The business environment in many of today’s organisations is more complex, fluid and ambiguous than it was in the second half of the 20th century.
Our world is changing so fast that the traditional methods employed in learning and development no longer have the traction and impact they once had – or some may argue ever had.
This situation presents us with a paradox: at a time when L&D can provide organisations with the capabilities needed to help them succeed, conventional approaches and methodologies are often less effective in providing sustainable results.
So why is this the case and what needs to change to enable HR directors to overcome these challenges?
Technology has been employed in the learning landscape for the last 40 years. It first emerged in the shape of computer-assisted learning during the 1970s, before morphing into computer-based training in the1990s and more recently into e-learning.
But the paradox that we face is not due to a lack of available technology. It is instead due to the fact that training is often not implemented in a way that makes a positive operational difference to the business.
All too frequently, training is simply carried out for training’s sake with no thought to the on-going impact on the wider performance of the organisation. In economic downturns, L&D is one of the first budgets to be cut. But the rationale behind this is understandable if it provides no proven cost benefit to the business.
This means that measuring the return on training investment is crucial and that any activity in this area must be used to underpin business strategy.
One of the key reasons why organisations struggle in implementing effective people development strategies is because they fail to link performance management processes to organisational performance. But line managers who work closely with employees and play a pivotal role in coaching and mentoring are key to success here.
In tough economic times in particular, senior managers are usually focused on cost-cutting and hand out bonuses to line managers based on their performance against key indicators. As a result, targets are rarely set on the basis of actively encouraging the productivity of the business’ biggest asset – its people.
But in my opinion, this is the crux of the issue. Too often L&D activities are reactionary but, to bring real value, training must be about more than simply ticking a box.
The key is measuring the impact of the training investment and its value to the organisation. These metrics must be linked not only to an individual’s personal development, but also to business performance. They likewise need to help line managers monitor progress and establish an on-going dialogue with the employees concerned.
Failure to do so will mean that the initiative is not sustainable into the long-term and that it will become an unnecessary business cost rather than an investment.
A core aspect of the line manager’s role is to manage personnel, but the continual pressure felt from trying to hit KPIs can divert from this task. The problem is that, unless they develop a stronger focus on coaching and boosting employees’ soft skills, the organisation’s investment in training will not be realised.
Therefore, similar training provision for line managers themselves could prove invaluable into the long-term.
For L&D to have a sustainable future, it must make its way onto the boardroom agenda – and being able to demonstrate business benefits is a key way of ensuring this.
Tools such as social networking and social learning can provide high quality and cost-effective training to everyone within the organisation. Being able to reach all employees so swiftly can also empower them to take charge of own their own career development and boost business performance at the same time.
But to make this work, the focus has to be on pulling all of assets of the organisation together into a coherent strategy – and proving its value to the wider organisation.
Phil Purver is managing director of learning and development provider, The Working Manager.