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Nicholas Roi

SilkRoad UK

Managing Director

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The four essential components of integrated performance and learning


Performance and Learning are inextricably linked, there is little debate about that. However, this knowledge is not enough to run the two successfully. For an integrated strategy to be effective HR needs to know how and where the connection points between the two are, as well as how they can deliver it with minimum administrative input.

Creating the link between performance management and learning is simple in theory, the natural alignment between the two means that an organic connection often asserts itself. Perhaps because of this many organisations fail to implement a solid strategy that strengthens these links and they remain unaware of power and benefit such a strategy can have.

When formalising a strategy, performance and learning should be considered a pair, but which is in the driving seat and where should the HR manager’s focus be? It’s the old chicken and the egg debate but within a corporate context; just as the chicken/egg conundrum sends philosophers round in circles, so too does the question of whether to tackle performance or learning first. For progress to made, it is vital to accept that the answer is neither. 

Both performance and learning are of equal importance and need to be run concurrently. If they aren’t then the performance reviews of today become useless backward facing bits of paper tomorrow. The point of an appraisal is to identify the strengths and weaknesses of an individual and then train them to perform better within their role. It is then to put said individuals in a position where they can take on additional responsibility, or can make a lateral move into another role.

Without first carrying out performance reviews training becomes futile, what would be the point in training a person if that learning isn’t then used to help the business meet its goals? In these situations organisations run the very real risk of training staff in areas they don't even need training in, the end result being wasted manpower and expense.

To assist in understanding the connections and steps that must be undertaken to integrate performance and management, here is a simple four-step guide:

1) Competency models

First it’s important to define the company’s competency models. While competencies are the knowledge and skills a person needs to perform his or her job, a competency model is the framework used to determine exactly what these job-specific competencies are.

Determining your competency models is the starting point when creating an integrated performance and learning strategy. During this process you will consider wider business goals alongside your desired staff skill sets. The second of these two is easier if it is broken down into the following:

  • Core competencies: the attributes and skills that absolutely every member of staff must possess in order to represent the business and fulfil their role. They might be as simple as understanding the company values or as complicated as having a recognised SEO qualification.
  • Career competencies: with variables such as length of tenure, capability and ambition, every staff member's career path is unique – are they a future leader? Their training needs are dependent on these factors.
  • Functional competencies: job and department-specific. The competencies of someone in the accounts department will likely be different from those of a marketing executive, and their learning and development needs will differ accordingly.
  • Leadership competencies: the personal and professional skills that help leaders drive the companies forward and manage teams successfully.

Once competencies have been defined they can be tied in to the appraisal system and tracked in order to define each person’s learning status. Training can then be designed and aligned to nurture the required competencies – this is very important because it’s not just about giving training, but about offering the correct training for each person.

2)  Align learning with corporate strategy

Your competency frameworks are now ready to be aligned with company strategy. You can manage this by first looking at the broad strategy behind staff training: what is it the business hopes to achieve by developing its staff? The answer to this question will form the basis of your company strategy.

So, if the response is to promote a new leadership team from within, then the action is to offer management training to those elected. But not all training needs be about long-term planning. If your company is about to bring out a range of new products, the business training strategy might be to quickly educate every staff member on the new range.

It might also help to plot where your business sits in its growth cycle. As a new company your strategy is likely to be growth and the attraction of staff. If you are an established enterprise the emphasis might be staff retention and profitability. Even further down the line you will need to consider who your next generation of leaders will be; your growth cycle will determine what programmes are put in place.

3) Aligning learning with individual skill gaps

While you have your business strategy in mind, it’s worth remembering that individual staff members will have their own goals. You should be aiming to cultivate a flexible approach whereby managers and employees have a say in their development programmes.

And, of course, while everyone should meet the requirements of the core competency model, not everyone will need training in every element of it. Some employees will already have some of the required skills and will not need further training. HR managers can use the appraisal process to determine which individuals need developing in which competencies.

4) Automation

At this stage you technically have all of the information needed to build a comprehensive, integrated performance and learning strategy. The importance of automation lies in helping the two run side by side successfully and in providing effective real time reporting. Despite all of the planning put in place, it's easy to allow the two to continue being managed as separate systems – but this undermines the whole process. Using an automated system facilitates a consistent approach, removes the need for needless administration and provides dashboards and reporting to ensure the company has a clear picture of how the strategy is performing.

For performance management and learning to be fully integrated, all four of the above elements need to be brought together and run in conjunction with each other. This is why businesses should seriously consider an investment in a learning management system (LMS). Such solutions can facilitate a centralised talent management environment and ensure that automation and industry compliance are handled effectively. Through the use of an LMS you can ensure that your learning objectives are aligned with company strategy and you can plan to develop employees in a way that best meets everyone’s goals. 

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Nicholas Roi

Managing Director

Read more from Nicholas Roi

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