A few years ago, industry analyst Jack Phillips dealt the training and development field some tough love. His research, completed by top polling executives, confirmed something many had suspected: business decision-makers have trouble understanding the business value of corporate training. Phillips’ research also offered some insight into how to solve the problem. Executives said they would see the value if they understood how training and development drove success in the primary goals and initiatives of the business. So how do you demonstrate how learning drives business?

The first step is to treat learning like a business. And like any business, that means managing your demand curve and supply chain.

Learning Demand is Predictably Unpredictable

Sometimes running a corporate learning department feels like Groundhog Day. Every year, learning departments try to plan for the learning needs of their organizations and every year they end up feeling stretched as unexpected demands come up or projects shift onto their to-do lists that weren’t there before. You may find yourself asking, “Why does this happen every year?” The key is to identify and analyze the pattern. Although the pattern will still have unpredictable elements, you can build a system that accounts for unpredictability and allows you to deal with it quickly and effectively.

Step 1: Getting off the rollercoaster

Like most organizations, your learning demand curve probably looks like a roller coaster with periods of high demand for learning resources followed by periods where demand flattens out or even dips. This curve can make resourcing difficult. So how do you begin to tame the learning demand curve?

Step 2: Smooth the curve

You probably think high-demand periods are the best because everyone wants your services. The truth is high-demand periods cost you the most, either in higher staffing, extensive use of contractors or in compromises on quality or delivery timeframes. Once you understand your demand trends, you can distribute your high-demand periods throughout the year, flattening your demand curve and requiring fewer resources to get the same amount of work done.

Smoothing the demand curve means moving high-demand tasks into low-demand periods to balance the workflow and make the best use of your resources. You’ll never make your demand flat. The curve will always have peaks and valleys. However, the smoother you can make your demand curve, the more efficiency you can build into the process.

Step 3: Increase quality and reduce costs using flexible resourcing.

Some organizations staff to low-demand scenarios and then scramble for resources when demand increases. Others staff to high demand and carry expensive resources during times when they are not necessary. Once you’ve smoothed your demand curve and know exactly what the predictable demand is, you can staff to “mid-demand,” or the amount of demand you will consistently have throughout the year. You can use flexible resourcing to deal with high-demand periods by adding contract resource only when you need them. This approach will:

  • Reduce unit cost: Since you aren’t carrying expensive resources during lower-demand periods, you’ll save money. Bring on flexible resources when you need them so you only pay for them when they’re productive.
  • Increase quality of your deliverables: Instead of trying to keep full-time resources busy with assignments that might be out of their comfort zone, you can assign the most qualified resources to exactly the right tasks, driving higher-quality deliverables.

Step 4: The right resources

Step three looks at how flexible resourcing can reduce unit cost and drive higher quality. But that only works if your flexible resources are highly qualified and a good fit. You may have had the experience of working with contractors who were supposed to be experts, only to learn they needed a lot of support to get their work done. That eats into your cost management, your efficiency and puts the quality of your deliverables into question. When choosing a learning resource partner, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do they focus on corporate learning or is learning just one of many things they do?
  • Do they have processes and procedures for creating learning or are they forwarding you the resumes they source?
  • Do they have a long record of successful learning design or is learning just something they started doing recently?
  • Do they take accountability for the success of the people they provide, or do they think that should be your job?

Lower cost and higher quality may seem contradictory, but a corporate learning department is a business that needs sound business principles. Two of the most basic business concepts are supply chain and cost management. Many people think that managing cost means cutting resources, programs and initiatives. However, cost can be more effectively managed by using smart demand planning and having a reliable supply of well-vetted resources to help you address periods of high demand. Lastly, choosing the right partner means that you always have the right highly-qualified resource on every initiative, driving improved quality.