3 reasons why business leaders should care about learning

What do business leaders in your organization think about training? Do they like it? Do they find it a valuable use of time? Do they believe it has a positive impact on the business?

Let’s start even simpler: do your business leaders care about training at all (especially when it comes to frontline employees)?

The first half of my career was spent in management within big, high-volume customer service operations. Frankly, I didn’t think about training very much. Sure, I wanted my staff members to be capable of performing to my expectations. But I didn’t bother with details like learning management systems or adult learning theories. I was focused on the things for which I was held accountable: KPIs like attendance per staff hour and revenue per customer. Unfortunately, training was usually something that got in my way. I lost staff members for hours at a time and didn’t see any real improvement when they returned. But at least my name wasn’t on the delinquent list when it showed up in my email.

Eventually I came to understand the important of workplace learning—so much so that I do it for a living now. However, many managers still have the same mindset as I did 10+ years ago. Training isn’t at the top of their priority lists. The good news is L&D can take steps to help them see the true value of learning.

Here are 3 BIG reasons why business leaders should care about learning, along with a few tips on how to grab their attention.

#1 – Learning should be focused on business results.

Learning to “check a box” isn’t what it’s about. Instead, you should approach learning as a strategy for solving business problems by enabling people to grow their knowledge and change their behavior. This is a much more practical and familiar conversation for a business leader, who isn’t well-versed in L&D concepts. Historically, corporate training has usually been about two things: onboarding and compliance. The right learning strategy covers these topics, but also expands the focus to include employees’ ever-changing knowledge and skill requirements.

In industries like retail, contact centers and sales, products and technology are no longer competitive differentiators. Frontline people are. A personalized approach to learning that delivers content in easy-to-remember bite-sized chunks, and constantly measures what people know and don’t know (offering up reinforcement to fill the gaps), can strengthen this differentiation in ways traditional training strategies cannot.

TIP! Don’t approach business leaders with a story about learning. Instead, start the conversation with a focus on their biggest operational challenges. Show how you can help solve these business problems by helping their people improve their performance. Then, introduce right-fit principles as the foundation of your strategy.

#2 – Learning can fit easily into the work day.

Staffing is often a leader’s primary lever when it comes to budget management. Therefore, they schedule just the number of frontline people needed to get the work done. This is why training can become such a negative disruption to the operation. Pulling a contact center agent away from the phone for 1 hour represents lost revenue. If there isn’t a clear value proposition for this “unproductive time,” why would they volunteer their staff to participate?

Taking a microlearning approach addresses this challenge head-on by building a structured habit of learning into the employee workflow. Rather than losing frontline staff for 30 minutes to 2 hours, business leaders can stay focused on the operation because their teams are engaging in learning activities for just 5 minutes every day. Everyone has 5 minutes. And that 5 minutes of targeted, personalized learning activity can lead to considerable knowledge and behavior improvements over time.

TIP! Get familiar with your audience’s workflow before you engage business leaders in a conversation. Find the natural stopping points in the day so you can suggest a learning strategy that fits within the operation. Review the tools and devices staff uses on-the-job to determine how they can be used to support in-the-workflow learning activities.

#3 – When learning is done right, it actually works.

Whether its how Bloomingdale’s saves $2.2 million per year or how BT shortened call-handling time by 14 seconds, you can find plenty of real-world stories to validate your case for the right kind of learning strategy. And these stories don’t focus on one-time L&D ROIs, like reductions in training hours or printing costs. They show how a frontline-first approach to learning delivers results in the areas about which business leaders already care, including sales, shrink, productivity and risk. So, rather than try to convince them to try out a new learning strategy, you can focus the conversation on the business results they already want to see and credibly show how the learning strategy can get the job done.

TIP! Share relevant case studies with business leaders to set up for your learning conversations. Find out how similar organizations are applying smarter learning principles and showcase their success. Use case studies from companies your managers know and respect, even if they aren’t in your industry.  

The bottom line

Business leaders have had plenty of reasons to be less-than-enthusiastic about workplace training over the years. To many, learning is still something that looks and feels like school. But the real work frontline employees are doing to drive business outcomes doesn’t leave extra time for school work. Learning designed for the way this unique group of employees actually works provides an approach that fits within the operation and focuses on two things leaders already care about: people and results.

Want more tips on speaking your business leaders’ language? See how you can measure training’s impact on your business.

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JD Dillon became an expert on frontline training and enablement over two decades working in operations and talent development with dynamic organizations, including Disney, Kaplan and AMC. A respected author and speaker in the workplace learning community, JD also continues to apply his passion for helping frontline employees around the world do their best work every day in his role as Axonify's Chief Learning Architect.

Let’s work together to drive frontline performance in all the right ways.