Reduced spending, increasing globalization and a talent management focus are changing the learning organization. Today’s industry leaders excel in business alignment, organizational strategy, content development and learning delivery strategy.
Bersin & Associates recently updated one of its largest and most interesting research studies, “The High Impact Learning Organization.” This research study is designed to analyze the key trends and drivers of high-performing training organizations.
When we first embarked on this research in 2003, corporate training organizations were focusing on the adoption of learning technologies and LMSs, implementation of e-learning and creating shared service teams to manage the proliferation of technology.
Back then, the biggest drivers of impact were the adoption of performance consulting and development of what we called the federated organization model that establishes a clear distinction between the roles of a centralized training organization and business-unit training organizations.
In this recent update, we reached out to more than 800 corporate training leaders and again asked them to tell us about their major priorities, strengths, weaknesses and business drivers.
The world has changed.
While learning and development organizations continue to struggle with technology and organization, priorities have shifted. Here are the top issues on the minds of learning leaders this year:
1. Improving business alignment.
2. Reducing costs.
3. Improving program effectiveness.
4. Developing a business plan.
5. Integration with talent management strategies.
6. Improving efficiency.
7. Measurement of the learning function.
9. Improving the technology infrastructure.
As this data shows, today’s corporate training organization is trying to redefine itself in the world of reduced spending, increased globalization and a tremendous focus on integrated talent management. While technology continues to be a top issue, it is no longer the highest priority.
Business Alignment and Talent Management
The word alignment comes up frequently in our conversations with learning and development executives. It continues to be challenging to organize and deploy training resources in a world of constant business changes and tight budgets. In fact, among the high-impact organizations — those top 9 percent who are generating the greatest returns — there is a 400 percent higher adoption of business planning, steering committees and other processes that directly link the training department to different areas of the business.
We also know from our many conversations with CLOs that today’s L&D organizations are grappling with issues related to the major HR focus on integrated talent management. Integration of L&D with performance management and the development of career models and career development programs are priorities for many organizations. These initiatives demand even greater levels of business alignment.
Consider the tremendous value of career development programs in today’s business environment. We live in a world of aging workforces, critical skills shortages and tremendous gaps in leadership pipelines: the top challenge cited by HR executives. Additionally, we’re seeing the emergence of a multigenerational workforce, with as many as four generations working together in a single company.
Career development programs create internal mobility, aid in recruiting and hiring and build the leadership pipeline. Unfortunately, our research shows most organizations are not there yet: Only 12 percent of respondents have well-defined career development strategies, and only 2 percent have such programs for 80 percent or more of their employees. Forty-nine percent have no career paths at all in their organizations.
Dealing With Younger Employees
Is the influx of Gen X and Gen Y workers really impacting L&D organizations? The answer is yes — absolutely. Our research found that 40 percent of respondents rate the challenge of training workers under the age of 25 as either very significant or significant. Eighty percent of respondents believe learning styles of younger workers are either vastly different or different than those in their 30s and older.
Today’s young employees are connected almost 24×7. They are adept users of cell phones, blogs, social networking and instant messaging. They are far more likely to get help from their buddies or experts than they are to go to classes. And if they go to a course — either online or in a classroom — they expect to be able to search online to get specific information and support.
Unfortunately, today’s training organizations are not prepared for all these changes. Only 35 percent of surveyed respondents believe they are “excellent” or “good” at reaching younger workers with their L&D programs.
Consider the rapid evolution of e-learning. It was only six or seven years ago that the term “e-learning” was coined. Back then, Web-based courses typically were simple “page turners” that might include some audio or even video. Today, such courseware is considered old-fashioned and not particularly engaging.
The new best-in-class e-learning includes animated, learner-relevant characters, in-line video, discussion rooms and blogs, and content that dynamically adjusts to the learner’s needs and learning path. At the same time, organizations are focusing heavily on repurposing e-learning courses and materials into resources for learning on-demand that employees can search whenever needed to find specific answers and information.
These new demands clearly are forcing many changes, and organizations are not quite ready. The term “blended learning” has been redefined, from a combination of instructor and Web-based training to a blend of many types of interactive content. And while most organizations have years of experience with e-learning, few have become masters. Only 22 percent of research respondents rate their organizations as excellent in building e-learning, only 14 percent believe they are excellent at building collaborative programs and only 7 percent believe they are excellent at delivering learning on demand.
We recently spoke with CLOs from five major financial services organizations. All identified a major focus on bringing together their IT teams, HR and learning specialists to re-engineer their LMS and content infrastructures to provide on-demand solutions that include both formal training and informal knowledge and community support.
Our latest research also shows that one of the biggest predictors of high-impact learning is an organization’s ability to share and reuse content. Corporations are so content-rich today that it is more important to reuse and share content than it is to improve the ability to build new content.
Many leading organizations are delivering tremendously innovative new programs that include blogs, experts online, interactive courseware and live events. Most high-impact training programs will look like this in the future.
So What Drives Impact?
In this and other research, we try to determine the true drivers of business impact. Through our methodology, we sort through more than 60 possible dimensions of corporate training and identify those that drive highest levels of impact.
This study identifies 18 predictors of high-impact learning. If you want to maximize the business value of your L&D strategies in today’s market, these are the areas on which to focus.
As this data shows, talent management plays a major role in the high-impact learning organization. Content development and learning on-demand also are critical. But perhaps the most interesting and noteworthy finding in this year’s research is the importance of learning culture.
Importance of a Learning Culture
We define an organization’s learning culture as the whole set of processes, behaviors and investments that support the individual’s and organization’s ability to learn. Organizations that strongly value learning have excellent development planning processes; they commit high levels of funding to L&D over many years, they fund programs for coaching and other forms of informal training and they empower employees and organizations to make mistakes and put in place formal processes to learn from these mistakes — without necessarily punishing errors. Such openness to learning drives organizational flexibility and adaptability and creates what we call an enduring organization.
Can the L&D organization create such a culture? Yes, to a degree. A strong L&D organization, with the right leadership, can educate executives throughout the organization about the value of learning and can implement the pragmatic and efficient programs to make learning easy, relevant and available.
Corporate Learning Is More Important Than Ever
Among the more than 800 companies that participated in this research, we found 72 that were exemplary and met our criteria for high-impact learning organizations. These organizations, approximately 9 percent of the sample, are examples we all can learn from. They include industry leaders such as Citibank, GE and Tiffany.
Through excellence in areas such as business alignment, organizational strategy, content development and learning delivery strategy, they prove that a well-run L&D organization can be one of the most valuable contributors to any business.
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