If executed correctly, a quality learning program will provide your employees with the requisite skills they need to do their jobs well, thus increasing their motivation to work more efficiently, effectively and successfully. People don’t come to work to fail — they come to succeed, and we need to help them do that.
The benefits of more knowledgeable, more effective employees to your bottom line are obvious (increased revenue, projects delivered on time and on budget, etc.), but this investment in your employees will also yield less turnover, making you an employer of choice rather than a place where people come to pick up a paycheck.
Providing such opportunities shows your employees you care about their development and that you’re willing to invest to provide them with the chance to grow.
Deciding to embrace quality learning within your organization is an essential step toward success, but that’s not enough. There are many common pitfalls that organizations encounter on the long, fretful road to launching organizationwide learning initiatives — from communication and planning troubles to a lack of awareness and executive buy in.
To help you avoid these problems, ESI International spent more than a year analyzing some of the most successful performance improvement programs developed for various Global Fortune 500 firms over the last 25 years. ESI analyzed multinational companies that had 100 to 5,000 employees and were within the financial services, pharmaceutical, enterprise IT and telecommunications industries.
Through this research, five essential guidelines have been identified that can build high-quality learning. When implemented in a systematic, outcome-oriented way, these guidelines can act as a blueprint to achieve the greatest return on performance-improvement investment.
Executive and Midlevel Management Involvement
Fundamentally, executive and management support will be one of the primary drivers for promoting learning and ensuring its acceptance within your organization. It is absolutely essential that you facilitate open communication among your executives from the beginning of a learning engagement, strategizing on the best approaches to get things going.
In short, your executives and managers should be just as interested in and knowledgeable about your learning program’s goals and details as those who are signing up for and taking the actual courses.
Just as essential is making sure your executives understand the learning’s realities and process. By nature, executives often demand quick, even instant results, but as anyone who has ever tried to learn how to drive a golf ball straighter or learn to speak another language can tell you, learning new skills takes time.
Learning (and, more important, the application of new knowledge) is an exercise that requires constant practice. Therefore, executives and managers should be willing to help their employees move from learning to application by setting realistic expectations for success and offering additional learning, mentoring and support as needed.
Relevance and the Evolution of Needs
Managers ask employees to attend many events each year such as internal seminars, conferences, trade shows and, of course, countless meetings. With so much competing for their time and attention, one thing is certain: The moment employees sense they’ve been asked to attend a learning program that seemingly doesn’t apply to them, they’re going to tune out, take out their BlackBerries and start responding to e-mails. Some participants will simply get up and leave.
As obvious as relevance might seem when developing a learning program, it is one of the most common pitfalls to success. Employees need to understand right away that the program is valuable to them and the organization in a tangible way. It must be made perfectly clear that they should expect the learning to improve their on-the-job performance and project success rate, enhance their abilities and job satisfaction and contribute to their individual career growth.
There are two ways to instill relevance into a learning program: through the development of employees’ career paths and by creating certificate programs.
If a learning program is required for upward mobility, and if employees see a direct link between learning and the advancement of their careers, they’ll be more likely to seek it. Also, if the program offers specific, tangible awards for completion, such as completion certificates or other noteworthy credentials, employees will be rewarded with a sense of achievement upon finishing their learning, and they will feel their hard work has set them apart among their peers. In addition, if the program also makes them more employable on the open market (just in case things don’t work out in their current role), they will literally rush to participate in the learning program.
Another important aspect to a program’s relevance is whether it can evolve with the organization’s changing goals — no company’s needs are static, so your learning program can’t be either.
This requires an ongoing review of your evolving needs, as well your being able to translate your changing demands into a comprehensive solution for your employees. To aid in this process, your performance improvement partner should be prepared to customize both the content and its delivery when necessary to address your requirements.
Creating Program Awareness
Too often, organizations do a commendable job designing a learning solution but then give short shrift to marketing that program internally. The result is that fewer participants than expected actually benefit from the program. One of your main goals when launching a learning program should be to ensure that ignorance of the program’s existence simply won’t be an excuse for poor attendance.
Further, you must abandon the “If we build it, they will come” approach to learning and engage in the active marketing of the program. This can be particularly challenging in larger and multinational companies, but regardless of your organization’s size, you can create awareness of and interest in your learning program through print materials, electronic communications and special companywide promotions.
For example, something as simple as using a letter from a C-level executive (particularly the CLO, if there is one) as the introduction to a course catalog will create awareness, help demonstrate executive support for the program and address its benefits on an individual and organizational level.
If you encounter challenges getting your employees to enroll or creating awareness, your performance improvement partner should be able to provide ideas and help you create and execute a viable marketing and communication plan.
As with any business initiative, a learning program requires many behind-the-scenes details that must be ironed out to ensure a smooth, successful experience for your employees. Many critical business processes (specific to your organization’s needs and culture) should be discussed with your performance improvement partner before an engagement. These include:
- Ensuring contracts are reviewed and that all involved parties understand them.
- Discussing the process for scheduling and delivering courses.
- Solidifying a plan for post-course administration such as exams, tracking of course completions and evaluations.
- Confirming the types of reports that can be generated such as student-level, group-level or program-level information.
- Discussing a process for regular and timely communication to prevent surprises.
Once your behind-the-scenes work is completed, you must consider whether your learning provider has the delivery options required to meet your organizational needs. All too often, organizations simply register a handful of employees for a single course and then send them off to learn on their own, regardless of their individual learning styles or workloads. A more effective approach is to offer your employees flexible learning delivery options, allowing them to customize a suitable program.
Regardless of the specific delivery option you or your employees choose, one thing should remain constant: The courses should be designed with the adult learner in mind. This is an often-forgotten principle in professional development programs all around the world.
For example, imagine if, after eating lunch this afternoon, you were asked to attend and take notes on a two-hour lecture on microeconomics. You might find it difficult to stay engaged.
As children, even as college students, we processed information much differently from how we do now. To successfully transfer information, adult learners must be presented with practical, applicable information, and the courses must be as fast-moving and as interactive as possible.
Measuring Program Success
If you view your learning program as an investment, you’ll certainly be interested in measuring its return. The reason is simple: At some point, your COO or CEO will ask, “What did we get from our learning investment?”
This inevitable question can be answered successfully through many information-gathering techniques, including comparing pre- and post-course assessment results, tracking the completion of certification goals, taking continual productivity measurements, analyzing course evaluations and tracking future projects’ success rate. Also, detailed organizational assessments, made up of quantitative and qualitative measures, can serve as a baseline or starting point when completed in the planning stages.
A significant step in ensuring program success is developing and implementing a plan to determine what measures will be valuable to your organization before the program launch and, more specifically, how you want that information to be presented.
Your performance improvement partner should be as concerned with this information as you are. It’s one thing to be able to deliver a comprehensive training program — it’s another to help clients maximize their return on investment from that program.
Any partner you select must have one strategic perspective in mind: Its success is tied to yours. That’s why it is important early in the development process to ensure it will be able to provide you with the same level of attention and support after learning as it does before and during.
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