Readers of this blog know I am passionate about running learning like a business. This means starting with a business plan for learning that contains SMART goals, and then executing that plan with discipline through monthly meetings using reports showing progress against plan. The plan would contain your planned contribution toward company goals and planned improvements in effectiveness and efficiency measures.
For example, the learning and development leadership team, working with the CEO and owners of company goals, may have decided that learning could contribute to four of the six highest-priority goals and, by working closely with those owners, agreed on a reasonable planned impact and the steps required to achieve it. Furthermore, the learning leadership team would have agreed on opportunities for improvement within the department and set plans for improvement that might include improving utilizations rates, reducing development time or improving participant satisfactions scores.
To many of us, this approach — start with a plan and then execute it — seems like common sense. It is what most of our colleagues in other departments are already expected to do. We knew most practitioners had not been exposed to this approach at university or on the job, so it would be new and there would be the usual resistance to anything new. What has surprised us is, though, is the amount of resistance, or perhaps just plain lack of interest, from many department heads and human resources leaders. Generally speaking, staff — especially in measurement and evaluation — have been very receptive. They see the value immediately, but they often struggle to get their leaders on board. When we talk with these leaders we hear common questions:
- “No one is asking me to do this, so why should I?”
- "I have succeeded so far in my career without using an approach like this so why should I change now?”
- “Why would I commit to targets or plans when I may not be able to achieve them?”
These highlight the challenge we face in transforming our profession. We are suggesting a higher level of transparency and accountability, which scares many. This approach requires real, active management of the function, which some don’t believe is necessary for success. Furthermore, adopting this approach now in their career raises the question of why they weren’t always managing this way.
Many leaders see only a downside from adopting this approach because it will require more work and expose them to greater scrutiny. And it is true that some plans will not be realized despite hard work and good intentions, so they may have to explain why plan was not achieved.
The upside, however, is that they will become better managers, and L&D will have a greater impact on the organization. They will have a greater effect by doing a better job of strategically aligning their initiatives to company goals, agreeing upfront on measures of success, establishing plans with specific, measurable goals to improve effectiveness and efficiency, and executing the plan with discipline. They will become the highly valued, strategic business partners they aspire to be.
Bottom line: While there is more resistance from senior leaders than we had expected, we are more convinced than ever that the profession needs this type of business discipline. The transformation may take longer than expected, but it will come. And if it does not come from those currently in L&D leadership roles, it will come from the next generation of leaders who are already adopting these principles. It will also come from leaders outside L&D or HR who are moved into L&D precisely to bring much needed business discipline.
In any case, it will come.