Every other month, we pose questions to Chief Learning Officer magazine’s Business Intelligence Board on a variety of topics to gauge the issues, opportunities and attitudes that make up the role of a senior training executive. For this month’s installment, respondents benchmarked their immediate enterprises (i.e., excluding supply-chain partners and customers) in terms of how strong the links are between the parts (each employee’s skills) and the performance of the whole (the enterprise). An analysis of the results suggests opportunities for the CLO to play a starring role in the omnipresent struggle to tighten these links.
In the December 2003 issue, Jack J. Phillips, Ph.D., described organizational commitment (OC) or engagement as encompassing employee satisfaction as well as the “extent to which employees identify with organizational goals, mission, philosophy, value, policies and practices.” OC is a driver of productivity. When people are engaged in their work and can easily relate their goals to those of the organization, they are set up to perform well. Employee incentive plans and the desire to nurture talent have been predicated on this concept for generations. Just how to measure OC and its causal effect on business performance is part of the human capital measurement work being done at business schools and services firms.
Despite the inherent importance of OC to the interests of the immediate enterprise, only 54 percent of respondents indicated that their organizations’ employees are well aware of their role in delivering on the organization’s strategy. Such a lack of awareness is typically worse at large enterprises. Even fewer, 47 percent of respondents, believe that job role competencies are well defined at their organizations. (See Figure 1.) By acting as champions and enablers of alignment for their organizations, CLOs can play an important role in optimizing business performance. Figure 2 shows the most common practices training professionals are using to ensure that they are valuable corporate partners.
A powerful means of increasing employee awareness of and commitment to organizational goals is an effective performance management system. An effective performance management system is holistic and fluid. It is holistic in that it considers and aligns measurable objectives related to all areas of the Balanced Scorecard. Practitioners often refer to this alignment as “cascading goals.” An effective performance management system is fluid in that it enables stakeholders to continually account for changes at the individual level (e.g., promotion), group level (e.g., assembly of a new product line) and organizational level (e.g., Six Sigma initiative).
Training has a role to play in performance management. CLOs can work with business managers to develop competencies for job roles that align to organizational goals and identify the most crucial skills gaps. Numerous learning services firms furnish competency libraries, which CLOs can use to facilitate identification of essential competencies within their organizations.
Figure 1 shows that only 55 percent of respondents feel that their performance management system integrates organizational goals, individual competencies and ongoing employee development plans. Such a disconnect is often due to the following:
- Using the term “performance management system” when referring to some organizations is an overstatement.
- The performance management systems that subsume performance reviews are neither holistic nor fluid and therefore are not useful when prescribing skill-developing activities.
- Employee performance reviews, the most tangible elements of performance management systems, are seen as cumbersome and of little value.
- Performance reviews are considered a stand-alone annual event, not part of an ongoing and efficient performance management system.
- Performance reviews are not goal-oriented.
- Training and development professionals are not spending enough time, if any time at all, at the performance management table.
Figure 3 indicates that this last reason is almost certainly the case at some organizations. Around 99 percent of respondents indicated their organizations currently use performance reviews, which is encouraging as a foundation for aligning individual and organizational goals. However, the majority of respondents (61 percent) said these reviews do not really influence the training and development employees are offered or seek.
Training professionals should take the statistics presented in Figures 1 and 3 as a directive to actively bridge gaps between their efforts and those of HR and business unit managers. Some already have—the majority of respondents stated that they are increasingly considering the review of performance appraisals to identify common skills gaps across the organization. Prior IDC research has shown that training professionals often have trouble obtaining clearly articulated goals from business managers. Greater adoption of performance management could be their ticket. Engaging these stakeholders in discussions of effective performance management systems may start to change managers’ opinions of training professionals, leading them to consider them as performance consultants, rather than an overhead cost. Just like these other stakeholders, learning executives should always be on the hunt for business initiatives that promise a sizeable payback.
Making Training and Learning Relevant to Employees
To more fully bring about this notion of performance consulting, the training and development function will have to prove it can skill and reskill employees efficiently, enable the adoption of corporate initiatives and facilitate the smooth promotion of employees. Figure 4 shows that Business Intelligence Board members feel that improvements need to be made in at least one of these areas—employee promotion. Only 56 percent agree with the assertion that employees at their organizations consider current training and development opportunities critical.
Many senior training professionals IDC has spoken to in recent months have indicated that they are trying to become better marketers in order to better serve their customer base (i.e., employees). They are trying to develop more relevant products and services, promote them in ways they think will resonate with employees, distribute formal and informal learning content through blended media and support learners through a variety of means. This 56 percent figure certainly suggests that many training and development functions have a long way to go before they can consider themselves customer-intimate (i.e., employee-intimate). One note of caution for those who are gung-ho about internal messages directed at employees: They should be consistent with the direction of the organization. Everyone should be pulling on the same oar to some degree.
Figure 5 shows the promotional tactics Business Intelligence Board members find most useful in generating interest in development offerings. It is interesting to note that the top five make use of Web-based applications. There is no doubt that these and related technologies will be applied to other areas of training and development. They will also have a role to play in developing and delivering training content that is suitable to individuals based on their job roles and learning preferences. Figure 6 certainly indicates that there is a growing desire on the part of senior training managers to customize curricula for their constituents based on competencies. The integration of technologies and learning processes will not stop there.
A Tale of Two Roles
These aggregate opinions of Business Intelligence Board members substantiate two growing developments that could boom or bust the careers of training professionals:
- Training professionals as performance consultants. Those who are successful will break down walls to collaborate with executives and business unit managers. They will apply an understanding of business goals to ensure they are imparting the appropriate skills to the workforce and leverage various data sources to measure the business impact of their training and development investments.
- Training professionals as marketers. An improved comprehension of organizational goals will help in developing and delivering the right offerings to individuals and groups of employees. Internal trainers and external learning services providers alike will increasingly leverage Web-based technologies in much the same way that marketers and marketing firms commonly do today—to satisfy the target audience and deliver business results.
Michael Brennan is program manager of learning services research at IDC, a global market intelligence and advisory firm. You can e-mail Michael at email@example.com.