All learning and development interventions must be built around a learning need, and this might be strategy-driven. For example, there could be changes in the organisation or in its environment that call for a new focus or new skills, such as a greater move to customer service or the introduction of a new IT system. Alternatively, learning needs could be individually driven, by people who have identified a personal skills gap when they look at their role or their desired career path.
Meeting the need
A range of learning needs analysis techniques are available, to clarify whether the learning need is based on knowledge, skills or attitude. Specific learning needs will be part of an organisation-wide dynamic system of individual, team, group and organisational needs. Professional developers should be able to differentiate between these while recognising the inter-dependencies.
It is also important to differentiate between ‘needs’ and ‘wants’. Individuals may want a certain kind of development, but it may not be what they need.
Once the real needs have been identified, developers must decide what will work best for the individual and the organisation. For example, would it be best to meet their need through individual coaching, or through a large group intervention?
If you are going to work with external suppliers, choose a provider with the right cultural fit, and one that will transfer the learning to your organisation so you don’t become dependent on them. The provider should be truly interested in helping you to develop as a learning organisation.
Developers must understand and work within the culture of their organisation. For example, if the organisation has a remote workforce – or if it is spread over international time zones – and physically meeting together is difficult, e-learning or web-based learning may be appropriate.
Alternatively, you may decide that a learning need would be best met by something that is radically different to what has gone before. For example, it may be that self-managed research and learning is what is actually needed, but it may be difficult to sell that idea if people are used to going on training courses in smart hotels.
You should undertake some diagnosis on the culture of the organisation to find out what will be acceptable, and you will have to build in a reasonable amount of time to take people out of their comfort zone. Try to include some elements that you know they will find challenging, but not impossible.
People like to learn in different ways. Theoretically, you could coach each person individually – working one-to-one in their preferred learning style. This may work, but it would be very expensive.
To be cost effective, you need to work with groups and build in different options, such as experiential activities, reflection and reviews, input on theoretical concepts or pragmatic discussions focused on the reality of the workplace. That way, even people with very different learning styles can find something that will stick.
The latest theories on multiple intelligences (by Howard Gardner of Harvard University) and accelerated learning (by Eric Jensen and Colin Rose) offer well-researched ideas for alternative learning methods.
Developers should also help individuals to recognise the need to learn. This is important as the worst situation arises when people are ‘sent’ to be ‘trained’. They won’t learn unless they feel they want to learn, or appreciate the need to learn. So, part of a developer’s job is to enable them to identify what they want from a learning programme.
Some trainers make the mistake of trying too hard to ensure that people merely enjoy a course, instead of challenging the delegates to think about new ideas or behaviours. Such an approach risks limited impact in changing behaviours and attitudes.
The ‘wow’ factor, for many people, is often something that just makes sense to them at an individual level. The light bulb goes on and they begin to see things in a different way for the first time. Or they may realise that they have a choice about how they operate – they don’t always have to do things in the same way. Nonetheless, having fun can really assist the learning process.
Five top tips
Key points when designing learning and development interventions:
- Start systematically
- Be creative
- Acknowledge organisational politics
- Emulate other people’s good ideas
- Keep your client engaged