At a time of significant and perhaps even unprecedented change since the EU referendum, it is more important than ever for L&D to be responsive to fast-evolving business needs, says Laura Overton.
With a raft of potential changes facing organisations as a result of the UK’s vote to leave the European Union, L&D needs to support the workforce to navigate successfully through this period of changing demands and uncertainty.
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Yet, while L&D leaders want to meet the changing needs of business as quickly as possible, the majority don’t feel they are achieving this. This is according to the most recent findings from L&D research specialists Towards Maturity.
The 2015-16 Towards Maturity Benchmark Report, which explores the factors that set apart top performing learning companies, delivers indisputable evidence to support this view. It is based on responses from 600 learning professionals.
While 94% of L&D leaders are looking to provide a faster response to changing business conditions, only 22% believe they are achieving it.
This is a major challenge for L&D leaders. For many organisations there is a gulf between what is required at a given time and what is actually being delivered, and this needs to be addressed.
For L&D functions to thrive in the current climate, they need to organise themselves to be agile and responsive.
What is holding L&D back?
L&D has more resources than ever at its disposal for managing information and supporting workforce training.
There are a multitude of platforms and tools available, from learning management systems that support multi-device learning, to a culture that increasingly embraces social and self-driven learning, and the advent of virtual reality to support immersive learning.
So why do more than three-quarters of learning professionals believe that they are not able to respond quickly enough to changing business needs?
The Towards Maturity benchmark report points to two major obstacles for L&D. Firstly, being wedded to a fixed strategy is a major hindrance to agility.
Only 59% of L&D leaders agree that their strategy allows for changing business priorities and just 50% agree their learning initiatives are delivered in time to meet the needs of the business.
The second obstacle is that there is a clear lack of alignment between what L&D is delivering verses what the business priorities are.
According to the report, only 61% of L&D team activity is fully aligned with the strategic goals of the organisation.
Top-deck organisations (those in the top quartile of the Towards Maturity Index, reporting the best results) are four times as likely to agree that they are providing a faster response to business compared to those in bottom quartile.
So, what are these organisations doing differently? What is it that is enabling them to respond quickly to changing business needs?
L&D functions can look to four main areas for potential improvement:
1. Collaboration with business to understand its needs
The most crucial factor in building an agile L&D function is the alignment of learning with business needs.
Those organisations heading up the benchmark leader board are 40 times more likely to agree up front with senior managers the KPIs that they want to address, securing vital buy-in and increased chance of business impact.
According to Towards Maturity’s report, Making an Impact: How L&D Leaders Can Demonstrate Value, those that do work with managers up front are also more likely to get manager commitment throughout the learning process to support staff as their ideas and behaviour changes.
2. Learning Approaches
A fundamental difference between the top performing L&D functions and those in the lower decks is how they apply learning approaches.
Top deck organisations clearly look beyond a “course” as the solution, and are four times as likely to consider a course/courses as only one of many options for building skills and performance within their business.
It is clear that L&D must be able to respond more quickly than ever to fast-changing business needs.”
They are also four times more likely to employ learning approaches that support learning within the natural flow of work.
Having an armoury of multiple learning approaches opens up the opportunity to engage the right solution, at the right time for the right audience, quickly.
3. Learning technology
Another key factor is the use of technology to help L&D respond with speed. High-performing firms are more than three times as likely to encourage user generated content and communities of practice to share ideas.
Micro-content (information provided in under 10 minutes) can also help departments to be agile, with the top employers 10 times as likely to include bite-sized learning in their approach.
Enabling information to reach learners quickly and widely via these tools allows for fast response times in a fluid business environment.
4. Confidence in the tools available
Those organisations who feel they are meeting business needs in a timely way report that their staff are confident in incorporating new media into their learning design.
In addition, top-quartile companies are 35 times more likely than those in the bottom quartile to agree with the statement that their L&D teams have the skills to design solutions that exploit technology for digital advantage.
Empowering those responsible for learning design is a wise investment.
It is clear that L&D must be able to respond more quickly than ever to fast-changing business needs.
The agility required to do this will come from a combined strategy of early and continued collaboration with the business, on mutually-agreed goals, while leveraging the learning approaches and tools which facilitate fast and far-reaching delivery.
There is huge opportunity for L&D to shine in this time of change, but the foundations for agile response have to be laid.