There’s a professional risk in remaining bound in a historical silo often found within Learning and Development (L&D) departments. In today’s competitive environment, this practice prevents an organization from using the skills sets and expanding the competencies of its current and future employees. Companies that align their learning efforts with corporate strategies can see a return on that investment with higher revenues and more engaged staff and clients.
Use What You Already Have
Many L&D professionals are starting to turn their attention towards a more customer-oriented mindset, one of serving customers.
Tom Clancy, vice president of education with EMC, says, “We run training as a business. We have budgets. We have P&Ls within our organization. And the business expects us to work with them as a business. They’re not coming to get the best training. They’re coming to solve their business needs. And that’s what we do.”
He encourages individuals in leadership positions of the company a company with over 70,000 employees that provides customers with data storage options, to use the skills of the staff within the organization and train them to be trainers.
In fact, of his team of six, not one of them has a background in training. “So the person that runs the technology program had a team of about three hundred field people. The person that runs sales education was a salesperson and so on,” he said.
Tom Costello, manager of learning and development at PAREXEL, shares a similar approach.
“We involve the managers. The managers actually take part in the training, not so much to facilitate it, but they are there as a coach. These managers are giving [employees] instant feedback. They’re sending reports to them and they’re reviewing them.”
[This process] gives us a chance to assess the learners right from the start,” Costello continues. “That information gets passed to their actual managers if they’re not reporting to that individual during training. If there are any areas the employees are struggling in, the managers know right away and they can start to work with them as they onboard them going forward.”
Costello recommends asking these coaches/managers to serve in this role on a rotating basis to prevent pulling them away from their own jobs too often.
Anthony Laffoley focuses on custom learning in his role as program director at Kenan-Flagler Business School at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Working with businesses and industries outside of the university, Laffoley partners in a similar way with the faculty to build programs tailored to the businesses’ needs.
“It starts with a conversation up front,” he states. “It’s very easy to say on the surface level you’ve just got to ask the right questions, but you really do. And then you go and start digging. We’ll work with clients who will come in and say things like ‘We really need help in change management. We’ve got a lot of things going on.’
“And then you start to dig deeper,” he continues, “and you find out that really it is something very different: How they’re handling change as a result. So it’s really getting clear on what is the original cause of these issues they’re facing.” He then uses the expertise of the faculty within the school to design specific training based on those needs.
IRI specializes in consumer- packaged goods and helping clients understand what people are buying and why they are buying it. IRI’s Asfa Malik, vice president of corporate training, has designed a comparable program they refer to as client-value program.
“I help manage it,” she says, “but it’s our leaders who actually lead it. We have role-plays; we have exercises. It’s a tough class, but at the same time so beneficial. The fact that we have very little theory and more practice has really been the game changer.”
She shares that there is a significant impact when the person leading the training is also a leader within the organization. She sees an added benefit when employees are learning and getting feedback from leaders as well as peers and colleagues.
Best Practices for Best Results
Like all businesses, Clancy recommends that training offerings be unique. People can build the training themselves with tools and technologies available online if L&D is not engaging.
“You really need to be unique in today’s world,” Clancy states, “as an organization and as individuals within the training group or someone else will do it for you.”
Along with uniqueness, Malik believes that L&D professionals need to be flexible.
“If I think about myself 10 years ago versus today, now we are constantly brainstorming and thinking of different ways of delivering the same content,” she says.
She reminds colleagues that employees may not have eight hours to devote to training like they may have had in the past. She asks training professionals to consider “How do I get the skill that you need into you without burdening you and having you get on a plane and losing three days out of the office?”
She suggests delivering podcasts, videos, recording webinars, and leveraging learning management systems. “There’s a variety of things that we can do, and we’re always looking to improve,” she says. To prevent working within a silo, Malik and her team at IRI align within the Human Resources office environment.
“We look to our partners in HR to help understand the skills that are required for a role and for a job,” she states. “So what we’ve done is build training programs around the competencies of what we expect our employees to have.”
At IRI, Malik understands that the required skill sets within the organization will vary greatly.
“It’s a matter of matching the competencies with the programs. And so that we have a very strong line to our business leaders, we need to make sure we understand the skills that you need and the skills that the client needs.”
Clancy strongly promotes to his training staff that they need to be aware of upcoming advancements that may change the training needs of employees. In today’s landscape, staff must be cross-trained, particularly in Clancy’s role within Information Technology.
“The storage person needs to know something about visualization, security, the cloud, and big data,” Clancy says. “We are constantly training our people, and we’re also trying to hire the best at the same time.”
Assessment is Key
Also similar to successful business models, L&D professionals must assess themselves regularly.
“We really focus on working closely in aligning our training with the business. We have a unique role,” Costello says. “We have training business partners, and they are assigned to different units within our company. They meet with the leaders from these units, and they find out what their goals are for the year. They’re making sure that their training requests align with what those goals are for the business.
“Then those requests come to us, and we’re prioritizing them based on the alignment with those goals and how important those goals are. So, we’re making sure our training has an impact with the business.”
At Ace Hardware, Jay Heubner, director retail learning and development recognized that assessment was going to be a critical element of the future success of their store managers and the organization.
He understood that the organization needed to refocus on its mission, brand, and tagline, “the place with the helpful hardware folks.” From that refocus came a training initiative called Helpful 101.
“We hired some outside help, and we really invested a lot of capital and thought leadership into this. We built a training program around our brand,” he shares.
The concept is based on store certification from the Helpful 101 program. Heubner and his staff trained the entire team, from storeowners to receiving clerks. However, he felt passionately that no one within the company was qualified to grant certification. Customers grant certification.
Within Helpful 101, they built a three-question exit survey that is implemented once a store feels adequately trained. If the store does not receive a passing score from the customers, staff members have to retrain.
How Do You Gauge Success?
Organizations may measure ROI from this approach in various ways. “Within our group, we have a P&L,” says Clancy. “I am held to a revenue number.”
However, he explains that their audiences come to them looking more for the value they are receiving in their services.
“They’re not looking at ROI. They know what we’re doing, whether it’s good or bad, and they will tell us. And when it’s bad, we make improvements and keep moving on.”
At PAREXEL, a global company hired by pharmaceutical companies to conduct clinical trials, Costello explains that they base ROI on feedback.
“We have a monthly scorecard that our vice president sends to his management team within HR, and then it also goes out to the businesses,” he shared. “But the metrics we use are from evaluations that people complete right after they take the course to get that immediate feedback.”
Laffoley has a clear message about defining results of the L&D efforts his team provides.
“It’s about focusing out and getting clear with the client and asking the right questions,” he says. “Because if you haven’t figured out how you’re going to measure success on the front end, then you’re not set up for failure, but you are hurting yourself. So, we don’t have one formula [for ROI], but the one thing is to really ask the right questions and make sure the client’s thinking about it.”
At IRI, Malik looks for success stories from clients.
“I’d like to be able to tie an increase in revenue at a client back to the training class that they took last month. But, that’s not always possible, so we’re always looking for anecdotes. We’re always looking for examples of how people have taken the content from the training and applied it to the client and then getting feedback from the client.”
At TrainingPros, we see the most successful organizations — those that are really harnessing their growth potential — as the ones who embrace aligning learning programs with business goals. These diverse companies and examples help illustrate that practice in our marketplaces.
Thanks to our contributors who shared their insight for this article through interviews on Learning Insights Radio:
- Tom Clancy, vice president of education, EMC
- Tom Costello, manager of learning and development, PAREXEL
- Jay Heubner, director retail learning and development, Ace Hardware
- Anthony Laffoley, program director, Kenan-Flagler Business School, UNC-Chapel Hill
- Asfa Malik, vice president of corporate training, IRI
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