Last week, I was reading an article in Inc. Magazine on the importance of fostering a learning culture within an organization. One particular quote by Dr. Arie de Geus (former head of strategic planning for Royal Dutch/Shell Oil) stood out to me: “The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage.” Now, I’m a sucker for a great quote, but I couldn’t agree more.
From a business standpoint, it’s relatively easy to invest millions of dollars into the development of a new widget that promises to increase profitability. However, when it comes to learning, the same type of dollar investment can be a hard pill for executives to swallow—particularly if they can’t measure the business impact of employee training.
The missing link is data. Organizations need to be able to show how learning can change behavior to drive targeted business outcomes that, ultimately, increase competitive advantage. Here’s how UPS has done just that.
Developing the UPS Mindset
In 2004, UPS announced a new policy for drivers—one that initially received a lot of flak. As you can probably guess by the headline of this post, UPS drivers don’t turn left (or at least try to avoid it). It sounds silly, but by analyzing driver data, UPS engineers discovered that left-hand turns were negatively impacting efficiency—often delaying drivers in left-hand turn lanes and wasting time and fuel. By virtually eliminating left-hand turns, UPS has saved an estimated 10 million gallons of gas and 100,000 metric tons of carbon emissions—all while increasing the safety of its workforce and saving time. Oh, and did I mention this is saving UPS a ton of money?
Focusing on Data and Analytics
Although UPS trucks look the same as they did more than 20 years ago, they’ve changed significantly beneath the surface. Sensors now report data on almost every aspect of a driver’s journey throughout the day, such as opening/closing the door, how often/fast the driver backs up the vehicle, and even when a part on the truck is about to break.
At the end of the day, all this data funnels into UPS’s computers where data scientists are trained to think about solutions that will lead to significant savings. “Just one minute per driver per day over the course of a year adds up to $14.5 million,” states UPS head of data, Jack Levis.
Adopting a Market Leader Mindset
One of the reasons UPS has been able to stay ahead of its competitors is because of its focus on analytics and efficiency. Take left turns, for instance. Without consistently tracking drivers’ whereabouts, the company would have never been able to come up with a solution to not only save time and money, but also improve the safety of its workforce.
The time is now for data-driven learning. Learning and development folks need to be more than just educators; they need to take on the role of “data scientist.” Instead of simply developing courses that check a box, L&D needs to identify employee behaviors that can be influenced through learning initiatives to help the organization achieve strategic objectives. For example: What types of learning programs can help reduce shrink? How can learning initiatives help improve safety? How can organizations change the way employees learn to boost their knowledge and retention of information?
Results also need to be tracked and measured to show how they connect back to specific learning initiatives. This strategic approach to learning will allow L&D to prove its value to the c-suite and help the company gain a sustainable competitive edge.
Written by Wes Bush