Has there ever been a more vital time for training material than 2020? Between shifting working environments, new workflows and rapidly evolving diversity initiatives, 2020 is a year of change, meaning 2020 is also a year for training. The premise for this article was first inspired by Harvard Business Review’s October 2019 article, “Where Companies Go Wrong with Learning and Development.”  A few statistics cited in the article underline major concerns in corporate training:

“Organizations spent $359 billion globally on training in 2016, but was it worth it?

Not when you consider the following:

  • 75% of 1,500 managers surveyed from across 50 organizations were dissatisfied with their company’s Learning & Development (L&D) function;
  • 70% of employees report that they don’t have mastery of the skills needed to do their jobs;
  • Only 12% of employees apply new skills learned in L&D programs to their jobs; and
  • Only 25% of respondents to a recent McKinsey survey believe that training measurably improved performance.”

It begs the question whether the 75% of dissatisfied managers work for organizations that treat L&D teams as thought leaders or production houses? If those L&D teams are only producing what’s asked of them without the ability to validate and evaluate training needs, then low utilization of and satisfaction with training should be a shared accountability with the business. As more budgetary scrutiny is placed on teams during these economically uncertain times, L&D teams need to showcase the value they bring. This article highlights valid concerns for L&D’s training efforts and showcases why discovering your organization’s L&D bottleneck is so essential.

The Bottleneck

When manufacturing is discussed in every basics-of-business class, the business principle of “the bottleneck” inevitably arises. In business, a bottleneck is often described as one process in a long chain of processes that limits the chain’s capacity to generate value. When bottlenecks are present in the supply chain, halts in production, customer dissatisfaction and low employee morale are likely to occur.

In modern L&D, the bottleneck isn’t suppressing available content, learning management system (LMS) capabilities, budget or leadership buy-in. Rather, the bottleneck exists in the limited utilization and misuse of training materials. Let’s evaluate why this is the case. 

Do You Create Nice or Necessary Training?  

A friend of mine, Emily, told me about an experience she had in the early 2010s when she was newly hired into her role and received a sales training request. A vice president (VP) approached her saying that he needed an innovative training experience for his frontline salespeople, specifically a virtual reality (VR) experience. When she asked how he determined a VR solution was needed, the VP casually provided anecdotal evidence to illustrate the need. Emily agreed to do some research into VR training for sales reps but asked the VP to come back with reliable evidence to demonstrate the existing need, so that both teams could identify the direct business impact of the training through evaluation later on.

As I’m sure you can guess, no evaluation data was ever provided by the sales leader, and the L&D team created a visually and instructionally dynamic sales training course. Six months after the launch of the initiative, Emily asked for an increased budget for a new instructional designer role. The company leadership asked her to account for the budget allocated to the large sales training as a way to help them build a business case for this new role. While she had a very impressive looking course, she had no data to justify the time and budget spent on the training, and no clear way to show that the training positively impacted business performance.

So, what can we learn from this example?

  • As L&D leaders, we are in charge of making sure all training, especially training that uses a significant amount of your budget and time, addresses a measurable need. Even if the budget is coming from another department, you must be able to demonstrate that your team invested in a worthwhile endeavor.
  • Looking to the tried and true wisdom of Dr. Donald Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Training Evaluation, “Learning and performance professionals must be able to show the organizational value of their training… On the surface, demonstrating the value of training to the organization might seem self-serving; however, it is necessary not only for a training department to sustain itself, but also to earn the respect of other departments and the entire organization.”
  • As with any training intervention, considering and engaging the specified audience is essential to planning training. This will not only make your learners feel heard and appreciated but also provide you with key insights into the actual training need rather than relying on assumptions from the executive level.

Are You Creating a Learner Journey Map?

Just-in-time and training reinforcement resources have become vital to the workflows of modern learners. There is no question that everyone uses Google as an information directory on the job these days, but the one thing Google and other search engines lack, compared to a top notch L&D team, is a clear architecture for information. That is where learner journey mapping comes into play.

For instance, the spacing effect suggests that 90% of learning that occurs in a training event is lost after just one month without any additional interventions. However, if you have reinforcement built into your learner roadmap, knowledge retention improves significantly.

What Are Your Channels of Delivery?  

Like it or not, we are in the age of Slack, Twitter and TikTok. You might have a robust, internal corporate university, but if your material is behind multiple sign-in interfaces or the content is buried within an hour-long training video covering several processes, utilization is doomed to be low. Ask yourself the following questions when you’re planning your next training initiative:

  • Who are my executive sponsors?
  • How will this training be integrated into our current culture of one-on-ones, quarterly reviews and performance evaluations?
  • What internal marketing channels can I utilize aside from an email blast?

Have you ever heard the saying, “The first bite is with the eye?” The same principle applies to when someone first hears about training. Don’t waste valuable time making every training launch fun and gimmicky, but the better you can promote the assets your L&D repository has, the better your utilization will be.

How Do We Prevent L&D Bottlenecks Moving Forward?  

Everything you create must be developed with business impact in mind, meaning you need to evaluate and identify direct correlation between training and business outcomes. Once leadership knows that L&D is creating training that impacts the bottom line, you’ll see support from the executive level to ensure everyone is utilizing your L&D resources.

Now more than ever, learning and development is recognized as an essential cog in the gears of organizational success, but that valued position will quickly be overlooked in an economic downturn if training is not being used. By identifying a clear evaluation approach early, validating what training needs exist, having modern and navigable channels for delivery, and tying interventions to business success through data, our L&D teams will not only weather storms but thrive and grow in the scope of their influence.