Over the last few years, a shift in the global workforce has forced organisations to shift their learning and development strategies. An increasingly competitive market and a digital revolution have resulted in a more diverse workforce—in a market where skills have a shorter shelf life than ever. This then places a premium on those intangible organisational assets long ignored: your people.
With that being said, how do you ensure skills aren’t past their usefulness date? With clearly defined learning and development strategies. We’ll walk you through everything you need to know to strategically build a strong and skilled team in your workplace.
What is learning and development?
Traditionally, learning and development has been an arm of the human resources branch in an organisation. It concerns itself with not only employees’ training needs, but what professional, structural and interpersonal skills an organisation needs to succeed.
So, simply speaking, where your people are the intangible assets of an organisation, learning and development is the very tangible building blocks.
The difference between learning and development
Much like Ben & Jerry’s, learning and development is usually considered in the one breath. But there’s a reason the ampersand exists. While complementary, they are also two independent practices in their own right.
Learning is the knowledge-based process of acquiring and absorbing external information. This can be through formal education or by simply observing and engaging with the environment around us. Development internalises that information to improve and enhance skills, making it a skills-based process. In this understanding, learning and development is a holistic, end-to-end activity that combines acquiring knowledge to better perform existing or new skills.
Types of learning and development
We say types, but it’s more a matter of approach learning is delivered is based on the resources and needs of your organisation. Even with alearning management system,there are still dozens of ways you can deliver learning materials. And beyond learning, there’s the matter of reinforcing knowledge gained to ensure development.
- Instructor-led: The classic method where learning is delivered via a teacher, instructor or facilitator in sessions such as face-to-face lessons, masterclasses and lectures.
- Coaching: Coaches can be internal or external to an organisation or institution, and usually attach meaningful goals and strategies to coursework to encourage teamwork.
- Mentorship: A learner is assigned a mentor (usually in a senior role) who they can shadow or receive advice and guidance from in order to gain deeper, on-the-job knowledge of their sector.
- Social learning: A collaborative, learner-led process through which knowledge is shared and affirmed via social interaction like forums and group activities.
Why the crash course on learning and development?
If you don’t know the basics, you won’t master the big brain strategies. Without understanding what exactly a learning and development strategy is meant to do, then you’re just stumbling blindly down an expensive, directionless path. Similarly, if you don’t understand the different modes of delivery for L&D, you’ll subject a diverse group of learners to one format—and shockingly, not everyone learns the same, nor is every format appropriate for all topics of content. If learners then don’t find the method or material interesting, they won’t engage, and your learning and development strategy will be redundant before you’ve even left home base, let alone got anywhere meaningful.
Why is learning and development important?
‘Important’ doesn’t really do it justice. It’s more that learning and development is both fundamental and a win-win for both employees and organisation.
Learning and development is the key to improving employee engagement. It asks employees to self-reflect on their existing skills and position in order to understand their own capabilities and limitations. Then, in the process of acquiring new skills to close those gaps, they’re creating positive connections between a stimulating learning experience and their job and organisation.
It also gives them purpose outside of a pay check. Not everyone is working in their dream job, and even for those who already experience high day-to-day engagement, there are always days when people can feel disengaged. On days like these especially, having a goal to work towards (that is more closely tied with their own success than it is the organisation’s) enhances their perception that they are working for a company that cares about them and not just their output. Since millennial workers are looking forgrowth and impact,shifting internally from viewing L&D as a nice-to-have to something expected in any job package makes attracting, motivating and retaining this group all the more easier.
We’d like to present two notions for your consideration:
- Up to80% of a company’s valuecomes down to its relationship with its people, yet very few western organisations see investing in people as a value centre rather than a costly imposition.
- Any effort (cough, cough, L&D) that is driven by a commitment to serving employees is proven to improve an organisation’sbottom line.
Physical company assets such as real estate are less important in comparison to relationships with stakeholders and market competitiveness. A bold statement, but if people are the source of better productivity resulting in growth, then it stands to reason resources are best devoted to giving them avenues through which they can learn the skills that lead to that more efficient and creative output. Google, as an example, asks their employees to spend 20% of their work day on personal projects—which birthed Gmail and AdSense. Enough said.
Learning and development strategies to consider
Humans learn in very different ways, which means it’ll likely take a combination of methodologies to create an overarching learning and development strategy that is successful. What works for your organisation will depend on what you’re trying to achieve as much as it does how your learners, well, learn (more on that later)—but this run through will definitely get you started.
The younger subset of the workforce want to captain their own learning journey. Creating personalised learning pathways in conjunction with their goals for progression means that not only is the content they consume adapted to their needs, but so is the way in which they consume it. Apple encourages staff to take ownership of their own learning and development, which translates into an employee skillset that’s evolving faster than any other organisation in their market.
Where training traditionally focuses on those skills that are lacking, there’s also evidence to support learning that enhances existing skills. Say you have a lower level employee who has already shown great promise stepping up and leading their team. Providing learning and development that harnesses that potential and upskills fledgling capabilities increases engagement, creates a sense of belonging and boosts overall performance.
Theory vs practice is an age old debate in education. We say the focus should be on experience, which means taking the practicing theory in real life and experimenting in environments relevant to the learner, their goals and what an organisation needs. This could be through teamwork, mentorship or even on-the-job skills-based assessments. As opposed to the learning-based format of blended learning, which isn’t always a viable option, on-the-job training reinforces what is learned through an LMS through real-life development.
And why you need to follow up on learning and development
Learning doesn’t stop when work is graded. Consider:
- L&D is an ongoing process. Most people don’t attend a one-day training event and walk away knowing everything they need to. L&D leaders and managers should be actively involved in creating and keeping employees accountable on their learning pathways.
- Those different types of L&D (coaching, social learning and mentoring) are crucial when strengthening team dynamics and fortifying on-the-job training.
- An eLearning solution might help you keep your L&D costs down while still utilising the subject matter expertise of external instructors. Whatever the case, remember that L&D shouldn’t stop when the learning is done.
Developing a learning and development strategy
A good strategy starts at the end to establish an outcome to expect from the beginning. Those outcomes should be fairly clear cut. It’s crucial to identify the targets you’re aiming for before a learning and development strategy is even designed so that you can be sure that the steps you take meet specific milestones, and so you can align outcomes with business objectives, too.
Clearly define goals
Goalsetting is an integral part of the learning and development journey. Starting atwhere is our organisation now?you should then ask yourselfwhere do we want our organisation to be?You needn’t be stingy with goals; you can and should dream big, because that will help you more clearly define the steps you need to go from your start to end points.
Consider online training trends, for example. This will help with forecasting and shaping an learning and development strategy that is adaptable and sustainable. Look at what trends are currently evolving in eLearning, and what could happen internally and externally in the next few years to make these either more relevant or redundant. What steps can you take to ensure your strategy is not then disrupted? Currently AI is leading the charge, but there arefuture developmentsthat could affect the way your L&D architecture is built.
Why you need to do this
Without goals, you may find yourself getting swept up in eLearning trends. They’re important to stay abreast of but not all trends will have long-lasting impacts. If you rush into investing your time or budget into a trend with little industry research, you may find yourself just throwing money away. Remember: the latest buzz isn’t necessarily the greatest fit.
Analyse skills gaps
No learning and development strategy will get off the ground without determining the gaps that need addressing. Conducting a skills gap assessment will allow you to identify the skills needed for future L&D investment, workforce planning, succession planning and any other crucial organisational functions.
To conduct askills gap assessment,you’ll need to:
- Identify the skills your organisation is lacking now and needs in future in relation to your mission and business goals.
- Analyse the job roles currently being performed, determine their importance and understand the skills needed to perform those roles successfully.
- Design interventions, i.e. create learning pathways that develop capabilities or reinforce roles where gaps exist.
Why you need to do this
Since a learning and development strategy can be a long and forward-thinking process, it’s important not to fall into the mindset that what has always worked will always work. It’s never too late to move to a constant state of transformation, whereby your internal pace of change is moving at the same rate, if not faster, than external—but you can’t do this without understanding the skills you’re lacking to drive such success.
Align with business strategy
As we’ve already mentioned, your learning and development strategy will go nowhere fast if not aligned with existing business strategy. Think about it: the core mission of L&D is to support professional development, build or bolster capabilities, enhance company culture and reinforce employees’ connection to company values—many of which coincidentally translate to business objectives.
Whatever your business strategies, there will be a learning and development initiative to support it. If one of your business objectives is to increase customer retention, learning pathways can be created that focus on sharpening marketing and customer relationship skills. This should be re-evaluated on at least an annual basis, to ensure L&D leaders are creating an agenda that remains supports business priorities.
Why you need to do this
We’d like to take a moment to preach about the importance of measuring success. Without a measure of your ROI, you can’t be certain you achieved your best-laid outcomes. It also means you’ll fail to understand where your strategy fell down and where it exceeded expectations, therefore hindering any meaningful adjustments from being made. And if you can’t prove the value of the learning and development strategy, there’s every chance stakeholders and decision makers won’t see the benefits of continuing it.