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Seize the opportunity to link learning to business

L&D has often leaned on the term “Provide learning to the right people, at the right place, at the right time.” But is this enough to ensure we are creating business value? Dive into this in our second blog of the Carpe Diem L&D series, written by Shannon Tipton, workplace Learning Strategist and owner of Learning Rebels.
Shannon Tipton - Guest Contributor
2021-03-09

Written by guest blogger Shannon Tipton, workplace Learning Strategist and owner of Learning Rebels. Shannon is excited to work with organizations to develop learning solutions to achieve applicable business results. Recently named in the top 100 eLearning 'Movers and Shakers’ by eLearning Industry, Shannon’s blog ‘Learning Rebels’ is in the top 100 eLearning blogs.

L&D has often leaned on the term “Provide learning to the right people, at the right place, at the right time.” But is this enough to ensure we are creating business value? 

What if I were to tell you that, globally, organizations spent $370 billion on L&D efforts in 2019. Yet, only 25% of respondents to a recent McKinsey survey believe that L&D efforts measurably improved performance.

An uncomfortable truth

For L&D leaders, these statistics mean coming to terms with an uncomfortable truth. The failure to implement, execute, and drive change is not rooted in your learning strategy. Rather, success is determined by the strength of your business ecosystem.  

Most L&D departments find it easy to work with senior leaders to pinpoint competency and skills gaps (the nail), then develop a training solution and pound away (the hammer). Because of this, we have left a scorched earth path of workforce disruption. The result is that people are unable to connect learning to business, making it difficult to apply the learnings gained from workplace training. This process can also create an environment that disincentivizes people from taking action due to a lack of tools and business support. 

This uncomfortable truth leaves L&D at a crossroads. Do we take “the order” or seize the opportunity to add business value? 

Recognizing the business ecosystem to add value

The misstep for L&D is failing to realize that businesses are not built on performance improvement, but rather on systems to support bottom-line growth. These systems are dependent on processes, policies, best practices, leadership styles, and ultimately, humans. A breakdown in these systems often causes leaders to stay awake at night. 

This misstep leads to the question: how healthy is your business ecosystem? Does it have the capacity to support learning transfer today for continued business growth? 

Consider that the basis of learning must be nurtured and supported, similar to a successful harvest. For your harvest to grow, it’s not only about what is happening above the ground. The structure below the ground is what will ensure a successful growing season. For example:

  • Does the soil have the proper nutrients?
  • Does the plant have the capacity to grow?
  • Are the weeds crowding out a strong root system? 

Similarly, if the ecosystem doesn’t change, learning cannot find fertile ground to take root and produce the crop needed for success. Your plants may look green on the surface, but their roots may be withering, meaning the plant is doomed. 

So, how can you seize the opportunity to not only act in the moment but also prepare for the future?

Seizing the opportunity

First, it’s time for a reality check. Solving today’s business problems requires a new approach to recognizing opportunities to change. It also requires a shift in your overall point-of-view by looking at business challenges through different lenses to achieve results that drive business value.

Simply put, it means taking action. Now.  

A strong L&D leader will recognize the challenges that are disrupting the fragile business ecosystem and, in turn, keeping leaders up at night.  

It starts with two questions:

  1. What business goals cannot be accomplished because this problem persists? 
  2. What could the business achieve if this challenge did not exist? 

Now, what about if you took the words “learning”, “training”, and “performance” out of your thinking: 

  1. Would you be able to clearly articulate the business challenge? 
  2. Would you be able to articulate an intervention that would elevate the business pain points? 

By looking at learning from a business perspective, we shift the vocabulary and, in turn, shift the overall point-of-view. Looking at learning from a business perspective also allows us to take action to keep the ecosystem healthy now and in the future. 

Here is an example of how this process could play out in practice: 

Question #1 

What business goals cannot be accomplished because this problem persists? 

How does the problem manifest itself?

  • Lack of KPI accomplishment
  • Low employee retention
  • Low productivity
  • Lack of collaboration, community, and communication

Question #2

What could the business achieve if this challenge did not exist? 

Potential benefits

  • Higher sales revenue
  • Higher profits
  • Engaged employees
  • Business ecosystem willing to engage in constructive conversations

What actions can you take?

  1. Keep asking “why” and “what if” questions of senior leadership to ensure business goals are being addressed.
  2. Take the words “learning” and “training” out of your vocabulary when you speak to business leaders.
  3. Help senior leadership have “open-ears” about failure. Then, accept and expect candid conversation.
  4. Create cross-functional/cross-positional steering committees to “sense-check” business priorities to learning needs.
  5. With cross-functional leadership, assess business readiness for learning to take root and achieve the expected outcomes.

Conclusion 

It doesn’t matter if you are starting a new learning strategy or trying to work with stakeholders to identify a problem in your business, now is the perfect time to seize the opportunity to add business value. 

Senior leaders are the keepers of the business ecosystem. L&D has a unique opportunity to contribute to the health and wellness of the business, however, this can only happen if we seize the opportunity and say Carpe Diem! 

Don't miss the first article in our Carpe Diem L&D series, written by award-winning L&D Analyst Laura Overton. As Laura says, for progressive learning leaders, there has never been a more important time for L&D to seize the day.

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