After all these years the struggle continues. Learning practitioners struggle to clearly understand and even interpret how their business leaders perceive their training efforts. This struggle is fundamentally about getting internal support for learning initiatives expected to deliver some type of organizational value. You're probably seeking the secret to getting your operational leaders on your side, to get them to see the value your learning efforts can deliver for them. I'm sure you've met repeatedly with internal departmental colleagues who believe training could help but are hesitant to allocate money toward it.
During your encounters, you've probably not heard them say, "we need more training!" What you probably heard are questions like, "how do we reduce costs?", "how can we speed up production?", "how can we become more efficient?", and "how can we increase revenues?", among many, many other operationally related questions. The common thread for all these questions is your colleague's need to improve performance in some way, so that they're capable of meeting clearly stipulated performance targets. But here's the thing, your leadership doesn't just focus on performance needs, this is one of their three preoccupations requiring your knowledge support. Their preoccupations, in no order of prioritization, are to:
None of this should be a surprise to you. Learning, or training as operational stakeholders refer to it, is central to ensuring they're able to effectively address all three preoccupations. Acquisition, along with the ability to apply relevant knowledge, is essential to addressing all variations of these preoccupations.
But of the three, leadership commonly associates training with improving operational performance. It's safe to say every stakeholder is under constant pressure to do better than they did previously. And now, in the current business environment, knowledge is what drives business performance. Why? Well, every organization has very similar products and services. If one company does something new, it's easy for their competitor to copy it. What's more challenging, however, is "copying" the knowledge a competitor possesses. You see, knowledge is something a competitor can't easily replicate and is what usually differentiates one business from another. It's also a central factor in how successful one company is over another…at least, until competitors figure it out and catch up.
One area of knowledge differentiation, and the one area with direct correlation to performance, is employee knowledge. Naturally, your leadership, especially operational leaders, expect their employees to possess and, more importantly, effectively apply the relevant skills and knowledge to improve operational performance and competitive differentiation. In one fell swoop, your role in this area addresses two of their preoccupations, operational performance and risk.
Let's focus on operations and its performance. The two things you must know about it is that, first, it's an interdependent activity. What this means is that you must hone your ability to recognize the many operational relationships that come together to improve the business. And second, future performance is always dependent on past performance. This is simply to say that establishing a trend is important for your leadership, especially when they are expected to predict future outcomes. Let's begin with the first point, performance as an interdependent process. If you believe your training effort can improve the performance of one business activity, expect this action to impact other operational activities connected to it.
Let's say a company wants to increase sales by 20% this year. Working with the sales team, you'd identify the relevant skills employees need to meet this Key Performance Indicator (KPI). Proactive practitioners, however, will investigate other operational processes potentially affected by the proposed sales increase. So, upon further analysis, you discover the manufacturing department will need to increase production by at least 20% or more to meet the sales objective. This means you will need to work closely with both sales and manufacturing so you can help their respective employees satisfy the company's expected increase in sales.
Naturally, leadership in my example didn't just pull the 20% sales increase out of thin air. This leads us to the second point: future performance is always dependent on past performance. Your operational stakeholders would have looked to recent and past sales performance to arrive at this number. They would analyze similar past periods to derive future expectations, like looking at the last three months for the past couple of years to extrapolate performance expectations for the following year's last three months. You have to compare apples with apples.
In our example, management is reflecting on the last couple of years (12-month periods) when they achieved an increase in sales of 14% and 17%, respectively. By including other economic and business factors, they believe that 20% is a realistic target for the coming year. If you're asking why any of this is relevant to you and your learning efforts and you don't see it, then, and not to be rude, you're the issue. But if you're beginning to see why, then you know this is essentially about learning relevance.
First, knowing this information allows you to clearly identify operational areas expected to meet key performance expectations. Second, once identified, you can have conversations with those operational areas to learn more about their role and needs and how to proactively collaborate with them to design and deploy targeted and relevant learning solutions. And third, you quickly discover the interdependent relationships among the operational areas, allowing you to better design learning initiatives that deliver value to all areas rather than adversely affecting them.
Your leadership, through forecasting future outcomes, clearly establishes well defined performance metrics (KPIs). They will always benchmark future KPI expectations against past performance to determine operational effectiveness. The objective is always performance improvement. But this is also a way for you to tangibly prove that your training efforts actually made a difference and the associated costs added value for the organization. The relevant thing for you to retain is that any training you propose to improve employee performance for one operational area will certainly affect the performance of other, related business activities. Performance is something business leaders worry about. Be sure to investigate performance relationships and then leverage them to prove the value of training.
As you can appreciate, one article will point you in the right direction but it only scratches the surface of the positive impact your learning efforts can have on the organization. Force yourself to go deeper and grow into the value you know learning can deliver to your business. eLearning Industry is offering a course to accompany you in your professional development. Enroll in their course, "How to Sell eLearning to Internal Stakeholders" at a limited special rate.
Please share your thoughts and feedback with us. We would enjoy hearing about your efforts. And who knows, it may be the topic of our next eLearning Industry article. Also, please check out our LinkedIn Learning courses to learn more about developing business credibility for your learning efforts. Please share your thoughts and remember #alwaysbelearning!
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