With economic recovery potentially in sight, it's time to stop bemoaning the fact that training budgets have been cut during the recession and look at how we can ensure learning and development (L&D) gets back on to the agenda as soon as possible. The most efficient and commonsensical way of achieving this is for HR and L&D departments to work together to demonstrate how employee development can make a positive impact on the bottom line. We've talked about it for long enough but in so many organisations it has remained pure theory.
One of the biggest barriers has been the lack of joined-up joined-up approaches between L&D, HR, line managers and the learner. L&D, for instance, will never be able to measure accurately the effectiveness of training without input and feedback from the front-line manager. Reporting in to L&D or HR on this, however, has never been a priority for managers and in these high-pressure times this situation is unlikely to change. HR and L&D must therefore be proactive in finding a way to introduce some much-needed discipline and control into the process.
Ironically, all parties have long had the benchmarking tools sitting there to help measure and assess the effectiveness of training: performance appraisal and review, personal development plans, feedback, objective-setting, key performance indicators (KPIs) and more. What is needed, however, is a framework that joins each one up and polices and controls the process and, crucially, demands the necessary input from each party. Process controls and quality standards govern so many other organisational activities so why treat L&D and organisational development (OD) processes differently? Such a framework also ensures all sides communicate with each other and encourages accountability for the training.
What I'm talking about here can best be described as ‘e-process': using the online environment to build an underpinning framework that can be used to track, monitor, assess and measure L&D against organisational goals. You can attempt this without technology but all you will end up with is bits of paper. Technology allows you to add a vital layer of discipline to the L&D process.
The phasing in of any e-process is critical as it requires those involved to accept certain cultural changes that are associated with new ways of working. Phase one would typically include the planning and management of the L&D development activities that will feature in a person's personal development plan (PDP). These can be chosen from an online catalogue that details all of the L&D opportunities that are on offer, from e-learning to classroom-based courses to online resources. It could be mandatory or role-related training and include activities chosen by the employee. Priorities and dates should be set and approval sought from line managers all within the online framework. The second phase would focus on the development review and appraisal activities such as personal objectives and KPIs. L&D must ensure that managers approve development plans, set milestone dates and complete feedback and assessment and impact reports promptly. The final phase introduces more sophisticated planning and analysis tools such as succession planning and talent management.
The framework exists to control and manage the L&D process but also to add value to the learning by binding the L&D activities together. Increasingly, organisations are opting for blended learning approaches that are far more sophisticated than just classroom-based training sandwiched with a bit of e-learning either side of it. The blend can entail work-related projects, virtual and asynchronous workshops, coaching and mentoring, information resources along with pre- and post- assessments and examinations.
The flexibility of such a blended approach gives line managers and L&D the opportunity to choose learning styles and approaches that suit each individual and the ‘always-on' learning portal permits them to undertake their study at a time and place that suits them. Such flexibility should increase the chances of the learning being effective but the shift from training as a one-off, event-based activity to a process made up of different elements poses certain challenges. There is a danger that it will become too fragmented for the learner and this also leads to a loss of control for L&D. This is why the framework is once again so important, adding that vital layer of discipline to bind everything together.
As a difficult year draws to a close, many L&D departments are at a crossroads: they can carry on doing things as they have always done them or use the recession as a catalyst for change and use technology to make learning programmes better structured, relevant and meaningful for everyone. The key to linking learning to organisational effectiveness is linking up the people and elements involved in it. In short, the future of learning must be joined up and it is L&D and HR that must provide the vital glue to bind everything together.
Pete Bennett is anddc,
This article was first published on hrmagazine.co.uk