Creating A Results-Focused Learning Environment
There’s one thing that continues to elude learning practitioners and that is how to go about demonstrating business value and accountability for their efforts. For many, the objective of developing a learning culture may as well be equivalent to climbing Mount Everest; it seems daunting and virtually impossible. But that’s not entirely true. As my dad used to say, you need to take small, achievable steps to accomplish an insurmountable goal.
Those organizations that found success developing a learning environment don’t see learning alignment as an afterthought and have taken the necessary steps to fully integrate it into the fabric of their culture. It’s now just the way they do things. Don’t believe me? Allow me to share one company you may frequent and one I don’t have any connection with but that takes learning quite seriously.
Please try this experiment next time you visit your local Starbucks. Place your order and then observe its preparation, as well as the orders placed by others. Do this the next few times you go. Keep track of the accuracy of your order each time, within minutes of placing it. As a learning practitioner, if you’re not impressed, you really should be.
Consider the consistency and timeliness when receiving these specialized products, especially if you’re one of those customers who further customizes an already specialized coffee. I do this experiment at every Starbucks when I travel and continue to be impressed that my order is within a one percent accuracy of what I receive back home. This is now a subconscious habit each time I interact with any company.
Understandably, much more goes into this primary operational process, but you’ll agree, the final delivery is largely dependent on how well their baristas perform. It’s clear that Starbucks’ stakeholders (leaders) have consciously made learning and knowledge one of the company’s core strategic elements…not an afterthought. It’s also evident their intent is leadership by example, and well-executed operationally within a frontline, high-turnover, service environment where they consistently meet the promise made to their customers.
Starbucks is but one explicit example. Similar instances are experienced with companies like Apple or even, less explicitly, Toyota. But how do they do this? What’s their secret sauce? Suffice to say, it’s not something that happens overnight. It speaks to a carefully crafted and coordinated corporate culture, led by example from their senior stakeholders.
You may now be saying, “Ok, so it’s their culture. How do I change culture in my organization to get my stakeholders to take learning seriously?” You don’t. Alone, you can’t. And it’s not your role or responsibility to shoulder the responsibility for a culture shift. This responsibility rests on the shoulders of your leaders. But here’s the deal: you can, and should be, an influential presence.
Now, you’re saying, “An influence? I can barely get them to give me the time of day for our efforts!” Look, I get it: you feel like Sisyphus trying to push a metaphorical boulder up a steep hill, seemingly like you’re always starting over. But unlike Sisyphus, you can initiate small steps that could lead to big changes and, more relevant, get your leader to take you seriously.
Steps To Initiate A Learning Culture
Changing the learning culture is the first step. I know I said you shouldn’t shoulder this responsibility, but I did say you could influence it. Cultural change never happens overnight. It requires time and, more importantly, it requires actionable and results-leading efforts. You’re in position to do just that, deliver actionable results through your learning interventions.
But it needs to begin with small steps. Even though you believe your learning efforts are an afterthought, each time you’re asked to deliver a learning solution, make it count. Demonstrate learning relevance, showing how this one small learning effort can result in evidence of improvement through productivity or efficiency gains (always relevant key performance metrics). It’s more relevant to stakeholders if you make connections to operational or business objectives, which leads me to the next point.
Getting your learning effort to align with business expectations is something you should always do. Trust me, there’s always a connection and you need to find out what it is. As you’ve heard me say in previous articles, learning is a business function, within a business, expected to deliver business results.
If you have trouble discovering these connections, the simplest step is to speak with the operational leader requiring learning support. Don’t be an order-taker and let them dictate what training they “think” is required. You’re the subject-expert. This requires flipping the Kirkpatrick four levels of evaluation. Beginning will level four is about beginning with the end in mind. And what is the “end”? It’s their established performance expectations, and this should become the KPI(s) you should help improve. Discover the operational processes involved and then conduct a needs assessment to further target where learning is needed.
If you’re not sure where to target your learning efforts, then simply revisit your company’s mission statement. The mission is why the company exists and, when properly deconstructed, leads to identifying specific operational areas, requirements, and performance expectations. Simply, this is your cheat sheet to the answers you need to develop targeted and focused learning initiatives that will deliver results. The mission should always be your north star.
Next is identifying the needs of those requiring your learning. Naturally, practitioners tend to focus on what’s needed now, which is essential, but often at the expense of what’s required in the future. In both cases, practitioners often develop blanket learning initiatives, rather than targeting specific needs or actually asking users what they’d like to learn to improve their job performance. Do you not think that Starbucks’ operational leaders and learning department engage with their baristas to discover how to improve the process? Trust me, they do.
Specifically identifying current and future operational skills requires more work but will deliver tangible learning results. Your learning will be even more robust when you align to mission and operational performance expectations. This, however, shouldn’t be the end of targeting your learning efforts.
Companies like Starbucks and Toyota take it a step further. They align their business objectives to their employees’ personal aspirations and growth. You hear about it regularly, with the companies offering tuition for education and various learning opportunities and options, like LinkedIn Learning certificates and postgraduate micro credentials.
Your Next Step
These are just some of the actions you can initiate to deliver business results for your learning efforts. It’s also your opportunity to subtly initiate a cultural shift, influencing the change your leaders expect. It’s all about taking small steps, and it’s about taking the first step rather than complaining about your stakeholders not valuing learning. This is your chance to slowly and subtly prove that they’re wrong about learning, all while making them look good.
Look, the planets have aligned for organizational learning, requiring Learning and Development to play a central role within the context of business operations and performance. Consider learning’s predictive qualitative nature, its role in delivering efficiencies, and account for its longer term indirect financial value, and you’re guaranteed to get stakeholder support for your next learning initiative.
Please share your thoughts and feedback with us. We would enjoy hearing about your efforts. And who knows, it may be the topic of our next eLearning Industry article. Also, please check out our LinkedIn Learning courses to learn more about developing business credibility for your learning efforts. Please share your thoughts and remember #alwaysbelearning!
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