On the surface, trends and business are a perfect fit. But if the content description isn’t relevant, corporate learning trends can mislead businesses. Trends are notoriously fickle, but the Corporate University Xchange has come up with several corporate learning trends using best practice information gleaned from research and requests from their clients that bear consideration.
First, learning is increasingly recognized as a strategic method with which to solve an organization’s most critical business challenges. But in the past, it’s been senior-learning executives who carried that message to other senior leaders inside organizations. Now, it’s the CEOs who want to form corporate learning universities or create more formal approaches to learning and development. “Learning is often mandated now from the highest level because the CEO has come from another organization that had one, or the CEO would like to leave a legacy, or they just understand that learning is going to be so important to the success of their organization in the future, especially if they expand globally. They are really the drivers behind a lot of the change that’s happening in learning organizations today,” said Sue Todd, president, Corporate University Xchange.
A lack of leadership or weakness in organizational bench strength is also a prominent driver for the move to implement or transform a learning organization. Senior learning executives are coming up with new and innovative ways to create that bench strength. “People are not just sending executives to courses,” said Marcia Dresner, senior researcher/consultant, Corporate University Xchange. “They’re doing different things with them to create that pipeline and increasingly the focus is on transition points or teachable moments. As somebody is moved into a new position, companies realize that is when you need to reach them because the skills and talent you need at one level are different than they are at the next level.”
The need for a strong leadership pipeline and evolving learning needs, such as the focus on transition points, have impacted offerings and actions from some of the leading business schools. Where business schools fail to adapt, online universities are stepping in to pick up the slack. “We see a lot of them trying to reformat their message and their image because a lot of companies have decided that they’re not going to send executives to some of the leading business schools for weeks and months at a time,” Todd explained. “They are going to instead engage particular thought leaders from those colleges and universities, but they’re expecting a lot more customization. They’re expecting the colleges and business schools to be much more flexible and to reflect their industry and organization. Corporations are saying ‘We’ll bring in the people that we need to teach our executives what they need to know based on our changes, conditions and our strategy because we don’t think they’re going to get the real practical knowledge by just going off to a business school.’ Some of the online universities are just exploding in terms of their percentage of adult learners because they’re able to meet some of these more flexible learning needs in a much broader reach in terms of global workforce. They can have consistent programs around the globe through a single entity.”
The role of the learning and development executive also is evolving away from an order taker to that of the performance consultant. “There is a very strong trend in the best-practice organizations to move away from being an order taker,” Dresner said. “To move away from somebody who responds to ‘We need a course. Go and produce a course,’ to a much broader role as a performance consultant. Determine if learning is an issue and provide the appropriate kind of intervention rather than just throwing courses at a business problem.”
Todd said this move to the performance consultant role is indicative of a macro-level trend similar to the one the information technology (IT) industry experienced a few years ago. “IT was really considered an order taker. People would ask for new technologies and new systems. IT would come in and put them up, and they would be there and nobody would use them. The company would get no benefit, and there’d be a lot of money wasted on a solution that didn’t contribute to improved performance. Training has followed that exact path in terms of their maturity levels and is coming to that point now where they’re really starting to get some credibility in organizations that they really can have a significant impact on performance.”
“That goes along with an increase in accountability,” Dresner explained. “People need to be accountable. Business leaders are insisting that learning be accountable for results. Leaders do not want to hear learning professionals tell them how many courses they taught. They want to hear how sales are improving or how profits are improved as a result of learning. Many organizations are doing this by sitting down with their business leaders beforehand. That’s the other really important trend. The one that says ‘We are going to decide what the purpose of this intervention is before we do it. We need to agree on the metrics that will measure our success.’”