Training Industry estimates that in the past three years alone, organizations around the world have spent well over $1 trillion on training their employees.

While $1 trillion shows plausible commitment to improving the capabilities of their staff, more CEOs are still challenging learning executives to demonstrate the return on investment (ROI). As one official puts it, “I see a lot of activities and people getting excited pre- and post-training programs, but I cannot put my finger on the quantifiable value that training is adding to the business and our customers.” So, the question he and other leaders are asking is, “What has that trillion dollars delivered?”

In their most recent “State of Leadership Development” report, Harvard Business Publishing reinforced these sentiments by underscoring that the challenges facing learning and development executives echo those of other organizational leaders. These problems include demands for change to address threats from competition and technology-driven startups, the need to engage a multigenerational workforce with a range of work styles, and the imperative to cultivate a new generation of leaders who can meet these requirements and thrive.

In our digital world, these challenges are the new normal and, therefore call for us to rethink how to complement current training delivery approaches. Just-in-time action learning is a process for individuals to solve pressing and ever-changing business challenges by leveraging the company’s digital learning platform and line manager support.

The following ideas will help those seeking to integrate traditional programs with just-in-time action learning processes, with speed and relevancy of delivery as the new standard.

Embrace the speed of training delivery to meet emerging business needs.

Stressing the importance of just-in-time action learning, Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, said, “An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.” The speed of training delivery means the organization can design, curate and deploy learning solutions in time with emerging business needs. In this fast-paced digital world of work, action learning and speed of learning delivery need to go hand-in-hand without compromising quality.

One way to achieve speed in learning is to ensure that the process is being used in the business’ day-to-day operations. For example, if an employee needs to implement a new system, action learning can be deployed to ensure that learning is highly integrated, available when the learner needs it and delivered with speed.

Integrate design thinking into the learning process.

With revenues of $200 per week in 2009, Airbnb was close to going bust. Like so many startups, barely anyone noticed their launch. By applying design thinking and just-in-time learning, the company identified gaps, and Airbnb went on to become one of the largest companies in the world, with a valuation of approximately $31 billion.

Organizations, both for-profit and not-for-profit, need to embrace the design thinking methodology for learning to keep up with the demand for the highly customized and constantly growing need for capabilities development. Deployed as an on-the-job learning tool, design thinking helps organizations rapidly understand problems, prototype and test before deploying emerging solutions.

Influence the mindset shift on the training budget process.

In most organizations, the training budget is captured and reported as a cost rather than an investment. Why do we measure the return on cost when the goal is to determine the return on investment? Underscoring this question are the many reports showing that ROI remains the biggest challenge facing the training industry.

This simple act of capturing the training budget as an investment will ensure the CEO and learning executives articulate and agree on the type of investments; how long it will take to realize the returns; and what kind of returns, quantifiable and unquantifiable, they expect to see.

Track and report on the impact in real time.

Embedded in this approach is needed to capture and report on measurement and evaluation in real time. It is, therefore, crucial to institutionalize a process that reports on a monthly basis. This dashboard should address the following three questions:

  • Is the employee continuing to use learning to address the identified business need?
  • Is the line manager providing support?
  • What quantifiable value is this process delivering?

Employee development remains one of the most important investments organizations can make. However, to fully realize the potential of the investment, leaders need to embrace and implement just-in-time action learning. This process, by default, is not meant to replace core business programs, but rather to complement them and ensure that the learning remains relevant. By deploying this approach, organizations will realize improved business results while deepening the learning culture across the organization.