It’s hard to believe that three years have passed since I wrote the first article on learning annual reports in this column. Back then, the main driver to developing a learning annual report was to provide a vehicle for chief learning officers to communicate learning investment’s value to senior executives.
Fast-forward to 2007. Although the need to communicate value remains a driver, learning annual reports have become marketing tools to recruit new talent into the organization.
Generation Y employees are accustomed to constant stimulation and continual opportunities to develop themselves on the job, and learning annual reports present a way to highlight the myriad opportunities to learn.
They also document a company’s investment in learning and development. (Often, companies report this spending as a percentage of company profit or payroll expense.)
This investment is then compared with industry averages, as well as peer group averages. Finally, the learning investment is often further segmented by region and a company’s line of business.
Thus, new hires can get a very good view as to their potential development opportunities and compare this with how competitive firms approach an investment in learning and development.
So, how do you get started on the path to creating a learning annual report? For most organizations, creating a learning annual report is a fivefold process:
1. Assemble a cross-functional team. This can include professionals from learning and development, legal, and marketing and communications, as well as key business unit partners. The first goal is to agree on the vision and charter of the learning annual report. This means determining many things: the target audience, what you are trying to communicate, what you hope to accomplish in writing the learning annual report and how your company’s learning strategy aligns to the corporate business strategy. It is crucial to include a seasoned member of the learning and development department who has a comprehensive view of all the offerings, as well as a specific focus on how an investment in learning can lead to “hard” business results such as increases in retention, productivity and engagement.
2. Agree on metrics to use for benchmarking. This is important, as most learning annual reports benchmark the company’s learning investment and cost data compared with industry peer groups. Sources for such data include the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), trade associations and any learning and development councils that regularly collect such data.
3. Showcase major learning and development offerings. This is the place to identify all the formal, informal and social aspects of what the learning department offers to employees, customers, value chain members and people in the local community. As learning annual reports are used to recruit new talent, this section is the organization’s opportunity to tell the story of how a new hire will be able to access continuous learning, as well as acquire skills and competencies.
4. Identify the organization’s future direction. This means the company’s new growth areas and the new skills and competencies that will be in demand over the next two to three years. This puts a business focus on the learning annual report, and it is the learning department’s opportunity to demonstrate its understanding of the business’ direction and how learning is aligned to corporate business goals.
5. Publish, discuss and communicate. This is the CLO’s opportunity to “market” the findings of the learning annual report to all stakeholders. This could mean actually holding a annual stakeholder meeting (just like an annual shareholder meeting) during which the CLO discusses the what business accomplishments the learning department has made in the last year and how the learning department will partner with business units to increasingly achieve strategic business priorities in the coming year.
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