In the spirit of Einstein, but with only a fraction of the elegance, I offer the three essential elements of an effective learning system. In its simplest form this system can be expressed with three words: requirements, solutions and impact. This model has allowed our team a degree of focus that we have previously missed and is allowing us to place our attention on making a difference rather than feeding a complex, bureaucratic monster.
Part of the appeal of this simple model is the way it has allowed us to speak with clients in terms they understand. At its heart, any business is a matter of determining customer requirements, providing effective solutions for them and ensuring that those solutions have positive business impacts that meet or exceed customer expectations. The stories of Southwest Airlines, Federal Express and Amazon.com are among many business stories of elegant solutions for customer requirements that have had an indelible impact on the business landscape. As learning and development professionals we have the opportunity to do the same.
Effective learning systems begin with the customer. Identifying the real customer and determining the requirement of the customer for which learning and development may provide at least a part of the solution is the critical starting point. There is no magic here. First-class learning organizations excel at listening for client performance improvement needs, and they are able to express those needs back to the client in terms that clarify and enlighten. If ever the adage that a problem well defined is half-solved were true, it is true in establishing the critical requirements of learning and development customers. If this step of the system is done well, it provides the basis for measuring the impact of the solution. If this step is done poorly, nothing else matters. We may do interesting work, but inevitably we will find we have the ladder leaning against the wrong tree.
The right solution will provide our clients with elegant resolution of the problems that plague the business. In the final analysis, we are in the business performance solutions business. Learning is not always the best or even the most appropriate solution. But when it is, we must be ready to deliver with excellence.
Measurement is both the logical conclusion and the beginning of any business cycle and is the third essential element of a simple learning and development system. This is the raison d’étre for the entire system. No impact, no matter. I have seen few aspects of learning and development that are more hotly debated than the matter of measurement. I once heard one of my fellow CLOs from a Fortune 50 firm say that if your company is debating the payoff of education, you probably work for the wrong company. I have had the privilege of working for some of the best: IBM, General Motors, Motorola and others. While there were different approaches to measurement and different appetites for quantitative methods, there has been universal focus on the necessity for relevance and impact. If it does not positively impact our business, our customers, our suppliers or our community, it is not long-lived. When requirements are defined well, the analysis of impact is a much easier matter.
A system comprised of three elements: requirements, solutions, impact. Making this system hum is not a simple matter, but it is a memorable sheet of music from which we can all start to sing together. Elegant, Mr. Einstein, simply elegant.
As chief learning officer and president of Motorola University, Fred Harburg and his team are responsible for building the strategic human capabilities and intellectual capital of 100,000 Motorola associates globally. Fred can be reached at email@example.com.
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