As professionals today, we live and work in exciting yet challenging times. Stop and think about the amount of major change our workplace continues to experience, with more technology and automation, new business models, evolving product and service offerings, and ever-increasing customer expectations. In today’s business environment, staying ahead of the curve can be extremely challenging.
Today’s managers and leaders are faced with the daunting task of trying to lead their teams through these rapidly changing times. They are faced with a number of tough questions: How do I ensure I have the right employees with the right skills? How do I identify what skills I need now and, perhaps more strategically, the skills I’m going to need next? How do I prepare my team to be successful?
Unfortunately, many managers and organizations are stuck in a reactive model. They wait until they see problems in their employees and use those problems as the basis for establishing the need for training. They may set a training budget as part of the annual operating plan and maybe even plan a certain amount of time per employee for training each year, but they wait until they see an issue that they believe a good training program can solve. While a good training class may give the team a shot in the arm to help improve performance, this practice often leads to a narrow, event-based approach to learning and development that falls woefully short of addressing ongoing needs.
High-performing organizations foster a culture of continuous learning and take a much more holistic approach to training and developing their most strategic asset: their people.
Here are six key elements to consider when developing a holistic learning and development function:
1. Create a learning and development strategy.
A holistic approach to learning and development starts with establishing a strategy that is clearly defined and understood. The strategy sets the mission and vision for your L&D function and creates an alignment point for everyone in the organization. Invest the time in establishing a charter that covers all areas of learning and development, including scope of training, who provides it, how it will be delivered, how it will be managed, how it will be developed and maintained, etc., and then communicate it to the organization.
2. Enable a culture of continuous learning and development.
Your culture shapes the beliefs and, ultimately, the behavior of employees. Cultivating a mindset where employees not only have a strong desire to learn but also want to share their knowledge with others should start at the top, with leadership support, and permeate the organization. Educate employees on the importance of training, and encourage them to seek opportunities to learn both formally and informally. Incorporate a hunger for learning into your hiring process. Establish standard training budgets in both hours and dollars. Develop ways to reward those who exhibit learned behaviors on the job by incorporating how employees do their work into your performance review process.
3. Align with talent management.
Learning and development should be tightly aligned with talent management, starting with establishing well-defined roles and levels within each role. Define expected skills and competencies for each level to create career paths for growth.
Why not leverage this foundation as part of your L&D function? It helps you identify the skills that need to be developed in the organization, gives you a framework to map training classes to roles and levels, and provides your employees with a blueprint to help them advance their careers.
4. Deploy a learning and development infrastructure.
A successful L&D function relies on a foundational infrastructure that supports ongoing development, management and delivery of training programs and curriculums. Your infrastructure should address the establishment of an organizational design and the policies and procedures needed to manage the L&D function. It should also include the creation of a catalog of all training courses and well-defined learning paths for each role and level. Define processes for how training courses will be updated and maintained as well as how new training will be developed and/or acquired in order to stay aligned with the evolving needs of the organization and its employees.
5. Leverage learning management technology.
The most effective L&D functions leverage the benefits of processes and technology to enable the effective management, delivery and consumption of training programs. Today’s learning management systems, if set up correctly, make it easy for employees to see their learning paths and know what courses are available. They also help L&D administrators and line managers monitor the completion of training courses and the progress employees are making against their development plans.
6. Measure and monitor effectiveness.
You have probably heard the expression, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” Develop ways to oversee, measure and monitor your L&D function. Create feedback loops with training participants. Measure and evaluate employee engagement and/or customer experience over time. Are they improving? Develop checkpoints within the organization to stay in touch with changes in the business that may necessitate changes to training curriculum. This strategy will go a long way toward helping you monitor overall effectiveness and drive continuous improvement.
Ongoing skills development is a vital ingredient to success in any organization. Employees must continue to learn and evolve their skills and competencies to remain effective. Consider where you are today with your approach to learning and development. If you don’t have any of these six elements, it might be time to start thinking a little more holistically about your approach to learning and development. Your business, customers and employees will be glad you did!