The disciplines of performance management and learning and development have been treated separately for too long. Sure, there are the latest and greatest solutions from interactive e-learning programs that can be accessed anywhere and anytime to bite-size content that can be consumed in spurts. Yet, there’s a challenge: Businesses don’t always see any measurable improvements. Profits may still be flatlining, time to market is the same as ever, or customer service metrics aren’t getting any better.
So, what is going wrong? For many organisations, learning is not linked closely enough to what the business is trying to achieve. Even when it is, learners are not being helped to apply their new skills and knowledge in the workplace. That final step is key to success in fast-changing global businesses.
Regardless of where people are located, it’s up to managers and employees to talk on a regular basis so managers can help ensure people are putting what they learned into practice. And they need to talk about applying learning until it becomes habit.
The final piece of the jigsaw puzzle
In cases when businesses don’t see a return on investment in learning, it is generally because the company is failing to slot in the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle. Having spent money on training someone in new skills, there is a gap when it comes to checking that employees are applying their new skill effectively. One study found that, while 62% of learners immediately applied learning on the job, only 44% were applying that learning after six months and only 34% after one year.
To see the ROI on learning, it’s up to supervisors and employees to create time and space to acquire skills that will help the employee progress in their role or career and then apply what is being learned while at work. Here are five tips to help staff and leaders use learning and development to drive high performance:
- Make it personal. The most effective way to promote a learning culture and drive engagement is to ensure employees understand how their new skills can help them succeed in their career. Approach learning and development as a process, not a test to pass or fail – and measure success by how well employees are applying learning in their job.
- Keep your eye on the 70:20:10 ratio. This learning model was put together in the mid-1990s and was often used as description or standard for how learning should be delivered. But, along the way, the needs and expectations of people and how they interact with content changed. It can be just as valuable for employees to learn on their own time outside the formal set up provided at their workplace. Self-directed learning, whether that’s through consuming content online or collaborating with others through a peer network, allows employees to learn in their natural way. We can take the same concept and apply it to learning and development strategies, guiding people towards content that will give them the skills to help the organisation. It’s that same outcome of learning mentioned earlier: Improved employee performance. The important thing is to allow employees to learn in a way that feels natural to them.
- Engage line managers in helping employees apply what they’ve learned. A Brandon Hall Group report found that only 8% of organisations believed their managers were skilled at giving timely, actionable feedback.1 Managers are key to providing ongoing coaching and mentoring during regular one-to-one check-ins with individuals in their team. At the same time, the responsibility is split between line managers and employees to drive application of learning. Managers and employees need to work together to find time to put into practice the skills acquired through learning activities.
- Encourage employees to take charge of their own career development. Managers play a key role in supporting their employees’ learning and performance achievements, but employees need to be active in their own career development as well. This is where managers play a key coaching role and can help employees connect the dots to see how what they’ve learned will help career growth and the business.
- Measure the impact on the business. Set business-related metrics for success – higher levels of customer service, faster go-to-market on a product or improved quality scores on software verification tests. Check these are being met and continue to monitor these metrics, adjusting learning delivery as needed.
Apply learning to get results
Learning and development brings benefits for all. For employees, it represents the company making an investment in them. For employers trying to create a responsive organisation, it helps keep employees interested in their work while building the skills the company needs to compete. A culture of continuous learning should be at the heart of the company’s mission and vision and its leaders must lead by example, by prioritising learning.
Offering the opportunity for career development is a great way to hold on to valuable employees. Research from Aon Hewitt found that career development discussions are important in keeping employees motivated and engaged. At the same time, when an organisation is able to create, acquire and transfer skills and knowledge quickly, it helps create an environment where people can bring their best to work. And if people can do that, then success translates to the business itself.
But sending employees on courses is not enough. To grow and develop, they need to actually apply what they learn and you need to enable them to do that. The reality is that the business will not see a return on investment in learning and development activities until learners apply the skills and behaviours they have gained. Companies who close this gap and make sure that training is translating into employees working faster or better will be the ones who see enhanced performance across the globe.