L&D 2.0 – Why Learning in Business needs a Makeover?


learning_0 (1)Let’s get to the point – L&D, when too simple – is a farce and when too complicated – doesn’t deliver. I am not saying this, but a lot of organizations have come to prove this statement true over the past few years. The ROI myth is still going strong and neither people (learners) nor learning leaders seem to be able to take accountability.

How? – you would ask.

With research, technology, expertise, education and the good old fashioned trial and error, we know that people, culture, leadership and organizational learning are more critical today than ever before. We also know that its possible to drive if all small pieces in play come together. And we also know that this entire process is -Fragile!

For an organization to learn , there are no simple ways. Where there are ways, they are complicated and people just don’t seem motivated enough to see them through.

A lot of talented professionals spend years of work to drive results through L&D but how many can take credit and say that they contributed to the business top-line – or bottom-line directly through what they did. My problem is that when the effort is made the result should be visible.

Having worked with over 200 world-class organizations as a consultant, I now feel the need to work long term (say 3 years) with a single corporate and help them see through the change, later in my career, lead the HR team from a business standpoint to deliver numbers that add to net profit and grow enough to become the CEO of a regular business. I have at least 25 years of a career left ahead of me, so I m sure I will get this done!  But for this to happen, either for me or for anyone else, we need organizations that are great at learning, high on adaptability, comfortable with change and aligned to the same business objectives regardless of the department. Along with this, we need HR that has business acumen and aspires to become the CEO some day.

As of today, we have a long way to go!

From an Operations lens, there are three kinds of HR team cultures in organizations (Across the company for SME’s and in pockets and silos for large , multi-layered corporates). Hence,  approaches towards people, culture and learning management are only usually a blend of these three. Not based on the Org. charts but on the actual culture, these are:

1. HR as Service Provider – HR is just the ‘yes’ man and the part time office boy who gets what operations asks for. There is rarely any depth to the actions and its usually about compliance. In all this the learning perspective is :

  • Organize generic programs to keep people occupied
  • Meet the ISO mandated number of training days
  • Don’t take too much pain to find what is needed but give only what is asked
  • Nobody invites you to the serious business talks, accept it!
  • Play up to an audience and show the CEO your accomplishments to get next years budget!

2. HR as a News Anchor – In this case, the companies seem to have a little more faith in HR, they are given the news (Good, bad and ugly)  and the responsibility to share it, specially when it is bad and ugly.

While the key role is still keeping discipline and managing payroll, its usually after a key discussion of ‘serious business’ , they are called in to the board room and told about the judgement. ‘What can I do, it is a business decision’, is one statement you would hear often in this culture from the HR representatives. In all this the learning perspective is :

  • Business takes priority, learning takes a backseat.
  • Learning is often looked as an event and not a solution/ application process.
  • Managers, learners and unfortunately sometimes even learning leaders want crowd pleasing ‘fun’ driven learning as opposed to things that can actually make business sense.
  • Budget is decided before outcomes are decided – which are usually vague (Ref: the ROI Myth).
  • Basic L&D deliverables are rebranded as super successful and good looking (On Paper) outcome drivers, not much changes in what it actually happens. Add some pre and post tests if you will!

2. HR as a Business Partner : Agreed, its a novel concept. But what matters is where the designations have changed, have the organizations changed too? Many a places still call the new HR guy a ‘business partner’ but discusses no business with him!

In an ideal world, this would mean using HR as a strategic driver to ensure business outcomes. Ram Charan and Larry Bossidy, in their book ‘Execution’, talk about business being driven by – Strategy – Operations and People. Equally and not selectively. But I will leave it to you to judge how often that happens!

In all this the learning perspective is :

  • More business driven , so at least a TNA happens and ops is on board as a client where the HR is consulting.
  • The moment is gets too ‘businessy’ HR pulls a step back and says things like ‘I can do this much but the rest is up to you’
  • In words of a senior ops. professional talking about Sr. HR business partners, ‘it’s like working with the MD’s son. They come, they ask, they tell – throw some weight around and propose a change or two. Then they get busy with their own thing!’
  • There is a blend of calendar programs (Kool to do) and the need based programs (Need to do to shut ops. up) along with ‘Value’ based initiatives, glorified and often exaggerated e mails for what has been achieved.
  • No doubt, this leads to some short term successes which is more than what can be said for the first two approaches.
  • On the positive side, there is a lot of work that gets done – but it is affected when participating in all this just becomes voluntary and optional for every employee.
  • A lot is expected from Ops in terms of implementation assistance which seldom comes through and everybody finds some data to validate post which everyone lives happily ever after.

Isn’t this sounding all too negative? Take a moment to think what all have you experienced as a professional so far?

These to me are good reasons to believe that learning indeed needs a makeover. Here are some of the key things that I have figured out based on research, technology, expertise, education and the good old fashioned trial and error which would certainly feature on my Learning 2.0 Agenda :

1. Say bye to calendar programs – Its important to meet your ISO or whatever other certification standards you want to meet, but the the first element of learning 2.0 is about being deadly serious on ROI. Generic programs add zero to no tangible value, take them online, replace them with e learning and create internal champions who could do seminars from a business standpoint. (This qualifies certification hours)

2. Teach HR to talk business – Whether you do it through committee based decision making or more business oriented HR hiring, if your HR team talks business, they help create a culture where the operations team trusts them and can truly look at them as partners. It  is simply about credibility.

It is this credibility that HR/ L&D needs to build and bank upon while driving initiatives that make people take accountability.

3. Teach business the value of HR : Lets look at it this way – what are the key moments when ops. guys have to play HR type roles ? Annual Goal Setting / 4 Quarterly Reviews / Final Appraisal – I call this the ‘6Talk Plan’. If you can ensure effectiveness in just these 6 touch-points to start with, I will bet my money on the fact that you will see positive changes in your culture over 12 months or less!

This is why every manager needs to have the HR pill, whether they like it or not. To take this a step further, drive managerial cross skilling to build empathy and unity within your managerial audiences.

4.Executive coaching is not the only type of coaching – Its expensive to get an senior and certified executive coach , honestly, its somewhat irrelevant as well if you are doing this for mid to junior level professionals. So create internal coaching systems and maybe even create a new designation, the idea is to use OJT (On job training) more sincerely and create a blend of generic + feedback based learning. For Eg. a coach who can talk about Maslow’s hierarchy while giving feedback on team management to a first level supervisor. Get your internal coaches to mix models and meaning to make magic!

5. Create curriculums and reward learning success – There are many ways of doing this meaningfully. The most common one that you too would know are MDP. The issue is not that they are not done. At many places, they are not done seriously enough. Either senior leaders do not value them and propagate them or Ops/HR does not follow up hard enough.

It can also be done through MOOC’s on Udemy, Coursera etc. Only word of caution is to ensure validation.

One way I feel this can be done is by asking people to pay for their own learning and if they complete it successfully, reward them with a 3X payback. Adding curriculum completion points for IJP’s / Promotions and Even appraisals may be a good idea. Now this is what an IDP (Individual Development Plan) should look like!

6. Action Learning Projects – This is nothing new, but I have not seen it being done to well, so it is still on the list! Every program is done with a set of clear achievables which are documented by individuals and teams as projects. They don’t choose independently but from a list of business approved projects that add real-time value. Don’t give up on the follow ups and calculating ROI will be easy.

7. Teach Twitter (OR any social platform, even internal!) : Most people who don’t use twitter do so due to a lack of understanding. Teach them how twitter can help them, maybe even schedule twitter time and let the tweets flow. Stay away from touchy topics – this is just developmental. Not a platform to discuss policy but just to learn! This has tremendous advantages when it comes to social learning, recognition and award systems. There are risks, but where are they not?

Maybe even make IDP’s as Individual dev. plans as individual dev. profiles. Get people to want an all-star rating for their profile which helps with appraisal and also gives them a reason to keel learning!

8. Do more with less : Your L&D offering does not have to have a 100 elements. Let it have 5, be focused on quality and depth of application. Not on quantity. I even advocate ending full day workshops (Business loves this!) , make it frequent, make it small, and make it application oriented. For eg. Teach a time management technique in an hour, get people to commit to applying and schedule a review next week. Reward doers, give the nay-sayers another chance but document it all. Map this to commitment and accountability during appraisals.

9. Spend Wisely – Use the ops and finance expertise to plan you L&D budgets.  A lot of companies plan for processes , i.e. 20% for Technical training / 30% for Behavioral Training etc. ; Instead, plan for outcomes, what do you want to achieve, how much could it impact business, how long term is plan, is the task maintenance or progressive and lastly, what % of my budget should be allocated to that. Then plan for how to use the money towards the best possible outcome!

10. Target Harmony – Organizational Harmony – I can learn from James bond here, when he is in a tough spot (Like he always is, much like HR), he has to prioritize, make tough choices; So if I asked you to choose only two things that you could do as HR / L&D leads in you organization – What would they be ?

This question has bothered me for a while now here is what I have finally come to terms with :

  1. Align Values > Competencies > Vision > Mission > Strategy > Targets > KPI’s / KRA’s > Rewards > PMS > On-boarding and Exit as one experience with a simple goal – People should know 100 % of what their piece is and a 10,000 feet overview to everyone else’s. In simple terms, writing and pasting this at the reception is not going to help. These things have to become a part of the lingo, the everyday talk in teams and the manager’s feedback in high stress situations for everyone else but HR. (HR is busy talking business – Remember!)
  2. Make the ‘6Talk Plan’ Work – What people care most about in any system is how they were treated. it is about respect, fairness and trust. These 6 conversations (Point 3 from the above list) is what can be a solid foundation to a culture that makes this happen.                               (While these two things are not small and easy things to accomplish, they are only two, and as HR , I am sure that you have done much more!)

Thinking about a MDP project that I worked on recently got this thought going. I would love to hear from you about what you think about these pointers and if you would also recommend anything else.

I feel L&D today needs a makeover – Do You?

Also posted on my linked pulse feed.