Modern technology plays a critical role in the delivery of learning programs and in most employees’ performance. When technology systems align with development programs that address the just-in-time needs of an organization’s workforce, learning becomes the perfect tool with which to encourage high employee performance levels. But in order for that just-in-time synthesis between learning and performance to take place, senior-level learning executives must create effective learning that will facilitate user operation of existing applications and maximize functionality of all systems.
Frank Lonergan, vice president of product development and product support at RWD Technologies, said RWD’s customers have clearly stated that they need more in terms of performance support in order to engineer a robust and effective learning environment. The value proposition for senior-level learning leaders hinges partly on curtailing a phenomenon Lonergan called “knowledge evaporation,” which takes place in most fast-paced, global organizations where employees leave, retire or move frequently between divisions or departments. “These are adult learners we’re dealing with,” he said. “They’re trying to learn a new system and the formal training that normally takes place, meaning a classroom-type deliverable, is never going to be adequate to help them perform at a maximum level. You’re not going to get everything jammed into these poor people’s heads in one training event.”
The inadequacy of singular classroom or online learning interventions when educating employees to use new systems or different software revisions is relevant because time is a scarce resource in the quest to develop and enable a high-performing workforce, and one shot is often all there is. Senior-level learning executives should ask pointed questions to ensure that users fully use all application functionality. That way when employees move back into their real-world work stations and use systems in real time, they can maximize all of the system’s offerings as well as their own productivity. The questions should start with the vendor at the beginning of the implementation.
“On the business process side, (learning leaders) have to compare their business to what a vendor says they have available,” Lonergan explained. “Will what they have available enhance the business that we need to perform? They have to really understand, if we decide that we need this particular application or functionality, we need to look at this almost as a mini-implementation project. All of the pieces that we had in place when we first started down this path we need to think about. Do we have project sponsorship? How effective has all the training and performance support been relative to the individual who actually performs? When there is changeover in an organization, how do you transfer information and knowledge to individuals?”
Change management is another key piece to maximize application functionality. Senior-level learning executives must prepare people to understand and accept changes or additions to a commonly used or popular system. “People’s dissatisfaction with their enterprise implementations, very little of it relates to the technology per se,” Lonergan said. “They point to several other factors: We didn’t ready our organization. We didn’t do a change management control program to help manage that. We didn’t pay enough attention to the end users of the system to help prepare them. We didn’t take into account that overtime with large enterprise systems, there will be new upgrades, new revisions to the software.”
Lonergan said many learning leaders do a good job of preparing themselves for the initial systems implementation, but the trick is to always be ready to prepare end users for every change that takes place because new elements, such as collaboration, are important for the continuous learning and systems-use lifecycle. “There’s formal learning and then there’s this informal network of learning that takes place,” Lonergan said. “People standing around water coolers, talking at lunch, they understand how certain things should be done. How do you put that into a system? How do you get that information processed so that everybody has it available and then it becomes part of a standard as opposed to hearsay or an anecdotal piece shared among people?”
Sponsorship is often the key to enable change readiness in an organization, especially larger companies with thousands of employees. “It’s like, ‘OK, great. We’re making this change, but what are you going to do to help me be ready to not so much accept the change, but to continue to be a productive individual in the organization?’ (Learning leaders) have to provide them with the right level of support,” Lonergan said. “What would that look like? There’s going to be an awareness session or alerts or some information out that says, ‘Here’s where we’re going.’ Then there needs to be some element of training identified to give everybody a base level of understanding of what the system will do for us and how will it impact employees’ lives.
“Whether you’re implementing a system at the beginning or later on when you’re doing an upgrade or revision, you have to think about the end user,” Lonergan added. “You can’t just change the system and expect that the people on the other end will intuitively know how to use the system. It doesn’t work that way. That’s one of the key factors helping organizations understand their investment beyond what will the enterprise software bring back in terms of an ROI. It’s tying it back to the performance of the individuals on the system who are really driving this thing forward because their acceptance and their productivity are factors in that overall ROI.”
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