A growing number of enterprises are centralizing learning capabilities and building shared service centers to enhance their learning efficiency and effectiveness. According to a 2005 study from Bersin & Associates, areas where shared services have the most positive business impact include learning management system administration, e-learning content development and integration, learning architecture, performance consulting, results measurement and new-hire orientation. Key business drivers for this development of shared learning services are to avoid redundant systems and resources, leverage the use of specialists, benefit from economies of scale, gain brand and quality compliance of courseware and maximize the use of outsourcing and offshoring.
Leadership development is centralized in most enterprises. Uniform competency frameworks ensure that learning interventions can be designed to support new-skills development and reinforce specific leadership behaviors that need to be consistent throughout the enterprise in order to drive innovation, change and results.
A significant number of learning initiatives are still developed and deployed on a more decentralized basis. In this organizational model, similar learning programs might be developed in different units, resulting in inconsistent knowledge transfer and wasting resources.
Some organizations are centralizing all learning budgets. However, this can be hard to achieve for a variety of reasons:
- Learning investments typically follow a P&L structure. Allocating the dollars separate from this framework could result in a disconnect between the business, which is responsible for results, and human capital development.
- The allocation of a centralized learning budget can be complex and time-consuming, challenging the need for fast-changing skill development in different business units and geographies.
- A centralized budget might be under constant scrutiny for cost savings when the overall enterprise is looking for measures to show more profitability.
The answer to this challenge lies in establishing a governance structure of learning councils that provide cross-enterprise oversight of important initiatives in a decentralized model. Some areas that must be taken into consideration include:
- Establish a number of learning governance councils: Different learning activities require the engagement of people with distinctive skills and roles. Examples might include a leadership development council, a learning technology council and councils for global business units. Leaders of these different councils should be represented in an overall global learning council.
- Develop objectives: Specific objectives must be set at the enterprise level to provide direction. For example, one objective could be cost-effective and high-quality learning content that supports the business model and strategy for the future.
- Define the scope: The scope of a learning council can be defined as narrow or broad. Examples of scope could include making recommendations in strategic areas of investment and priorities with respect to leadership development, sharing and communicating best learning practices, and reviewing and managing vendor relationships.
- Determine the operating principles: Clarity is required in a number of areas. For example: Which roles should be represented in the learning council? How frequently will different councils meet? What is the best reporting line for the councils? How are decisions to be made?
In our global, diversified, complex, networked organizations, it is definitely possible and assuredly most desirable to increase efficiency and effectiveness within the learning function by implementing a governance model that is aligned with the business. The learning governance council structure leverages competencies, insights and impact across enterprise boundaries, while retaining the maximum responsiveness to diverse geographic, business unit and cultural realities and requirements.
Nick van Dam, Ph.D., is the global chief learning officer for Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, a consultant in Deloitte’s Change, Learning and Leadership Practice, and founder and chairman of the E-Learning for Kids Foundation. He can be reached at email@example.com.