At a recent chapter meeting of the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), I began a presentation by asking, “By a show of hands, who has heard of Dr. Donald Kirkpatrick?” Almost every hand in the room went up.
Next, I asked, “Who has seen Dr. Donald Kirkpatrick’s presentation on the Four Levels of Evaluation?” Almost all the hands in the room stayed up.
Finally, I asked, “Who has ever sung the Green Bay Packers’ fight song?” Almost every hand stayed up, as you would expect if you have ever seen a Kirkpatrick presentation.
Kirkpatrick is a huge fan of the Green Bay Packers and their legendary coach, Vince Lombardi. During a preseason interview, reporters asked Lombardi how he was going to get the Packers to the championships in the coming season.
Lombardi, the consummate pragmatist, said, “We are not going to be flashy. We are going to be brilliant on the basics. We will run, throw, catch, tackle and block better than every team in the league. That is how we will go to the championships this year.”
Perhaps we in the learning and performance industry are too caught up in the theory and abstractions of our industry. As the role of the CLO has evolved and assumed a larger presence in many companies, the amount of speculation and philosophizing about this position and learning and performance has grown, as well. To borrow from Lombardi’s philosophy, perhaps we have lost touch with the “basics” that we must perform “brilliantly” to be successful.
Seven key skills make up the basics, a comprehensive portfolio of the skills learning leaders should have, regardless of their heritage:
Define Your Position
This is the first step in developing the brilliant learning and performance organization. Your strategy defines why your organization exists and how it will be an integral part of your company’s success. Learning leaders must develop the strategy, alignments and organization that facilitate corporate business objectives. Key to the success of the workforce learning and performance organization is ensuring its activities are aligned closely with companywide strategic goals.
Often, it’s useful to develop a written mission statement and vision for your organization that describes your role in the company, the services you will offer, to whom you will offer them and what you expect them to accomplish.
The mission statement should describe how you will provide bottom-line business impact and contribute to shareholder value by ensuring all learning initiatives are aligned closely with overall business objectives. This represents the “who,” “what,” “when” and “how” of what your organization wants to accomplish.
A typical mission statement might be, “The learning and performance organization exists to provide resources to the company and its business units that support the achievement of their business objectives. This includes the identification, development and execution of business performance initiatives in leadership, sales, operations and customer service.”
For example, your companywide strategic goal might be to increase customer satisfaction ratings from 60 percent to 80 percent over the course of three years. Learning and performance can support this goal as it cascades through the company into actionable initiatives. An example of this might be the introduction of a customer service process and the training the customer service staff needs in that process.
Another example might be a new software application to improve customer support that needs learning for its success. You can maximize your alignment by identifying this as strategic and prioritizing its support.
Make the Team
The brilliant learning and performance organization participates in key business decisions and initiatives. Business presence is the perception that your organization is the go-to group to get things done and support the achievement of business objectives. In building business presence, your organization must become a consultative business partner and agent of change by balancing both the tangibles and intangibles of success, such as the leadership, technical, interpersonal, organizational and political skills relevant to your culture.
Business presence is probably the most subjective of the competencies, and it highly depends on your organization’s culture and leadership styles. Generally, these are some useful skills:
Building business presence is being successful in the historical roles learning and performance has played in the organization, as well as implementing your vision of what it should be.
By developing a strategy, alignment and presence, you will participate in key business initiatives and provide performance solutions that are innovative, actionable, effective and produce a positive business return.
Learning and performance organizations should approach solutions using three perspectives. The first is to determine whether the solution to the challenge is really a learning and performance one. There are numerous factors that work together to achieve business success, including leadership, infrastructure, hiring policies, workload, organizational facilitation and market conditions. As a valued business consultant, you must provide the input and recommendations for a business solution that will achieve its objectives, as well as communicate that learning might not be the solution.
There have been situations in which a large percentage of the learning solution was directed at overcoming cumbersome business processes or antiquated legacy business systems. Realistically, learning is often the fastest and least-expensive solution to a given business problem — although perhaps not the ideal solution. It might be more effective to implement a $200,000 solution rather than a $10 million rewrite of the legacy business system. As a learning leader, you have to understand these trade-offs.
The second perspective is to identify the most effective solution from the large number of performance solutions available. The introduction of instructional strategies, technologies, delivery media and changing workforce demographics has given learning and performance a wider variety of possible solutions. Learning can occur over the Internet or an intranet. It can be self-service, self-paced or both, and it might include virtual classrooms, coaching and communities of practice.
The third perspective is evaluating the organizational characteristics and readiness of the training audience. Will the solution obtain management support? Is it consistent with organizational values and standards and is the organization open to change? The most well-constructed and elegant solution can fail without organizational buy-in — it needs to fit the organization’s culture and values but still push people out of their boxes.
The successful learning organization will have more project requests than it has the resources to complete. The brilliant learning organization must maximize business impact by developing a project-intake process and portfolio-management strategy that optimize available resources and produce the highest positive business return. Project intake strategies range from doing whatever comes in the door to more structured processes.
Most learning and performance organizations prioritize projects this way:
1. Mandated projects such as compliance training (e.g., Sarbanes-Oxley).
2. Projects supporting larger strategic initiatives (e.g., new customer service process, leadership and management training).
3. Projects in response to immediate problems not identified previously (e.g., shortcomings in sales, rapid declines in customer satisfaction, increases in product rework and callbacks).
Companies might use a learning council made up of key stakeholders and business leaders who jointly decide on training projects. The decision also might be centralized in the learning leader’s hands.
A selection process means some proposed learning and performance initiatives will not be selected. It’s important to have a process for handling the projects not selected for the portfolio.
The learning and performance organization must develop, implement and administer learning solutions efficiently and cost-effectively. The resource requirements for performance projects have grown more complex with the introduction of learning strategies, technologies and delivery options.
The range of skills within the learning and performance organization has broadened to include not only instructional designers but graphic artists, Web programmers, application programmers, systems administrators and end-user support. As a result, project teams are larger and more complicated, and they require increased project planning and management.
Performance projects also have gained higher visibility and a larger number of project stakeholders. This can add to the discovery process, midstream adjustments and associated project expansion that must be managed to ensure timely project implementation.
The brilliant learning and performance organization must measure the impact of its programs. There are numerous methodologies, criteria and tools to measure learning results. These include Kirkpatrick’s levels of evaluation, Jack Phillips’ ROI and others.
These methodologies are important in measuring the change in knowledge or individual performance training produced in students, but they might not link this change to a business result. The quantitative goals for a learning program should be established during the project intake phase, the thinking being that the project will achieve its desired business impact if it meets certain quantifiable objectives such as learners demonstrating a certain knowledge or skill level.
The introduction of learning management systems and associated analytic tools has helped streamline the measurement process. Often, learning’s direct impact is not quantifiable, so other measures serve as indicators of the targeted business results.
For example, the team responsible for a proposed solution and its justification might feel that if 90 percent of the customer service agents simply complete the learning, the project will produce the desired results. Another team might expect 90 percent of the customer service agents to pass a final test for the learning to meet its business-impact objectives.
In some cases, there is an existing baseline performance level to measure learning’s impact such as customer service agent call times, sales figures, product rework or technician callbacks. Typically, these numbers are tracked and readily available. The availability of these numbers also might serve to identify business needs and associated learning projects.
Success is relative to the culture and point of view by which you are measuring it. Potential points of view are those of the stockholder, CEO, executive vice president, director or individual. Each level has its own criteria and need for detail.
Often, a sound bite is as effective as a detailed analysis. The details of the message drop out as the message is communicated up the organization. When all is said and done, you want to communicate a positive sound bite. A good rule of thumb is: Don’t pay for information that you are not going to need, look at or use.
Manage the Organization
The brilliant learning and performance organization must provide maximum business impact by continually looking for areas of improved process and effectiveness. Limited and often decreasing resources must be optimized and made increasingly efficient to support business goals. Some areas to evaluate include:
The brilliant learning and performance organization will reduce content-development costs though the introduction of improved processes, organizational efficiencies and process-management tools. It will decrease content maintenance and update costs by introducing improved processes and procedures, as well as by increasing the useful life of training assets.
The brilliant learning and performance organization will increase content-deployment efficiency by eliminating redundancy, repurposing content to less-expensive delivery media, improving course availability and usage, introducing asset-management tools and reducing travel costs.
Becoming brilliant on the basics will enable your organization to effectively meet the demands of today’s business environment. Learning the Green Bay Packers’ fight song wouldn’t hurt either.
Mark Bower is the president and founder of Edge Interactive. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.