I think we will all agree that business will never return back to the status quo. One thing that I am hearing from many of my colleagues in the training and development field is that businesses, for a change, are not totally slicing out this value added service. When reflecting back, I too often think, what has happen to our society as a whole in reference to learning and development? How did we get to this point in our nation that our education levels are now being surpassed by other countries? How have we, as a society, been reaffirming new leadership norms of corporate greed, un-sustainable rapid growth, unethical business practices, etc? Why has it taken the housing burst and a near banking industry collapse to have leadership and ethics studies added to some of the most prestigious MBA programs in our nation? Has our nation’s culture sliced out this integral part of developing ourselves and our leaders and have finally realized that when you stop developing people that spells T-R-O-U-B-L-E? I think we all agree that it is time to set a new norm for training and developing ourselves, our associates, and our leaders. With a forward thinking approach, the question we should be asking ourselves as a nation, “How are we going to adjust to the change of the new norms society and ‘life’ is requiring in business, developing ourselves, and leaders?”
I have had the recent privilege to take a little time off my busy schedule and attend the 2009 Atlanta ASTD Workforce Challenge Expo. The underlying topic of the expo seems to have a reoccurring theme of how learning and development has benefited the profitability of an organization. Selling Workforce Learning & Development to the C – Suite was the topic presented by Tina Busch, VP of Learning and Performance at Pitney Bowes, Inc. Tim Crowe, Executive VP of Human Resources at Home Depot spoke on how to find your place at the corporate table after the economic down turn. During this time of reflection, I have come to realize as a professional how easy it is to become complacent in development – there is no other comfort in life as to keeping the “status quo”. The question that comes to my mind, where to start in grasping the new learning and development norms and how should one invest T&D dollars? For some, this is a major change, a major adjustment that in order to have vital corporate and personal sustainability, learning and development has to be a required part of “everyday” life.
To begin the shift to the new norm, we have to review where our culture is in reference to learning and development. In my opinion, we as a country have failed to place a strong value of learning in our culture vs. other nations that have learning more strongly incorporated into their societies. Through Tina’s research in re-shaping Pitney Bowes Learning & Development culture, she has discovered that only 25% of businesses have a defined learning culture. That is really sad when you think of this in terms of the American Society, that maybe only 25% of business’ value learning and development as a core. Tim noted that part of Home Depot’s success in business growth has been attributed to bringing learning as part of the corporate culture in the form of a business partnership. Home Depot’s investment into training and development, while rewarding associates in achieving certain learning milestones, continues to provide a positive impact to the bottom line. According to Tom, buy-in is one of the most critical stages to continue the paradigm shift of learning and development into a business culture or even to society. Before this shift, selling to the C – Suite requires ourselves to be very diligent showing the added benefit to the bottom line P&L Statements. What if learning a new skill, either technical or a soft skill could impact the bottom line by 10%, would that ROI in learning be a worthwhile endeavor? In referring back to Tina’s presentation, she outlined the critical steps involved to obtain the goal of on boarding the C – Suite for your learning plan. Before presenting your learning plan to the C – Suite, let us focus first on our very on individual learning plans (or buy-ins) before we even think about selling to the C – Suite.
How many of us really have a personalized learning strategy that highlights our present skills and capabilities? If research states we are changing careers on average every five years, one thing to consider is having our learning goals and objectives to be in line with all the career shifts we will make during our lives. Is your personal learning plan preparing you for different careers, or are the different careers preparing you for various learning plans? Speaking of careers, I am interested to know how many of us have current learning plans that really align with our present careers, life goals, and personal accomplishments. Measuring success or completion of these goals is a critical step in the process. How is success defined in your personal learning plan? It is one thing to learn something, but to apply the learning is another process. One may ask how do you measure applied learning? My answer, results. How much of your learning matrix will measure the successful application of what you or your associates have learned? If you and/or your associates are not applying the learning they have received, take some time to find out why. It may be delivery methods, trainers, environment, or time to do a culture shift to accept learning as a way of life. Accountability is another key factor in successful personal development. We all have at one time in our lives prepared either a business or personal financial report. Have we ever thought about preparing a learning report for ourselves and/or organizations? In the learning report, what sacrifices are you willing to disclose or the risk associated to obtain the desired learning or to accomplish your learning objectives? Are you able to identify what learning is and what learning means for this report? How has your learning impacted others is the last focal point I would like to address. As you think about impact, find a structure or means in obtaining the type of learning desired that will impact you! Will it be via online, classroom, personal research, etc.? Selling a much focus plan to the C – Suite that encompasses the individual and corporate goals has a greater chance winning the buy-in required for successful learning.
The New Norm
Now that we have developed our own individualized plan for learning, how will the picture of the new learning norm appear in the years to come? For organizations to really benefit from the value of learning I agree with Tina and Tom that learning has to be part of the business plan. In developing that business plan, we have to take a moment and review who our clients are. Out of the client pool, identify who will have the most impact on the bottom line of the organization? That is where our focus as learning and development professionals should be! As we think about learning in our American society, new findings reveal how the “cookie cutter” approach may not be the most beneficial approach to developing people. If we truly believe that all humans are unique beings and all have different skills, abilities, interests, and capabilities. Would truly applying the “cookie cutter” method to learning and developing others going to be very effective? During the interview session with Tom, he mention the greatest impact learning and developing others to the bottom line was returning back to a more individualized approach to learning and development. One of the key components that I am finding with the new norm of leading and developing is finding where people are, and then develop the path to the desired level. More can be accomplish this way. To me, that is the only way true learning will “stick”. For our individual development, who or what have we incorporated into our individual lives to provided any 1:1 training to accomplish the goals listed in our individual learning plan? Consistency will be a major contributing factor of successful learning plans and having a relational based training program will not only provide the accountability but also a means to measure the success of the training as well. In this time of never ending corporate change, several organizations are re-thinking the structure to learning and development. This re-thinking approach has many organizations seeing the need to re-shape the learning culture to have only one voice in the organization. This one voice, in alignment with business strategy and goals, will be the new norm of learning and development in the 21st century. Remember, one voice is heard much better than many different voices – make sure your learning choir is singing the same note!
Learning & Development Future
As we think about the new norms of learning and development, one key thing to remember. Things will always change, so should your learning plan. Now is the perfect time to partner with your business for learning and development.