Part One of the Business-Based Learning series introduced the five-level Business-Based Learning Model (see Figure 1) and explored how organizations could repackage training components and offer alternative delivery methods to achieve increased productivity and profits. Part Two of the Business-Based Learning series expands on the five levels introduced in the first article and focuses on strategies to increase bottom-line productivity so that learning activities can be viewed as a business tool.
|Figure 1: Business-Based Learning Model|
|Flexible||Packaging & Delivery|
|Extensible||Value & Investment|
|Scalable||Speed & Audience|
|Measurable||Tracking & Feedback|
|Adaptable||Accuracy & Relevance|
The basic question, “So, how do training activities become profitable?” does not have an easy answer. Some folks try to throw technology at difficult situations. But, poorly executed technology solutions will only worsen the environment. In fact, the simplest solution is often the best solution as long as it provides for diverse audience requirements and contains design elements that are scalable, adaptable, and measurable so that the sponsoring organization can realize the full value of the training investment. While this goal may seem overwhelming, once the components are divided into manageable elements and analyzed based on individual and aggregate performance measures, a strong business case will evolve. Essentially, the best set of tools to ensure success (aka, profitability) for corporate learning programs is a full understanding of the organization’s communications and operational flows.
D. Eleanor Westney, MIT Sloan School of Management, has spent many years working with multinational enterprises. She observes that geographic dispersion is more often the source of innovation and not the result. Cultural diversity, cross-functional operations and distributed knowledge creation points offer robust opportunities that may not always evolve from traditional centralized business models. From a cost perspective, some of these advantages include leveraging existing resources or sharing in the costs of knowledge creation. Conventional cost-allocation methods may not always measure the enterprise-wide performance improvements that are a result of the training activity. For example, an e-learning initiative for The Baan Company, a global ERP software manufacturer, did not receive full corporate support until the additional revenue that could be earned by the consultants was recognized as a corporate benefit and mapped back to the project that enabled consultants to spend more time at customer sites. In this instance, the global training organization became an integral contributor to the corporate bottom line.
|Figure 2: Business-Based Learning Model Components|
Training profitability begins with some very basic questions that identify the purpose for the investment – what needs to be learned and the business goals that will be achieved. These skill and knowledge requirements will determine the learning objectives and establish parallel performance metrics. Essentially, an effective corporate training business plan should reflect, even mirror, the overall business plan of the corporation.
Business-Based Learning Model
The five level Business-Based Learning Model (BBL) describes a methodology that applies business analysis to corporate training solutions. Successful adult learning strategies will vary based on the people, the content and the organizational environment. The BBL model proposes a strategy that focuses on those areas that can be measured and controlled. For example, the foundation for corporate learning programs should be targeted objectives that reflect the specific job requirements for the intended audience and corporate goals. Each of the five levels is representative of the core values that come together to assure a profitable corporate training program. (See Figure 2.)
The flexible layer is based on the nimbleness of the learning methods, as well as the training organization. Today’s business world is processing information at Internet speeds. Smaller training units enable learners to achieve immediate proficiency of a specific skill or knowledge. Modular design enables learners to integrate training into their weekly activities. It may not be possible for eight customer service agents to all be scheduled in the same two- to three-day training class. However, it might be possible for those same eight agents to alternate schedules so that they can participate in several self-study modules over a four- to six-week period. Threaded discussion boards could encourage communications between agents who work different shifts, enhancing the learning opportunity. A two-hour culminating event could be scheduled during a time when other staff people would cover the phones, or after hours, if absolutely necessary.
The second extensible layer of the BBL model sets the basis for the economic analysis. What are the benefits to the corporation? Will the training events increase revenues, enhance productivity or reduce costs? Essentially what is the value the corporation will reap from this investment? This is where learning consumers become learning investors. If learners understand how the behavioral changes effected by the training will inspire their personal performance and the anticipated impact on the corporation, they can be active participants. A simplistic example might be a new inventory system that receives information from field sales staff. The integrity of the original data entry is extremely important. What is the cost to the organization if initial data is incorrect? Sales people are notoriously resistant to training, but once they understand the cost of potential mistakes, the value of the training or the “why do we care” increases significantly.
Even when the value of the training project is established, disconnects happen. People are distracted by details such as technology and redirect efforts away from the original purpose of the project. It is very important that executives overseeing long-term projects continually review targeted corporate goals at each milestone.
The third layer, scalable, assures that the training solution is deployable across a broad audience. Expanding the initial infrastructure and programs beyond a tightly controlled pilot phase often requires additional oversight and stronger communication tactics. Part of the initial program planning should address the early adapters beyond the beta phase. Differences in organizational, cultural and individual styles must be acknowledged. A variety of support structures, mentoring techniques, as well as procedures to adapt the content presentation for a variety of audiences should be part of the early planning cycles.
The fourth measurable layer is the most important level of the BBL model because this is where the performance metrics and tracking methods are determined. The training program goals and objectives must demonstrate relevancy to the daily work efforts of the organization. Otherwise, what is the value of the effort spent preparing or participating in the training effort?
Feedback is an essential component of this fourth layer. It is an extremely important tool for both the learner and the developer. Learning management systems will provide many statistics to identify and track learner performance. With this information, training managers with the assistance of learning mentors can help participants fully utilize the training program. For example, if a learner started a training module, but has not completed it after two weeks, a mentor can intervene to discover if the learner has conflicting priorities or difficulties with the learning program. A lot can be learned from these discussions. The challenges preventing the learner from successfully completing the program may be as simple as adjusting completion date goal because they were assigned to a high-priority project. Or there could be a problem with the curriculum design that needs enhancement.
Corporate training organizations need to be able to recognize and adapt learning programs to respond to changes affecting the audience, content or technology with which they work. After all, changes often become the only workplace constant over time. The fifth adaptable layer of the BBL model addresses the need to establish procedures to maintain the accuracy and relevancy of the curriculum content.
The process of transforming learning into a strategic business tool begins by understanding the business environment of a corporation. Once corporate learning organizations align training activities with corporate goals and objectives, the performance metrics should prove the effectiveness of training as a proactive business tool.
Susan Schwartz is the founder and principal consultant of The River Birch Group, a performance improvement group that provides a broad range of services to global companies designing and launching online communities and next-generation blended learning solutions to increase business productivity. Her 18-plus years of experience in the adult learning field include a wide variety of both technical and professional skill enhancement initiatives. Susan is a noted speaker and author with a passion for helping companies learn how to drink from virtual water coolers.