Organizational success starts with knowing your organization better
Unfortunately for many organizations, the L&D process is a reactive one. They provide learning only when it’s necessary and without considering what their organization and employees really need. Without a strong Learning and Development culture, though, knowledge can quickly become outdated, talented employees might move on, and innovative thinking dries up, ultimately putting the long-term survival of organizations at risk.
So, what prohibits organizations from being proactive about their L&D? Consistently over the last three years, the most significant concern shared by 45% of L&D leaders is managers’ reluctance to make time for learning. But not all learning needs to be, nor should it be, a time-consuming process. In fact, by understanding what works for your organization means that a lot of time (and money) can actually be saved.
What does a proactive learning culture look like?
Consider the impact that COVID-19 has had on how organizations operate. Overnight, entire workforces were forced to work from home and online communication platforms, such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom, became an essential component to keeping businesses moving – whether you were already using them or not. Whilst even the most proactive L&D teams couldn’t have forecasted the pandemic, an established and stronger learning culture will have certainly contributed to how effectively they navigated it. In Figure 1 we show some of the behaviors that organizations with a higher-impact learning culture are engaging with. In a very effective way, these organizations are keeping up with key trends so that they can bridge the gap between where they are now and where it is they want to be.
Take online communication platforms as an example. Faced with the pandemic, organizations with reactive L&D might have chosen a platform based on its popularity, rather than its suitability. At this point, they would have sent all employees on a course to learn all the features and functions that it has to offer. Imagine that an organization of this kind has 200 members of staff and at, say, $200 per employee, the cost of attending a course like this soon adds up. Not forgetting the time that staff would need to spend away from their work.
Now imagine an organization with proactive L&D faced with the same problem. L&D leaders working with managers to identify employees that most critically require learning, and which features and functions of these technologies will be most useful to their team. A learning culture that considers how best their employees learn, promotes knowledge-sharing, and fosters an environment where employees are motivated and engaged with their learning. Two-hundred employees soon turns into just 20 that require formal training. Training that is delivered in short and regular sessions so to integrate seamlessly into the working day. Employees feel equipped, understand the value of sharing what they’ve learned with their colleagues and are given the time and space to do so. In other words, these ‘top performers’ in Learning and Development analyse business problems before recommending solutions (see Figure 2).
How can a proactive learning culture help?
It should come as no surprise that a higher-skilled and better-qualified workforce is linked with organizational success (Campbell & Armstrong, 2013; López, Peón & Ordás, 2005; Yeo, 2003). But being proactive about L&D actually benefits organizations in so many other ways, too. Employees that are supported with appropriate L&D opportunities (in content, amount, space and time) are found to be more productive (Nda & Fard, 2013), have a more positive attitude towards work (Truitt, 2011), and are more likely to stick around (Govaerts, Kyndt, Dochy & Baert, 2011). We also know that feeling supported by managers and organizations, such as encouraging and making time for learning, is one of the components that helps employees to thrive at work (Kleine, Rudolph & Zacher, 2018; Learner Intelligence Report, 2020). As just a few examples, these benefits contribute to a happier workforce and, in turn, happier customers (Al Kurdi, Alshurideh & Alnaser, 2020).
Where do we start?
Understanding the benefits of a proactive Learning and Development (L&D) culture for your organization is really just the beginning. When it comes to L&D, one size rarely fits all. Each organization has its own unique set of challenges, needs, capabilities and goals. The priority for leaders looking to improve their L&D isn’t to identify how important L&D is for their organization but, simply, to get to know their organization better.
What impact is your existing L&D having? What is working well and not so well? What are similar organizations doing and how do you compare? An evidence-based approach - one that analyzes problems before recommending solutions - to any L&D strategy is critical for success and leaders need space to reflect on these sorts of questions regularly.
At Mind Tools for Business, we offer all learning leaders that opportunity: time and space to reflect on their own learning strategies year-on-year and to consider how their strategies are impacting organizational performance.
The Learning Performance Benchmark (LPB) tool is designed to highlight areas of improvement to your learning strategy. It also shows you how your organization compares to others, so that you can learn from those with a stronger, more proactive learning culture. This comparison is achieved by scoring how much impact your L&D team is having on your organization, from 1 (‘surface impact’) to 100 (‘deep impact’), providing you with a tangible measurement of how your L&D health changes overtime.
Each year, the LPB welcomes back organizations from industries all over the world, who complete it a second, third, fourth (and so on) time to track how the changes that they have made in the last 12 months have made a real difference to their organization. By completing the LPB annually, we are able to assess by how much L&D scores improve over time. On average, we find that scores increase by 7% each time organizations return to the LPB tool, from 48.31 in year 1 to 59.12 in year 4 (see figure 4).
As scores increase year-on-year reflecting a healthier and more proactive learning culture, we also observe a drop in overall concerns about L&D. Including the concern that managers will be reluctant to make time for learning (see Figure 5).
Based on recommendations provided by the LPB, over the last four years leaders have also made some significant changes to key practices in their organizations:
On average, introducing individual development plans for employees has increased from 53% to 62%
Employees accessing digital learning for non-compliance learning has increased from 40% to 57%
And the number of employees completing compliance-related training cources has increased from 80% to 90%.
For more information about what we found in this year’s LPB, please see our Annual L&D Benchmarking Report for 2021: Innovate, Dominate, or Decline.
Take away message
Learning and Development should not be a time-consuming process. Effective L&D is about being proactive: by analyzing business problems before recommending solutions. By getting to know your organization better (its needs, capabilities, and goals), your organization will be equipped to tackle any challenge (including those brought on by a global pandemic!) and in a way that is time- and cost-efficient. And don’t forget, the benefits of a healthier learning culture are much bigger than the L&D world itself. With a proactive L&D strategy in place, employees and organizations are given the opportunity to thrive.
If you are ready to assess the L&D health of your organization and make high-impact changes to your learning culture through an evidence-based approach, then complete the Learning Performance Benchmark (LPB) today. The LPB is a free, independent, and confidential tool, which we encourage users to complete annually to measure their progress each year.
Innovate, Dominate or Decline, Mind Tools for Business, 2021.
Al Kurdi, B., Alshurideh, M. T., and Alnaser, A. S., (2020), ‘The impact of employee satisfaction on customer satisfaction: Theoretical and empirical underpinning’, Management Science Letters, Vol. 10, pp. 3561-3570.
Campbell, T.T. and Armstrong, S.J. (2013), ‘A longitudinal study of individual and organisational learning’, The Learning Organization, Vol. 20, No. 3, pp. 240-258.
Govaerts, N., Kyndt, E., Dochy, F. and Baert, H., (2011), ‘Influence of learning and working climate on the retention of talented employees’, Journal of Workplace Learning, Vol. 23, No. 1, pp. 35-55.
Kleine, A.K., Rudolph, C.W. and Zacher, H., (2019), ‘Thriving at work: A meta‐analysis’, Journal of Organizational Behavior, Vol. 40, No. 9-10, pp. 973-999.
Nda, M. M., and Fard, R. Y., (2013), ‘The impact of employee training and development on employee productivity’, Global Institute for Research & Education, Vol. 2, No. 6, pp. 91-93.
Pérez López, S., Manuel Montes Peón, J. and José Vazquez Ordás, C., (2005), ‘Organizational learning as a determining factor in business performance’, The Learning Organization, Vol. 12, No. 3, pp. 227-245.
Truitt, D. L., (2011), ‘The Effect of Training and Development on Employee Attitude as it Relates to Training and Work Proficiency’, SAGE Open.
Yeo, R., (2003), ‘Linking organisational learning to organisational performance and success: Singapore case studies’, Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 24, No. 2, pp. 70-83.
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