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Al Bird


Managing Director

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How to make training more commercially credible


Al Bird gives us some great advice on how to align your training proposition with financial business objectives. 

For many years, L&D departments have been under pressure to cut costs, with the CIPD annual Learning and Development survey revealing that the average training spend per employee has reduced from £361 in 2002 to just £286 in 2014. Repeated cost cutting can in fact lead to fitter, leaner L&D functions, but it can also leave it hollowed out and ineffective. The problem is, L&D functions currently remain challenged to say how and where learning contributes to business benefit. If we are to tackle the need to cut costs and adequately support workforce development, L&D needs to change dramatically in order to offer best practice, become more commercially credible and drive real business change.

Weigh up budget cuts with best practice

Our recent Learning Curve study shows that despite most L&D budgets being lower than last year, the majority (62%) of HR and L&D professionals surveyed claimed their budget was in fact sufficient to achieve their goals. But businesses still need to consider the impact that a reduced L&D headcount could have on the resources available to support best practice. For example, L&D could end up becoming compliance-based with very little developmental learning, and elearning delivery could become compromised by the need to cut costs and won’t achieve its aims.

Understand how learning translates into performance improvement

If businesses are serious about cutting costs at the same time as properly supporting workforce development, L&D professionals need to think differently. They need to understand much more about the process by which learning translates into performance improvement and then business benefit, and communicate that clearly to senior management.

L&D professionals also need to harness rapid evolutions in informal and social learning in the workplace. Changes in social networking and technology mean it’s possible for employees to learn from each other and to embed that learning across the organisation where appropriate. A culture of learning that embraces all methods of improving skills and performance on the job is vital to rapidly and cost-effectively develop the workforce of the future.

Implement joined-up talent management

In order to make learning more efficient and effective, large organisations typically benefit from an operating model with one central L&D team, one set of best practice learning processes, and one central catalogue of recommended frequently used learning content, together with quality standards for creating new learning content. You also need one suite of integrated learning technology, one central reporting suite and one central control of all third-party training suppliers. Such an operating model should take into account informal and social learning and how it can be embedded in communities across the organisation.

Focus on improving performance, not just learning content

In order to become more commercially credible, L&D consultants should only accept training requests when the stakeholder can clearly state the performance shortfall and how they expect any learning will transfer into the desired performance improvement. This will ensure that learning is not just a short-term solution but that it translates into performance improvement. 

Focus on the expected business benefit of learning, rather than the cost of learning

Many learning professionals feel they need to scientifically prove the ROI of all learning investments and in many cases, they should. But L&D departments often get too caught up in a vicious circle whereby they end up losing credibility because they’re unable to provide irrefutable scientific evidence by isolating the impact of other influencing performance factors and this can be very frustrating. There is, however, a solution that involves thinking more actively about the clear business outcomes of effective learning, not just the costs. After all, if the board can approve marketing budgets based on expected payback of promotional activity, the same should be said for L&D departments if they are able to demonstrate the business benefit of different types of learning activity.

Seek evidence of business impact

While formal rigorous control group studies may be elusive, it is possible to more informally assess the business benefit from a variety of different learning programmes by simply interviewing a sample of learners approximately three to six months after the programme and probe them for evidence of impact on the business. Over time, you will build a library of 'evidence' of business outcomes, together with an understanding of the mechanisms by which this comes about. Use this less formal 'evidence' to estimate the expected business benefit of training interventions before they take place, then tell the rest of your organisation about it. The more you talk about business benefit, the more people will get used to hearing it. And the more they hear it, the more likely they are to see L&D as a commercially credible resource in the organisation.

Al Bird is managing director of KnowledgePool. KnowledgePool’s latest whitepaper on learning transformation suggests a change in approach rather than an increase in budget is the key to unlocking the potential of L&D. The whitepaper is available for download here 

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Al Bird

Managing Director

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