Early in my career, I worked for a mid-sized, mostly stagnant company. The business had an unhealthy culture focused on margins and cutting costs in some of the worst ways. At this company, I had a coworker, let’s call him Dustin, who would spend most afternoons propped at a certain angle to give the illusion he was working while he took a nap. Dustin had long ago decided that he had reached a level of knowledge where he didn’t need to learn anymore (this is in technology, mind you).

I wish I could say that I was able to get Dustin excited about learning, but, unfortunately, it was not meant to be. Recently, I have been reflecting on whether Dustin was failing the business, or if the business was failing Dustin.

This person indirectly taught me a few lessons: run learning like a business; treat employees like customers, seek their engagement, plot a strategy of personalization and be data driven to improve continuously.

Let’s dive deeper into each aspect of learning that should be treated like a business.

Treat Employees like Customers

When it comes to training and learning, L&D should view employees as their customers. Best practices in business such as user research, marketing and customer development should be key tactics. The brand of L&D will naturally move from a strong corporate brand to an employee-driven and aspirational brand, garnering the passion of employees to look at training holistically as part of their career development.

Strive for Engagement

Gone are the days when posting training materials on a company intranet accompanied by a short email is going to drive employees to engage. L&D would do well to treat learning initiatives as product launches. At Degreed, we evaluated four different clients and their adoption campaigns. Many learning leaders are advised to go small, and to start with occasional drip campaigns due to the low cost and effort. However, the results for our clients clearly showed that the most successful campaigns included broad rollouts tied to a larger organizational goal or initiative. The broad and compelling initiatives served as a catalyst to engage employees, resulting in better usage and higher activations with learning.

Personalization is No Longer Optional

The most successful tech companies have learned that personalization unlocks greater value for the user. The future of learning is personalization for the employee. As an employee, I should be able to gain an accurate view of my skills and provide that as context to a learning platform with the best learning content in the world. The platform can then present me with a personalized experience to help me develop my skills and see opportunities for growth in my company. The personalization will engage employees and result in a huge increase in employee interest in training and learning.

Data-Driven Continuous Improvement

Early startup businesses and large multinational businesses alike are using data to drive customer engagement, new products, and more. It is time for learning to also get this focus by identifying meaningful and actionable learning analytics before launching an initiative. Then, over the course of the initiative, proactively reviewing the analytics and iterating or pivoting as needed. In a world where the amount of potential learning sources has exploded, it becomes critical for L&D to be data driven to identify and react to their employee learning.

As I remember Dustin, I like to believe that he would have thrived at a company that treated training/learning as a business. Not only would his engagement at his job improve, but his career would have developed much differently. By using business best practices, the future of learning looks positive for L&D and each employee.