Professional development is not just one of the perks companies offer to make themselves appealing to new talent. It is a strategic decision that, when implemented rigorously, significantly impacts business growth. So no matter the size of your organization, creating a Learning & Development (L&D) strategy should be one of your priorities as a leader. Why?
I'm not going to explain how the tech revolution has affected the job market in the last few years, but I can tell you that the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the pace of change, and world events have forced us to adapt rapidly to new circumstances. But even before all that, McKinsey's research estimated that as many as 800 million jobs could be displaced by automation by 2030.
Historically, L&D initiatives have helped teams to build new skills and improve their performance in their roles or prepare them for new challenges. As roles continue to evolve, training is unquestionably necessary for any business that wants to keep up with its industry and retain its talent.
The good news is that McKinsey's research revealed that "60 percent of respondents plan to increase L&D spending over the next few years, and 66 percent want to boost the number of employee-training hours." But what exactly is the role of business training, and how do you create an effective strategy? Here are the answers to these questions.
The Benefits of Having an L&D Strategy
These are five areas where your Learning & Development strategy will support your business goals.
Attract and retain talent
Having a healthy snack bar, nap pods, or on-site massages sound like great perks. But if you truly want to attract and retain the best talent, you need to offer an L&D plan. Companies keep employees as long as they add value, but people will stay in one job if they see room for growth. "Opportunities for learning and development" are among the top criteria for joining an organization.
Develop people's capabilities
Human capital is the biggest asset any business can have. If knowledge or skills become outdated, your human capital loses value. So investing in learning and work experiences help move the needle. Research confirms that companies with an L&D strategy outperform other organizations by nearly two times on EBITDA, 2.4 times when training leaders during significant transformations.
Create a values-based culture
People are more drawn to those organizations that contribute to the welfare of society. And now that the workforce is increasingly virtual and globally dispersed, a values-based culture becomes more relevant.
Build your brand and reputation
Although it should not be seen as a benefit, and more as a business strategy, communicating your L&D initiatives will positively impact your brand and reputation. And that's a competitive advantage in the current talent pool.
Motivate and engage employees
Research suggests that lifelong learning contributes to happiness. So, when helping your team members to develop their career paths, they will more likely engage with their job and be excited to embark on new opportunities at work.
How to Create a Successful L&D Strategy
The ultimate goal of an L&D strategy is to support the business strategy; otherwise, there's no point in implementing one. Training your team for the sake of training won't do anything for your business. So like any other strategy, you need to set your objectives, identify gaps that could prevent you or your team from achieving them, and design and customize an L&D program aligned with those plans.
Enhancing the company culture and engaging team members with the company's values are just a natural by-product of a professional development program carefully designed.
However, according to McKinsey, only 40% of companies are doing a good job when aligning their learning strategy and business goals. The other 60% offer programs that are outdated or programs disconnected from strategic objectives.
It's on the leaders to create an L&D strategy in sync with the business and reevaluate the alignment every year or every time a big change happens in the company. That's how you're truly covering priorities and strategic objectives.
HR and senior leadership co-ownership
As mentioned before, senior leaders have a big say in what type of training they need according to their goals. A partnership with HR speeds up any process and rapidly adapts to new professional requirements. For example, if team members require immediate training on new technologies or collaboration tools.
If a governance structure is established, leadership from both groups share responsibility for defining, prioritizing, designing, and securing funds for L&D programs. That's how you create the agenda that meets the company's overall goals and embeds the learning function in the organizational culture.
One of the biggest challenges of any L&D program is people actually retaining what they've learned and applying it to their jobs. The secret (not so secret) is how you deliver the learning experiences.
Research cited by the Harvard Business Review "suggests that breaking up training content into smaller chunks that can be interleaved into other activities both enhances learning and improves retention."
Whether in digital or in-person day-long workshops, people tend to forget what they've learned. Bruce C. Rudy, the author of the article Build Learning into Your Employees' Workflow from HBR, shared feedback from programs he has conducted, supporting this idea. Learners prefer shorter lessons with one core idea because they're more likely to apply it during their workday. Online courses are also easily incorporated into managers' and team members' weekly schedules.
Time and funding are critical to the successful execution of L&D initiatives. Time is a limited resource for senior managers, so microlearning experiences answer this objection.
Now, when facing insufficient funding, L&D leadership and business leaders need to determine priorities to ensure resources and requirements for any program before it begins. The larger the program, the bigger the impact. But if budget is an issue, starting with a pilot and scaling up is an alternative.
Measuring impact on business performance
Learning is an individual process, but if you want to assess the ROI of your organization's investment in L&D programs, you need to aggregate each learner's results at the team level. Then you can determine if employees' performance or commitment levels have improved due to training.
And get this! Encouraging people to track their own progress makes it easier for everyone to demonstrate the effectiveness of the programs and guarantees their continuity.
A Learning & Development strategy is not about throwing some training at your people. It’s a more thorough plan that needs to be tight with your business goals; otherwise, it will become just like an extra expense instead of an investment. Don’t rush into an improvised program; plan carefully, and you’ll see that reflected in your ROI. But how do you know when is the right time to bring in learning and development experts? Here is the answer to that question.
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The Girard Training Solutions team includes experts in Learning and Development, Management Development, Facilitation, Learning Experience Design, Project Management, and Graphic Design.