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Laura Overton

Learning analyst

Read more from Laura Overton

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How to boost performance through learning


In the third article in our series looking at how learning professionals can deliver on five key business outcomes, Laura Overton, CEO and founder of Towards Maturity, provides insights into how the most successful organisations are boosting performance through learning.

Which one of us doesn’t want to help colleagues do their jobs faster or better? Translating learning strategies into improved individual and organisational performance is now a key part of what learning and development does.

Our research shows that L&D leaders see their learning strategy as a means to deliver much more than learning impact. Just look at the performance related outcomes L&D leaders want to achieve in the coming months and years:

  • 96% want to improve organisational performance
  • 96% want to increase self-directed learning
  • 95% want to increase on the job productivity
  • 95% want to reduce time to competence
  • 91% want to improve external customer satisfaction
  • 78% want to facilitate new ways of working

These goals reflect the changing nature of learning, moving from a support function to one that drives performance and creates business impact. And for some organisations, this shift is having a dramatic effect on expectations.

In our latest benchmark report, Unlocking Potential, top-performing organisations could see the following boost in performance:

  • Reduce the time-to-competence by up to 15%
  • Increase productivity by 14%
  • Improve organisational revenue by 10%

These are ambitious goals, but some L&D teams are already achieving them. Of our Top Deck organisations (those in the top 10% of our benchmarking index), 62% are achieving performance and productivity benefits (versus the average of 26%).

So what tactics can we use to achieve these kinds of results?

Integrating learning and work is a great starting point. By thinking of learning as a part of work - not separate to it - learning leaders can start to look beyond the course.

Our data shows that 93% are looking to integrate learning into the workflow (up from 80% last year).

However, only 50% on average agree that their approach to learning and development is shaped by models that support learning directly in the flow of work. This matters less if your focus is on making learning more efficient and effective.

However, it does matter if you are looking for improved business productivity and organisational performance.

Of the organisations that have achieved improved productivity, 69% have shaped their approach on models such as 70:20:10 (versus 46% of non-achievers). And 85% of Top Deck organisations agree that their approach is shaped by models that support learning directly in the flow of work, compared to 46% of the rest.

Aside from the strategic shift towards embedding learning into work, organisations are focusing on supporting performance at the point of need. Our data shows:

  • 71% agree learning initiatives are delivered in time to meet the needs of the business (vs 43% non-achievers)
  • 47% ensure staff have access to job aids online or via mobile devices (20%)

They are also evaluating progress and performance against business metrics:

  • 53% identify specific business metrics/KPIs they want to improve through learning in partnership with senior management (vs 26% non-achievers)
  • 31% measure specific business metrics when evaluating the effectiveness of learning technologies (14%)

The performance mindset is so different from course delivery thinking. Our data shows that organisations that are succeeding in this area have this performance mindset and approach learning as an enabler of improved performance first and foremost.

Of course, formal learning still has a very important role to play. But what we need to do is strike the right balance between learning in the workflow, social interaction and formal learning, according to business need.

The good news for all organisations is that there are plenty of small steps you can take to start having an impact on organisational performance. Here are four to get you started:

  1. Use job aids to bring learning closer to the point of need, and integrated into the work flow
  2. Tap into the natural motivation and habits of your learners by facilitating the use of mobile learning
  3. Ensure course design enables transfer of desired behaviours into the workplace
  4. Focus on priorities - set and track business performance goals in partnership with senior managers

In our next article we’ll look more in depth at how to boost performance through learning with several practical tips. In the meantime, we ask you to tap into the resources you have freely available to you. Participate in the Towards Maturity Benchmark Study and review your strategy, compare your performance and find out what actions you should be prioritising with your personalised benchmark report.

Author Profile Picture
Laura Overton

Learning analyst

Read more from Laura Overton

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