In 2006, I joined a group of esteemed industry experts who collaborated with the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) to publish a book about corporate learning. In it, we explained common lies regarding learning and focused specifically on lies around managing the learning function.
In that regard, have any substantial changes happened in the last five years? Not enough, in my opinion. The latest research from NIIT reveals only 12 percent of companies have learning programs driven by business goals and can demonstrate quantifiable business value. It seems the more things change in business, the more things stay the same in the training and learning department.
This brings us to three common lies about corporate learning:
Everything is under control. The investment value equation for most learning programs is broken. Money — as much as $1,000 per employee per year — is going out the door to hire dedicated learning teams and put people in classes. Yet businesses are not seeing the value from these investments. Many seem to think that just because learning is happening, everything is under control, but it’s not. Organizations don’t have answers to a key set of questions about corporate learning:
• How much is our organization spending on learning enterprise-wide?
• Are our learning programs making a difference? If so, how do we know that?
• What expectations do our customers have of our learning programs?
• Are our learning programs adequately leveraging our people, processes and technologies?
• Is our learning portfolio sufficiently addressing how to run the business and advance the strategy?
• Are we maximizing the amount of time our people spend on activities which add value?
• Are we as efficient and effective as possible?
• What are the quantifiable results and outcomes of the work we do?
It is problematic if even one of these questions cannot be answered with certainty, but a majority of organizations have trouble with some or all of them. In the absence of clear, valid answers to these questions, the learning function cannot successfully help business owners create business value and deliver business results.
Outsourcing learning is not a good business strategy. It’s common for leaders to think an outsourcing vendor cannot know their business as well as internal employees do. This is a smoke screen thrown up by those who simply don’t want to consider outsourcing. I thought the same thing 18 years ago when I faced my first outsourcing project at DuPont, but I learned that my vendor partner was a quick study, and that I really didn’t know my business very well.
People also think they will lose control if they outsource. On the contrary, most organizations experience a single point of accountability, improved control and final approval.
It’s all about learning. Here’s the truth — it’s not at all about learning — it’s really about results. Good learning that doesn’t deliver any business value is pretty much irrelevant. Business executives expect it, but they aren’t actually getting that business value, as evidenced by a 2009 research study from the ROI Institute: “96 percent of executives want to see the business impact of learning, yet only 8 percent receive it now; 74 percent of executives want to see ROI data, but only 4 percent have it now.”
So, why aren’t more learning programs structured to prove the ROI of what they do? It is clear that the practices involved in running a learning program like a business are directly linked to delivering value to an enterprise; it doesn’t exist for its own sake. In the latest research NIIT sponsored with Corporate University Xchange (CorpU), five must-dos for learning programs were identified:
1. Run at the speed of business.
2. Be lean and agile.
3. Ensure a laser focus on the business to drive business value.
4. Provide data-driven analytics to prove business value.
5. Drive innovation.
Do these five things and banish the other lies, and you can develop an advantage in the industry by creating some truth for your business.
Here’s the truth — it’s not at all about learning — it’s really about results.
Ed Trolley is the vice president of managed training services for NIIT and co-author of Running Training Like a Business: Delivering Unmistakable Value. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.