8 Ways to Improve the Strategic Value of Custom Learning

Tom Gram is the Senior Director, Leadership and Business Solutions at Global Knowledge Canada

I originally wrote this post a few weeks ago for my personal blog: Peformance X Design. As our training expectations and needs evolve, the points outlined here can be useful for any organization in any industry. We have a need for organization specific knowledge and skill, but customized learning does not always meet that need.

My webinar from Monday June 20th discussed ways organizations can get more strategic value from their custom learning initiatives (including informal learning). Panel guests from two Global Knowledge clients (Bell Canada and Service Canada) participated. Click here to view the free recorded version.
Here are some of the practices we discussed.

(Really) Link Learning to Business Strategy

  • Business goals are your friend. Use them to support your decisions not to respond to low value ad-hoc requests
  • Get hooked into the annual planning cycle to truly understand your organization’s business strategy
  • Prepare proactive annual learning plans with your customers to jointly address business needs
  • Manage ad-hoc requests professionally

Target Competencies that Differentiate your Organization

  • In today’s knowledge economy, organizational capability, skills, and knowledge set companies apart and provide real strategic advantage
  • These core competencies are often driven by key business processes
  • Custom learning will add more value when it focuses on these core competencies and not on lower leverage ad-hoc learning needs
  • Identify pivotal jobs, roles and associated skills. Target custom learning projects squarely at these all important core competencies

Start at the End

  • Custom learning programs too often start with “content” or subject matter–a sure fire way to produce bloated, dull and low value programs
  • By starting with the performance improvement needed from jobs and roles, custom learning programs can be leaner, more effective, and faster to develop. In fact, you may not end up developing training at all. Performance support, information, and informal learning solutions will start to become obvious choices
  • Work backwards: business need –> performance needs–> practice/application –> minimal content
  • Content and subject matter should be the last decision, not the first

Design with Integrity

  • We know how to design effective learning programs. We just usually don’t follow our own advice. The key factors are practice, application, coaching and feedback (true even for informal learning)
  • In our efforts to meet training volume targets, respond to unplanned requests, and meet impossibly short turnarounds, we opt for speed, convenience and, content “coverage” at the expense of real impact
  • Set design standards that produce high impact learning and stick to them. That doesn’t mean you can’t be flexible and have different approaches for information requirements vs deep learning requirements. But it does mean you need to have the knowledge to know the difference and the professional integrity to commit only to the appropriate solutions
  • Professionalize your team. Hire people with the skills and track record to produce high impact learning and performance. Develop those that don’t. Set high standards

Get Informal

  • Formal learning programs are only one way to accomplish learning outcomes. And they are often the least effective and most costly
  • The majority of learning taking place in your organization right now is through informal learning
  • Tap the full range of learning solutions from informal to non-formal and formal learning to broaden your reach and influence the 80% of learning happening outside the training function
  • Performance support systems, communities of practice, job assignments, structured experience, collaborative learning, and learning 2.0 solutions are all custom solutions that can have greater strategic impact than a formal training program

Innovate with Technology

  • Technology has given us e-learning, automated learning administration (LMS), learning content management and collaborative design (LCMS), mobile learning, assessment tools, and more
  • It has brought efficiencies but not always improved effectiveness or strategic value
  • Web 2.0 and social media are disrupting current views of how technology can and should support learning. That’s a good thing
  • Be creative in how you use technology to support learning. Don’t simply be a servant to it. Use it as a tool to innovate rather than institutionalize mainstream approaches that don’t add value

Use Partners Strategically

  • External partners can offer more than a “pair of hands” to design custom learning programs. There are many points in the analysis, design, and development process where external partners can add strategic value to your programs that you may not have thought of
  • Set up partnerships with defined roles for internal players and external partners
  • Encourage knowledge sharing
  • Establish a collaborative project workspace to work and learn together
  • Merge processes to develop a seamless flow for working together

Measure Success

  • If it’s important to develop strategic programs, it’s equally important to know if you accomplished your objective
  • To be effective evaluation has to be a part of the plan, not an afterthought
  • Evaluation doesn’t have to be complex and time consuming. Use existing business measures as much as possible
  • Consider alternatives to the Kirkpatrick model
  • Don’t measure everything. Find out what’s important to the business and make that your measurement focus. If the business itself is lousy at measuring results, you have yet another opportunity to add value

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