In a June 17 blog post on the Chief Learning Officer website, my good friend and colleague David Vance advocated for a specific learning strategy with “Avoid Marketing Learning to Employees.”
I believe David is correct about the training part of corporate investment, but not about all such corporate human capital investments. In fact, those of us in strategic initiatives and the Human Capital Lab at Bellevue University believe in the value creation potential of what we call “opt in” learning.
Part of the problem is we speak about corporate learning as though it’s one single thing. It’s not. For instance, there is a key strategic difference between opt-in learning and mandatory learning. In the latter case, some employees actually opt-out. They may avoid certain training even though it is required. Some don’t show up and the ones who do show up may tune out as soon as the material is being presented. It happens.
To circumvent this anti-learning behavior, corporate learning leaders will have to determine two distinct things: Who pays and who benefits? Then market accordingly. Ironically these are key financial considerations in a standard return on investment calculation. The I is the pay part. We are looking at the “who” of the
I. The second part of the conversation is the R — the return — specifically, who benefits from the investment?
In his blog, David alludes to the benefactor of corporate funded training, the corporation, which needs the specific human capital capacity that the training is designed to develop. In these learning situations the key criteria are:
Who has the primary need for learning outcomes? The corporation.
Who invests? The corporation. The dollars invested are corporate because it is employee time on the corporate clock. Training is funded by a specific corporate expense item in the budget.
Given these learning investment conditions, David is exactly correct. Marketing is not only unnecessary, it is inappropriate. Opt-in is not an option. The learning is mandatory. Thus, the only choice the employee has is to opt out.
But there is a separate class of learning going on that is totally separate and distinct from the aforementioned corporate training discussed. This second set of human capital investments is made under the budget title “corporate tuition assistance.” This pool of capital is managed by a totally different part of the organization, under a totally separate budget line item. Here are the criteria for this learning conversation:
Who has the primary need for the learning outcome? The employee.
Who invests? Both the corporation and the employee. The dollars invested are most often some combination of the corporation and the employee. The time investment is always the employee as the learning takes place off the clock.
For this second learning set, it is a very useful strategy to market the learning to the employees. The corporation wants the employee to be a kind of joint venture partner in their own learning. This corporate strategy helps the corporation attract new investors or talented employees. This expands the implicit balance sheet value for the corporate human capital, even though the accountants will not allow the actual value created to be entered onto the corporate balance sheet. The CEO captures the implicit balance sheet implications in the oft-heard mantra: “Our people are our most important asset.”
But even this well-worn balance sheet argument fails to capture the real value of an opt-in corporate learning strategy. By requiring the employee to be an investor and the corporation’s joint venture partner, the corporation is identifying one of the most important success factors needed for these investments to be successful. Opt-in implicitly identifies the most highly motivated employees for the corporate portion of the joint venture investment.
Finding the most highly motivated employees is worth its weight in gold when it comes to prioritizing corporate learning investments. In this case, marketing the investment’s benefits to employee is not only appropriate, but also it benefits the corporation immensely.