&D professionals on the key shifts which are 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.

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