The business impact of learning is still seen by many as a mythological entity, like the sasquatch, or the unicorn. L&D professionals continue to complain about not getting a “seat at the table,” and spend considerable time and effort fighting for relevance. This isn’t because executives have some natural dislike for learning. Rather, they’ve never been shown the true impact L&D can have on the business. Why would they invite you to the really important meetings if they don’t know why you should be in the room?
To build a modern learning organization, L&D must shift from a cost center to a function with clear bottom-line value. This month’s curated insights focus on the ongoing challenge of connecting workplace learning to measurable business results—and what could happen to L&D teams if they can’t solve this problem very soon.
This is the first time I’ve featured a single tweet in a curated insights blog post, but it’s also the tweet that triggered the topic for this month. Arun perfectly captures the disconnect between many L&D teams and the organizations they support with his latest graphic.
Because they have historically struggled to connect their work to business results, many L&D teams now measure our successes (and failures) in very different ways than their stakeholders. Therefore, while the business may be suffering, L&D could very well be celebrating their own results in a dangerous vacuum. In fact, one example of this disconnect shaped my entire L&D mentality and ultimately led me down my current professional path. Several years ago, I was shocked when my employer suddenly laid off hundreds of employees due to financial troubles. I asked why L&D wasn’t better positioned to address the problems that caused so many people that I was supposed to be helping to lose their jobs. I didn’t get a good answer. Since that day, I have looked for ways to put the needs of the individual—not L&D—at the center of everything I do.
I urge you to share Arun’s graphic with your peers as a reminder of the importance of aligning L&D effort with business needs—and what can happen when this connection doesn’t exist.
I’m sharing this article for both good and bad reasons. Let’s start with the good, which is pretty brief. To effectively evolve workplace learning to meet the needs of modern business, we need to understand where our industry came from and how it has changed over the years. This Forbes article presents a concise history of our field that could be useful to practitioners who may be less familiar. It also mentions Jay Cross, which is always a plus. That’s about it for the good.
Now the bad. First, when you review this timeline, are you shocked to see how familiar many of these practices seem given how much the world of work has changed? You should be. Also, take note of the article’s focus on delivery methods rather than impact. The history of workplace learning is almost always the story of how content gets from designers to employees. This story almost always ends at consumption, not the subsequent impact. Given that an article of limited merit was written by a vendor and featured in a well-regarded publication, it makes you wonder just how much content like this shapes the business perspective of L&D. To provide real business value, we must help our stakeholders see past this limited definition of workplace learning and understand our true potential to impact the bottom line—regardless of our approach, content or technology.
“… 90% of business leaders believe learning and design programs are key to closing skill gaps. However, only 8% of CEOs in the report said they saw the business impact of L&D programs.” This probably isn’t the first time you’ve heard numbers like this, but, as an L&D pro, they should still scare the crap out of you! This HR Drive article references the 2017 Workplace Learning Report from LinkedIn and accurately assesses the disconnect between “the business” and L&D. If we don’t understand how the business operates, how can we properly support its needs and demonstrate clear value?
While it starts off strong, the article and the report on which it’s based come up a bit short in terms of providing a strategy for closing the disconnect. They are 100% right when they say L&D must demonstrate value to both the business and the individual employee. But HOW can L&D get beyond the typical “learning metrics” they reference, such as level 1 surveys and completions, to do this? That’s where our last curated article comes in super handy …
Four Steps to Drive Business Results from Corporate Learning from Biz Group
Biz Group outlines a simple but powerful process for connecting L&D actions to measurable business results in their latest blog post. The “secret” is to establish the connective tissue between L&D content and business outcomes. Specifically, L&D must collaborate with stakeholders to break down their most important business goals into a set of associated behavior and knowledge components. Similar to competency mapping, this exercise establishes a tangible connection between L&D resources, employee knowledge and job behaviors, and the resulting business impact. This process also allows for continued iteration of L&D strategy as gaps are identified, ensuring the connection remains intact and impact can be attributed to the provided L&D support.
By no means should you expect EVERY L&D activity to deliver a measurable ROI within the business. At the same time, it’s downright silly for L&D to believe it can continue to get by without showing bottom-line impact to the organization—just like every other department is expected to provide. It’s past time for L&D strategy to evolve and demonstrate a direct connection between our work and business results. We must be proactive with our organizational stakeholders to identify the most important outcomes and prioritize our work accordingly. If we can’t demonstrate clear value to both our partners and employees, they’ll find new ways to improve knowledge and skill, and we’ll be looking for jobs with the few organizations that haven’t figured out this connection yet.
Thanks for reading my monthly curated insights on the Axonify Blog! For more curated content, visit my Flipboard mags, where I post new articles—big and small—on a variety of workplace learning topics every day.
To learn more about measuring the impact of learning, check out our recorded webinar, which includes several examples from organizations who have firmly established the connection between L&D and business results.