When executives need to transform business and operations, they launch an initiative or project to accomplish their goals. The success of the initiative or project is entirely dependent on the adoption and execution of the new ways of working. Reaching the goals rest squarely with workforce, the front-line performers. The front line can be in a call center, a delivery truck, an office, a warehouse, or executive boardroom. Focusing on the behavior change of the individuals yields the desired results for the business. The right investments in learning, performance support, and collaboration can make or break the project.
Who Gets the Money?
With any project, the expected outcomes are articulated, as well as the investments needed to ensure success. The budget is drafted, approved and executed. Without the structure and budget of a project, investments are seldom proposed and approved. As part of the recovery from the recent recession, organizations are looking to leverage all investments to increase top-line revenue and decrease bottom-line expenses. When we need to invest in the workforce to optimize and sustain knowledge, skills and performance, we can do the same – leverage investments from specific projects and initiatives and apply them every day.
What is on the end of the ‘lever’?
- Development methodologies
- Learning technologies and platforms
- Assessment methods and tools
Projects End. Business Does Not.
The good and bad news about projects is that they end. There is a date where victory (or failure) is declared, we have the party, and everyone goes back to work. The project may be to rollout new business applications, open a new plant, transform sales strategies and methods, or mobilize the workforce out of centralized offices. In all cases, behavior must change in order to declare success. The return on investment (ROI) for the project is calculated on the improvement in business performance as outlined in the project charter and measured against the investments made as part of the project.
Obviously, for the next project (and the next), if we can leverage the investments already made, the ROI is more easily calculated and looks better every time.
One issue is that not every effort to improve workforce performance is part of a budgeted project or initiative. Don’t we always want to improve front-line performance in order to optimize business performance and outcomes? Think of this concept from various beneficiaries:
- Warehouse Manager
- Call Center Manager
- Vice President of Sales
- Director of Finance
- Chief Learning Officer
- Manager of Field Engineers
- Chief Executive Office
It is difficult to think of anyone who would not want to take advantage of successes recognized within a discrete project to help declare personal and operational victory. What is needed is knowledge about the investments and how to apply them across the enterprise. We need to look to someone who holds the answers and the lever. That is typically the chief learning officer. Not all organizations have invested in that role. What is important is that someone is recognized as having the capability and obligation to support the business need of leveraging assets and investments.
Workforce Adoption – The Proof
When investing in a project or initiative, the typical goal is to make it to the launch or go-live date alive. A secondary goal is often not recognized – sustaining the value of the initiative well beyond go-live which is what the original business case and plan documented. In order to reach goal #2, we must be vigilant with the focus on workforce enablement through learning, performance support and collaboration. Otherwise, any initial success realized at go-live is very short lived.
- Sales transformation: A company designs and implements a new strategy for going to market and selling. Processes change. Technologies change. Hopefully, desired results and growth follow. This may not be considered a discrete project with significant funding, but leveraging the strategy, methods and tools from another project that was could help ensure the planned outcomes and eliminate a lot of redundant investments, time and resources.
- Plant operations: A company launched an analysis on the operations of their plant to in order to optimize and reduce waste. They also focused on safety on the line. The results of the analysis produced recommendations for leaner processes in the plant as well as implementing new applications for logging safety issues. The manager of the plant has no experience with change management, learning and performance support. If he could leverage strategies, methods and tools already in place from previous projects, adoption of the new ways of working will be a lot easier, effective, sustainable and affordable.
Types of Investments:
- Change Management – Change management is both an art and a science. There are structured and repeatable practices in a proven change management effort. There are also specialists who can facilitate the process with relevant leaders. Some projects employ these change management specialists and practices. The innovation of leverage is recognized by taking advantage of these specialists and practices and their recent project involvement and apply them to the current initiative. What business is so stable that it never changes, never modifies standard operating procedures, never implements new technologies, never rolls out new business processes, never acquires another company or is acquired, or never changes leadership? Once the investments are made for a discrete project or initiative, why not leverage personnel, practices, and infrastructure to save time and money in future initiatives.
- Documentation – Documenting business processes and new applications is typically a tedious, time consuming, and expensive effort. If low priced resources are applied, we run the risk of developing content with little relevance and value. If we apply experienced, high priced talent, we run the risk of running over budget. The availability of software to accelerate and automate documentation development has changed all of this. Through automatic capture, recording and update functionality, subject matter experts can effortlessly support the task. All too often, investments in software and relevant processes are left with the completed project and not leveraged to others.
- Learning – Regarding the development of information and content to support workforce learning, see the notes above about documentation. Effective learning strategies consist of more than just student guides. Since learning cannot (and should not) be limited to the classroom, investments are made to enable employees and stakeholders of new ways of working wherever they are and whenever they need it. Leveraging subject matter expertise and innovative learning methods should not project a discrete project completed. The practices and technologies implemented for a project can be exploited for other initiatives as well.
- Performance Support – See above. Innovation in workforce performance support is recognized when we leverage all content and assets targeted for learning. Rather than ensuring information is always memory resident, employees often need support at point-in-time for a discrete activity. Methods and tools used to streamline the development and deployment of learning can often be leveraged to support performance as well.
- Collaboration – There is currently a lot of discussion and debate about the value of social networking and informal learning. The topic is not new. The medium is new and evolving. People have been sharing around the water cooler for years. Now we need to enable that sharing electronically across all walls and borders. The efforts and investments to be leveraged from initiative to initiative are the practices of forming communities of practices and enabling their collaboration with the appropriate platform.
- Assessing Learning and Performance – In the recent publication of Training Industry Quarterly, an article appeared entitled “Assessing Learning and Performance.” It began with a question about the importance of learning versus performance. Various ideas and methods were discussed but following the theme of this article, the success recognized in one initiative can be leveraged for another. Investments discussed in that article addressed time, resources, methods and tools. Innovation is recognized when we can exploit them all.
Based on the title of this article, the assumption could be that main beneficiary is the chief learning officer. However, the CLO is often the steward of the funds of her peers and constituents. Therefore, the innovation of leverage that the CLO contributes benefits other executives (CFO, COO, CIO, CHRO, and CEO) as well. Each role may recognize distinct value, but the common benefit is financial.
The Innovation of Leverage
The magic in business today is not just in making the right investments; it’s also in avoiding unnecessary expenses and exploiting investments already made and assets in-house. As with any initiative, success with workforce transformation and initiative adoption begins and ends with a governance model that persists. By focusing that governance model at the top of the organization, we greatly increase the capability to leverage assets owned by the enterprise. Projects end. Business does not.