The 4 Foolproof Steps to Improving Learning and Development In Your Workplace
Technological and global disruptions, a shorter skill shelf life and a multigenerational workforce mean the modern business environment is ever-evolving. Now more than ever, a clear and effective learning and development strategy is vital to people management.
The run on effects of optimised learning and development include shrewder recruitment choices, market competitiveness, organisational agility and a workplace culture ensconced in lifelong learning. Whilst many job roles require employees to bring experience, degrees and certain skillsets, it’s the organisation’s responsibility to make sure employees have the right skills for the job roles that make up their strategic and operational objectives.
If you’re L&D is lacking, don’t panic. We dive right into the best learning and development strategies to better engage your workforce.
What is learning and development?
Humour us. We know you know what learning and development is, but it’s often lost in the great HR landscape of training and development, talent management, succession planning, corporate training, continual professional development, certification and recruitment. How exactly is it different from all the other terms thrown around?
Learning and development is a systematic process that improves an individual’s skills, knowledge and competency. The learning half tackles the acquisition of new knowledge, skills and, importantly, attitudes. Development is all about deepening and expanding one’s knowledge in line with progress goals. Put them together, and what do you get? A change in behaviour, cultivation of attitudes and sharing of knowledge that enables employees to perform better.
Why the crash course on learning and development?
It’s helpful to know why you’re doing what you’re doing. If you’re not clear on the basics, you’re basically shooting your shot in the dark—meaning you’ll have no clear baseline for any analytics or metrics used to determine success or ROI against business needs. Not only is this a waste of resources and time but, as you’ll come to understand, it’s hard to save for a future without knowing what skills you currently have in the bank.
Building a learning and development strategy
If the benefit of learning and development for employees is more marketable skills, then it follows that the advantage for organisations is newfound market advantage. One of learning and development’s primary outcomes is to manage people development in a way that supports other key business priorities.
To tangibly improve their learning and development in pursuit of these goals, you’ll need a clearly defined strategy.
1. Identify skills gaps
What are the metrics for determining your learning and development start and end point, and the space in between? It’s called a skills gap analysis. Organisations can use it to identify the skills and/or knowledge an individual needs to perform their current or a future job effectively.
Ask yourself: What jobs within your organisation are likely to be automated? What skills in your industry are becoming more prevalent? What kind of jobs do you predict your organisation will need in future, lacking them now? Creating a database of all employees and their existing competencies which can be aligned with skills you expect you will need in future will uncover the gaps in skills you need.
It’s not a step you want to skip; at least 54% of workers will need to update their current skills or learn entirely new ones in the future. In light of this information, a skills gaps analysis gives insights at both an individual and organisational level, allowing HR to devote resources to those skills that require the most attention and enhancing recruitment and strategic workforce planning by ensuring the right skills are in the right place and bolsters individual productivity.
Another reason to identify skills gaps is you don’t want employees learning purely for the sake learning. If that were the case, all employees could learn jiujitsu and call it learning and development. The purpose of identifying gaps in capabilities is so new knowledge and attitudes that are relevant for a future course of action are acquired. It’s then important to identify the learning goals you’re striving to achieve.
- Consider what jobs you have now and what jobs you predict you will need in future.
- Learning and development should align with developing capabilities necessary for your organisation’s success.
- A skills gap analysis allows you to create a database of skills for recruitment as well as organisational needs.
2. Pinpoint learning objectives
You know what learning and development is. You know what skills you’re lacking and therefore trying to attain. Next, you need objectives that will help form the unique design of training and development in your organisation.
To be effective, your learning objectives should align with business strategy. This shows employees the bigger picture they’re contributing to. If employees can’t see how learning and development is anchored within the business, they’ll fail to find reason to buy-in to something that may appear distracting from their responsibilities.
It helps to define the parameters of an objective; is it to enhance or to intervene? The pathways to upskill or reskill employees will be different to those designed to materialise new capabilities entirely. They should further address a pain point, not just generic learning goals. Rather than say, “We want to improve marketing skills to boost the success of marketing campaigns”, utilise the missing skills you identified in Step 1. Perhaps the marketing department needs more information about digitalisation, SEO strategy or paid vs organic marketing, to meet the demands of a tech-savvy clientele and cut through the swathe of competitors in the market.
This is important when choosing a learning management system (LMS). You want an LMS that can support capability plans on top of course creation, so that you can be sure employees have access to mission-critical knowledge and HR can accurately assess individual proficiency.
- Without outlining your desired outcomes, you won’t be able to effectively plan any development programs.
- Being transparent about learning objectives will root individual development in a larger purpose, giving employees a real reason to invest.
3. Design methods of assessment
With the goals, metrics for success and desired skills addressed, it’s now time to create effective learning resources. This is where a tool such as a learning management system comes in handy.
Literally a tool for learning and development, the LMS will allow you to upload resources and fashion assessments of any kind. There’ll be the instructor-based modes and then learner-centric. Instructor-based assessments include lectures, seminars, training sessions and presentations. Particularly useful if you have a guest speaker or subject matter expert, they are (depending on format) accessible to a large volume of learners. Learner-centric methods of assessment are often more interactive, facilitating or relying on social learning through self-directed learning (including assignments and exams), group work (e.g. forums) and on-the-job training.
The most effective learning and development involves a combination of the two, though this will be dependent on the objectives you are striving for.
- An LMS will help you create interactive and engaging learning assessments that can be easily accessed and tracked.
- The two main types of learning are instructor-led and learner-centric.
- The most effective development programs combine both to appeal to all learning styles.
4. Value and evaluate
The last step when improving learning and development is to evaluate the learning process. How else can you be sure you’ve achieved your learning objectives and can replicate or adjust the process?
It’s important to keep in mind that a measure of learners’ enjoyment does not equate to effectiveness. Pandering to ‘edutainment’ sidelines programs that actually push people out of their knowledge comfort zone and effects the integrity of reporting. We suggest putting a value on your training before you evaluate its effectiveness. This goes beyond the normal scope of tracking attendance or completion rates, and encourages you to assess whether the knowledge learned impacted business performance.
These metrics will draw into the success factors placed on learning and development, and allow you to review and revise not just goals but the links you draw between performance and programs. You might place value against industry benchmarks or extraordinary internal factors (such as funding being lost for a department). Most LMSs will come with reporting functionality that allows you to see individual and cohort-wide progress. But keep an eye out for one that will also integrate with existing HR systems to easily collate learning and human capital data when you’re shopping around for an LMS.
- Assigning certain tasks or activities a value before implementation is the best metric for assessing the impact of learning and development on business performance.
- The depth of your evaluation depends on the depth of value you assign learning and development.
Making the benefits of learning and development last
There are a few scary statistics associated with learning and development gone wrong. We’d like to bring your attention to two that potentially may be having an impact on the efficacy of your learning and development programs:
- According to Gartner, 70% of employees don’t believe they have the mastery of skills needed for their jobs, let alone to do their jobs well.
- In a survey on training programs, McKinsey reports only 25% of respondents believe it improved business performance.
Not to mention, most organisations don’t even track their ROI. So, while it’s all well and good to design and implement a new training program, the real challenge is reaping the benefits long term. After all, effective learning and development aims for continuous learning. It’s all in the mindsets of your learners.
Support employees’ desire to learn
Before employees engage with training, they must be convinced that their performance is weaker than it must to positively contribute to their organisation’s success. Sounds a little demoralising, but it’s not about telling someone they’re bad; rather, helping them choose to learn over forcing them to (aka the difference between “I’m here because I have to be” or “I can escape work for a bit” and “I want to learn and grow”).
L&D hot tip
Make clear a new training initiative is not a one-off requisite, but rather a lifelong commitment on your organisation’s behalf to investing in their employees. Be transparent about the method and demonstrate it’s a priority to continue the investment indefinitely, such as through clear pathways to certain job roles.
Weed out workplace toxicity
Everyone has worked with a Judas. They spread gossip, undermine management, disrupt team dynamics and aren’t prepared to change their ways. But you get the behaviour you’re prepared to ignore in the workplace: if certain behaviour isn’t admonished, then by default it’s considered acceptable. It takes one Judas—particularly one in a leadership position—to express discontent in a learning and development program for the whole thing to come crashing down.
L&D hot tip
Provide adequate outlets for feedback throughout the learning and development process, such as with feedback prompts within your LMS. When it’s obvious management not only value but are implementing the suggestions of learners actually undertaking L&D (short and long term), there’ll be less chance of unhappy customers.
Reinforce new skills
Old habits die hard, so it’s crucial to reinforce and support new ideals and knowledge. Seems easy enough, if your learning and development has been designed to address skills gaps, right? Expecting employees to immediately enact new skills in areas an organisation itself is unfamiliar or lacking is just poor practice, and communicates you’re not even sure what L&D is for. It could be as simple as introducing job shadowing for those on the succession pathway or including on-the-job training as part of an individual’s L&D.
L&D hot tip
Get leadership on board. We’ve seen many training programs fail because management or C-Suite align with it in principle but don’t reflect objectives in their own behaviour. This signals to employees change isn’t necessary. Send leaders through the same training as subordinates, so they can better act as effective role models.
Related Reads on This Topic
How to Measure Impact with the Kirkpatrick Evaluation Model
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The How To Guide to Post-Training Enablement
Post-training enablement is just important, if not more important than training itself.
How To Track Learning to Track Organisational Success
Hint: It’s about finding and managing capability gaps against your long-term goals.