Right now the learning and development industry is going through one of the biggest transformations in a decade. Our latest research, Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends 2015, collected data from more than 3,000 organizations around the world and shows that when companies rank their people challenges, corporate learning is rated the problem with the biggest gap between “urgency” and “readiness.”
Corporate learning is having a tough time keeping up. Technical and functional skill sets are changing dynamically, and the way we learn has been transformed. When I started studying corporate training around the year 2000, we looked at e-learning as a transformational approach. Today, we have so much online content — MOOCs, online universities, video — that even the original idea of online courseware seems obsolete.
Corporate training departments are struggling. Large companies still typically have many disparate training groups — according to the Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends 2014, only 49 percent have a single learning leader — and most still have more than one learning management system.
The LMS market itself has exploded with new offerings, yet companies still consider it a system of administration, not a place to learn. Fewer than 15 percent of learning professionals have a detailed understanding of learners’ detailed, daily development needs; we are caught in a transition between building great programs and building a complete learning environment.
To solve this problem, align your learning and development team around the concept of a product manager. In software and product companies, the product manager understands customer needs in detail, works with engineering to build product features, works with the sales force to communicate and sell the offerings, and continuously monitors customer adoption and feedback. This is the new job of L&D.
We were at the headquarters of a large entertainment company a few months ago, and the company prides itself on its incredibly powerful training programs for theme park employees, young and midlevel leaders, technical professionals and functional leaders. But when we asked them, “What are people buying?” and “What do your customers want?” the room went quiet. They weren’t thinking this way.
Rather than think about training as delivering content, take the opposite approach. Product managers think about “learning what customers need” and “understanding customer pain and problems.” They study product interactions, survey and watch customers, and look at customer demographics and behaviors.
Then they sit down with engineers — content developers and instructional designers for learning leaders — and help design and craft products, or learning solutions, to meet these particular needs. Product managers understand from the beginning that customers won’t buy the product unless it’s good. They carefully monitor how the product, courses or offerings are positioned, and they make sure everyone who buys the product or comes to the course is happy and provides feedback.
Product managers are not instructional designers, engineers or instructors. They are not encumbered with the need to build and deliver the product. Product managers spend time to understand the market and customer, reviewing competitors or alternative ways to learn and working closely with customers.
Why don’t you have product managers in your learning organization? Who takes the time to own courses and programs and their success in the market? Do your designers and developers have the time to study learner needs, how they spend their day, and what specific details they need to do their jobs better? Performance consultants do this periodically, but who owns it on an ongoing basis?
Today, in the new world of content everywhere and experience trumping content as a key to success, it’s time we put learning product management onto the list of jobs in the learning and development or HR organization. This job can be one of the most rewarding and important roles on your team. Product managers can help you build even better learning solutions, stay aligned with learner needs, and make sure your valuable designers and developers are working on the leading programs.