The digital workplace is truly disrupting all business, and learning is no exception. Knowledge and skills now have a short shelf-life and one-size-fits-all training is no longer adequate to meet the unique needs of learners. As L&D professionals we need to respond and adapt in order to continue to stay relevant and enable our organizations to navigate these changes and deliver on expectations. This implies aligning L&D strategy to business and learner needs: we need to ensure that there is a clear line of sight between L&D activity and organizational performance.
The Learning Needs Analysis has always been THE approach to aggregating common development needs and delivering a standard program. However, it answered the question of scale, rather than performance. There’s a need to focus on root causes as the credibility of L&D is at stake here. CEB (now Gartner) estimates that for a typical company, the average rate of scrap learning – knowledge not applied by learners – is 45%. L&D professionals must recognize that a learning performance analysis is an essential part of effective learning programs and therefore must be able to understand and perform this analysis.
Business leaders want learning programs to target relevant and measurable business results. They do not consider those programs complete until the results are achieved. L&D must identify the specific capabilities the business requires and how it will know that the target population has achieved them. Business leaders do not have the time or the expertise to identify the “where, when, how, and why” behind the many potential investments in learning that they might choose to make. They want a trusted advisor to clarify the decisions they face.
The challenge with simply trying to align to “business needs” is that just about anything can be framed as one. Most mistakes in aligning learning investments come from being imprecise in what is identified as a “business need” and then shifting into delivery mode too early with limited information.
L&D needs to take a performance consulting approach, identifying the real performance problems and define business benefits of learning innovation and establishing the measurable value to the organisation. L&D need to be a true business partner; being attached to the business problem, without being accountable for it. When there’s a request from the business, L&D should start asking the right questions to acquire the relevant information to act.
There’s a few steps L&D needs to take to identify real business problems, performance issues and learning needs with clear objectives. In the Automotive case study below you’ll find 15 performance questions L&D needs to ask before moving to delivery mode. Each of the 15 performance questions is followed by the related exemplary answer from the business stakeholder.
Case study – the 15 performance questions L&D must ask before delivering
The 15 questions L&D must ask are detailed below. The answers provided require that the business sponsor has a level of L&D understanding.
1. What are your business plans for next year? (what’s changing & new)
We are launching a new generation of e-cars in response to the automotive market evolution, concrete customer needs, competitor initiatives and expected environmental regulations limiting use of fuel-powered cars.
2. What are the critical workforce implications related to these plans?
The salesforce capabilities have historically been focused on selling fuel-powered cars. Given the new strategy with focus on e-cars, we believe the salesforce currently do not have the necessary knowledge and skills to market and sell the e-cars.
3. Would these plans require new core capabilities to be developed for this workforce?
The salesforce needs to be reskilled in both knowledge & skills areas to enable them to sell the new e-cars in addition to selling the current fuel-powered cars.
4. Which (new) performance are you expecting from your salesforce (target audience)?
We expect our salesforce to market and sell the e-cars to current and new customers (and increase our revenue and margin in this process) based on clear performance objectives.
5. What’s the performance gap – which core capabilities do we need to develop? (knowledge, skills, mindset)?
The salesforce needs to acquire technical and product knowledge about the e-car features, acquire the relevant knowledge to position the e-car USPs versus the fuel-powered cars related to customer needs and develop the sales skills needed to convince those customers and realize sales. We can use available big data to analyse the current capabilities, including those of the top performers and what distinguishes them in terms of capabilities.
6. Do you believe that a learning solution for the salesforce is THE answer to develop new core skills (can the problem be addressed by L&D?)?
Given our experience with launching new cars we believe that a learning solution is necessary to enable the salesforce to acquire the relevant knowledge and skills. We believe a blended solution with assessment features works best. In addition we need to set-up a knowledge management infrastructure and a community where the sales staff can build and share e-car knowledge via social learning.
7. What kind of learning solution do you need based on your experience and knowledge of the salesforce?
We rely on L&D to provide expert advice on designing the best learning solution. Based on previous experience we prefer a blended solution with assessment features in order to personalize as much as possible. In parallel we want to co-create a knowledge management infrastructure and a community where the sales staff can acquire and share relevant e-car knowledge via social learning.
8. What should be the outcome of this intervention – what change do you want to see?
We want to see an upskilled salesforce with the relevant technical & product knowledge and the right sales skills to be able to market and sell the new e-cars. This implies both a higher competence level and confidence level, which we can assess. We also want our salesforce to share (e-car) knowledge and customer insights going forward.
9. What’s your expected timeline for developing the new capabilities?
We are launching the first new e-cars in 6 months time. The salesforce needs to be fully trained before that time for the first wave of customers. Especially since marketing will start in 4 months time.
10. Can you define the exact target audience (size) for this development initiative?
The target audience is our global salesforce, approx. 12.000 people in 62 countries. In addition the 1500 sales managers need to be upskilled as well.
11. Do you see any bottlenecks for rolling out a learning solution to your target audience?
We see 4 main bottlenecks:
The 1st is deploying the global sales program in time before the new e-cars are launched.
The 2nd is the limited coaching capability at the sales management level to embed the learning.
The 3rd is ensuring that the learning solution can be offered to all new joiners in future.
The 4th bottleneck is enabling knowledge sharing in sales-communities.
12. Can you identify subject matter experts for L&D to help develop a learning solution proposal: approach, KPIs, content & costs?
We have identified 2 e-car product managers who can work with L&D to shape and develop the global learning solution and determine KPIs for this program. L&D can reach out to external experts for input on sales and coaching skills if needed.
13. Can you provide the learning solution budget and business sponsors to help L&D develop and deploy the learning solution?
The key sponsor is the global e-car marketing director, who will include the e-car training budget in his overall marketing & project budget.
14. How are you going to enable the learning solution to be embedded in the flow of work: what will you do and what do you expect from L&D?
Let’s ensure that a blended learning resource is developed with most of the relevant product knowledge training made available online, via a mobile solution, so that staff can be pre-trained just-in-time before their F2F workshops. Let’s also organize an add-on coaching module for sales-management to ensure the learning is embedded in the workplace. In terms of effectiveness it makes sense to provide workplace performance support tools to embed the learning in the flow of work.
15. How do you want to evaluate the learning solution outcomes and follow-up?
We would like to be involved in the planning phase. Also, we need to be present at the delivery workshops and be informed about the post-training outcomes in terms of basics (nr of people trained etc) and training impact (increase in competence and confidence). Finally, we want the e-car training to be offered to all new sales staff in future.
The answers to these 15 questions will provide L&D with the direction to move into delivery mode. Five necessary ingredients will have been secured to enable L&D to take a validated Go – No Go decision: a performance need / the learning objectives / the business sponsor / the target audience / the L&D project resources.
It’s then up to the skills of the L&D team to analyse proposed learning interventions in terms of anticipated impact and ability to roll-out. Assuming the answers determine a learning need, the next steps are to design and roll-out a successful learning solution. Then facilitate the embedding in the workplace and evaluate the impact on the workforce. The answers to the 15 questions also provide L&D teams with a huge opportunity to elevate to be a real performance partner for the organization and deliver impact within budget, timelines and expectations.
Jan Rijken – Learning Director at Crossknowledge – and former CLO at KPMG, ABN-AMRO & Daimler