I’d like to advocate for a 1 percent change in new learning approaches. But many who advocate for the evolution of learning strategy often use the language of vastly disruptive change:
- “Competency-based models will radically alter how your employees learn.”
- “Video knowledge segments will create a major shift in learning culture.”
- “Coaching and mentoring can trigger a large and measurable increase in retention rates of senior managers.”
Learning advocates point to or imply changes of 10, 20 or even 50 percent resulting from a new program, technology or strategy. I once listened to a leadership development supplier predict that an organization would experience a 15 percent annual increase in skill competency as a result of adopting that supplier’s new program.
Sure, major changes make for impressive predictions. But, let’s think about an alternative strategy. What if we targeted 1 percent changes? For example:
- Post-training event, sales will increase by 1 percent. If we are selling $10 million in product, 1 percent would be $100,000. That is not as impressive as a $1 million increase, but it is a real and believable target.
- Shifting from a classroom to a webinar model will increase employee engagement by 1 percent. We can easily imagine accomplishing that.
- Shifting leadership development to a case experiential model will increase employee engagement and retention by 1 percent. Doable.
- Collaborative and social learning methods will increase employee-to-employee support for performance by 1 percent per employee and 1 percent per program.
That is realistic and pragmatic.
- One percent may be a “low-ball” number. Sales might rise by 3 percent, which is three times the initial goal.
- One percent may occur in each program or time period. There may be a six-segment leadership program with a 1 percent gain per month or per experience. Pull them together and you are looking at a multiple-point impact.
- One percent may be significant enough to call a program a success, perhaps at a lower-than-expected cost, time commitment and set of expectations. If a manager can see a regular 1 percent gain in productivity or profit, call that a win.
The most persuasive dimension of the 1 percent approach is aligning a program with reality checks for both workers and top-level executives.
- Workers often roll their eyes hearing the latest and newest learning approach that promises to change life at work as they know it. Workers want to trust realistic program targets, and they want to be part of a success. Worker engagement is about trusting shared expectations, and 1 percent is a realistic and honest outcome.
- Top-level executives often have a low level of trust in the potential effect of learning expenditures. If we have a regular and committed approach to making a whole series of 1 percent gains, the concept of learning shifts from being an explosive, mind-boggling, change-the-organization, disruptive moment to being a realistic and sustainable change process.
Learning must become more like engineering. We must approach business improvement as a design and improvement process, and 1 percent gains are nothing to sneeze at. Engineers would celebrate a series of tactical changes that each impacted improvement and performance by 1 percent.
Finally, 1 percent targets might adjust our expenditure level per program, per content element or per learning intervention. Imagine if we designed shorter, more targeted learning resources at a lower cost per segment, each with a 1 percent or smaller outcome prediction. Learning strategy would have a larger number of assets for learners — at a lower price per asset — that could be designed and revised with more agility.
Let’s try the 1 percent approach. Take a few programs, lower the hype and expectation levels, and focus on 1 percent as a powerful and realistic outcome that is more sustainable, repeatable, adaptable and, most importantly, trustworthy. Learning requires trust, and 1 percent is an interesting framework to apply.
Elliott Masie is the chairman and CLO of The Masie Center’s Learning Consortium. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.
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