Many companies build large collections of training content that rest inside curricula, catalogs and LMSs. At any point in time, some of these programs have very targeted functional and business purposes, and some are required for external legal or internal policy compliance. Some may be libraries or collections of professional and technical skills courses with no specific business objective but available generally to support ongoing employee development. Others, however, are out of date, have no or low utilization, or are duplicative (similar content from different vendors or available in different parts of the organization).
While most companies capture some measure of participant satisfaction with the programs they offer, as well as various other measures, such as courses completed or participants trained, very few can account for the effectiveness of training programs in terms of meaningful business measures.
It is widely reported that there is a lack of strong alignment between training programs and the current strategic and operating priorities of the business. Given the spread of global businesses, there is also often a lack of standardization of learning experience across geographies.
On the one hand, strategic and operating priorities may not be getting the L&D attention they need. On the other hand, the expected business impact of the current collection of programs is unclear.
Ensuring that learning portfolios are relevant, linked to the business, and deemed effective and efficient requires organizations to engage in a learning portfolio transformation exercise. This exercise should be followed by a continuous governance process to ensure that the portfolios remain optimized.
Driving Learning Portfolio Transformation
We approach learning portfolio transformation as a six-stage process. While Stage 1 is the table stake for initiating portfolio transformation, the sequence of Stages 2, 3 and 4 can be altered depending on the characteristics of the portfolio in consideration.
Stage 1: Consolidate
Integral to portfolio transformation is an enterprise-wide view of all training that makes up the portfolio. This means having visibility of all the programs, vendors, spend incurred, usage, instructional elements and learning objectives.
Depending on how the content is organized for the learning portfolio, the time, investment and resources required during this stage differs. For learning portfolios where training is managed centrally with an LMS, consolidation could be as easy as pulling and interpreting the relevant reports from the LMS. For organizations where learning is decentralized, federated, managed by multiple stakeholders and/or tracked using different tools, gathering all the data may be challenging and take significant effort. Regardless, consolidation is a critically important step in the transformation process, as it defines the current state, which is the basis of driving transformation.
- Map stakeholders and current processes.
- Gather historical data.
- Create a demand plan.
The scope of the data consolidated at this stage depends on the configuration of the portfolio. Ideally, historical data and demand projection for the coming year together create a comprehensive picture. However, it is often difficult for organizations to provide both historical and projected views.
The output of this stage is an initial hypothesis of the potential transformation. In this way, Step 1 also works as a stage gate and helps determine if it is useful to continue the portfolio transformation.
Stage 2: Rationalize Third-Party Courses
The data gathered in Stage 1 is separated into third-party and in-house courses. During this stage, all third-party courses are analyzed to determine course-specific opportunities for rationalization. The opportunities are evaluated and translated into an implementation roadmap. The key objective at this stage is to make the portfolio more efficient.
- Eliminate redundancy.
- Consolidate vendors and programs.
- Replace with better vendors and programs, where applicable.
- Implement vendor performance metrics.
Program duplication often results from local procurement and the belief that the various departments and programs of the organization have unique content needs. Also, many organizations do not have a robust process for retiring courses that have become redundant. As a result, these courses continue to live in the learning catalog.
Often, when analyzing L&D data, we find instances of different business entities purchasing from the same vendor, sometimes with their own negotiated rates. Given the relatively small value of the individual orders, the vendors sometimes do not understand the big picture. This situation leads to a bulky curriculum that incurs additional administration costs. Reducing the number of courses and vendors provides a manageable view of the learning spend. With higher volumes per vendor, it also helps leverage the buying power to negotiate a better price or better terms with the vendor.
Stage 3: Optimize Third-Party Courses
The primary objective of this phase is to enhance the effectiveness and business alignment of third-party training. Typically, third-party programs are more generic and less contextual, so there is a high probability of a gap between what the business wants and what the programs deliver.
Most business leaders understand that competence development is critical to achieve desired business results. However, fewer than 25 percent are satisfied with the overall effectiveness of learning programs, according to research conducted by CEB. It is important that the learning programs are linked to business objectives.
- Eliminate redundancy.
- Test for effectiveness and usage.
- Balance learning investments with the organization’s strategic direction.
- Restructure delivery mode.
- Re-evaluate build versus buy.
- Optimize volume and consumption.
Reviewing each course for its business alignment forms the basis of this stage of portfolio transformation.
The assessment criteria at this stage include:
- Is the content optimal?
- Is the learning effective and retained?
- Is the learning realistic and applicable to the work context?
- Are there any learning gaps that the course does not address?
- Is there a method to measure whether the business objectives of this program are being attained?
- Are the business objectives of this program being attained?
Once the business relevance of a course is confirmed, the next step is to determine ways to make it more effective and efficient, which can be through levers such as changing delivery modality, optimizing volume and consumption, and reviewing delivery time.
Stage 4: Optimize In-House Courses
The objective of this stage is also to drive stronger business alignment and value. However, the focus is now on the in-house courses. Unlike third-party courses, the rationalization step is not required, and we can instead jump right into optimization.
The activities during this stage are similar to Stage 4. However, the focus is on in-house courses.
Stage 5: Formulate Governance Process
What makes portfolio transformation “transformational” is the insertion of a wedge that ensures that the improvements do not slide back over time. The objective of Stage 5 is to define for the organization a set of processes and structures to ensure that the portfolio does not become suboptimal. This goal is accomplished by creating a documented, shared, agreed upon and staffed governance model that enables the organization to maintain a transformed learning portfolio.
Governance models fail to deliver their promised value when they are bureaucratic, complex and time consuming. A governance model with these characteristics will drive the business to find its own alternate methods of providing training.
Here are three guidelines when designing and setting up a governance model:
- It should be non-bureaucratic.
- It should be simple to implement and use.
- It should be responsive to business needs.
Effective governance models have the following four components:
- Governance organization
- Processes and templates
Stage 6: Continuous Improvement
To commit to continuous improvement, review the rationalized and optimized learning portfolio once every two years to identify opportunities for further rationalization or optimization.
- Document long-term improvement goals.
- Track and review progress against the goals.
- Identify and manage any new transformation opportunities.
From time to time, there may be big changes in business strategy; a new, large organization; or a new business launch that may require the organization to repeat the portfolio transformation process in full or in part.