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Laura Overton

Learning analyst

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How to win friends and influence people


In the effort to deliver more for less, organisations are increasingly turning to learning technologies yet while they offer great promise, staff resistance can often hinder their success. Laura Overton gives her hints and tips on how to engage managers and learners.

At last month’s Learning and Skills group event, I was involved in a session with over 100 L&D professionals to debate the challenges they faced in engaging their business with technology enabled learning solutions. The Driving Business Benefits research (conducted at the start of the recession) shows that over 40% of L&D staff say that staff reluctance is the biggest barrier to implementing learning.

So we asked the group what stops them from engaging their organisation with the learning solutions that they create? A number of areas were highlighted: the culture of the business (including politics, conflicting priorities and cynicism), lack of resources (time, budget, and infrastructure); poor past experience; lack of trainer skill (often combined with a negative attitude) and the lack of evidence of the benefits needed to convince others. It’s clear that some challenges are not within the power of individuals to change and we need strategies to work around them. But others can be addressed head on – albeit with some guile and creativity.

Collectively the group shared ideas that helped them to identify and engage the significant influencers within their businesses, including senior directors, IT departments and most significantly line managers and staff themselves. Many of their ideas have been proven to work through our research on the Towards Maturity model over the past 5 years– there are 6 strands of behaviours that organisations more mature in their use of learning technologies consistently exhibit and they positively influence not only take up of technology enabled programmes but also correlate directly to positive staff impact and business results. Here are some top tips from the group for each of those strands that really do make a difference:

Define the need - improve the relevance of your offering

The right business case is critical if you want to release resources and the recommendation of the group was to focus solutions on the current business priorities in order to reduce conflict with management teams. Another suggestion was to build programmes relevant to key stakeholders –for example a solution that addresses skills needs of IT professionals helps to engage the IT department and our research has shown that when directors and senior managers actually have technology in their own development plans, adoption across the business soars ( although only 25% of organisations actually do this).

Consider the Learner

The group suggested that more emphasis should be put on rewarding learners through acknowledging their successes e.g. via certificates, CPD points or even competitions (chocolate always works!). All joking aside, meeting career aspirations and supporting the personal job roles of learners has significant impact on business impact , staff impact and take-up of learning technologies yet only 27% of businesses do this. When it comes to reward and recognition, less that 13% of organisations recognise individual e-learning achievement yet research shows that this is really important to them.

Consider the work context and culture

Time is a major barrier to online learning - one idea from the group was to create protected learning time, combined with development of more bite-sized content helps the learning fit better with time pressures. Supporting managers with resources aimed at helping them help their teams also influences take up and success and the more mature are more likely to focus on understanding line manager needs and meeting them.

Build the capability of L&D staff

A key recommendation from the group was to learn how to integrate technology enabled solutions into their other offerings such as performance management process and to create more blended learning solutions so that technology becomes part of their everyday course experience. This is not widespread practice – less than 50% of organisations say that e-learning is always part of a broad mix of methods and the same number say that they train their staff in blended learning methods – both of these factors directly correlate to take up and impact of learning in the workplace.

Engaging stakeholders - Communicate, communicate, communicate

The group highlighted that it was critical to identify stakeholders who will make a difference, to be proactive in creating a plan to engage, motivate, incentivise them, to be sympathetic to their needs and to use language they relate to. We know from studies with learners that when it comes to engaging with learning technology, the person who’s opinion really counts is their line manager (55%) followed by their peers (23%) and less than 10% think that HR and L&D opinion will influence them!

It is clear that to really engage we need to ensure that we are helping others, more ‘respected to speak on our behalf so how can we do this? The group ideas included involving key influencers early in pilots and using and supporting local champions. It was also suggested that some of the new social networking technologies are used to encourage peer to peer communication (for example, getting learners to update what they have been able to do differently as a result of attending course or encourage staff to share their own best practice, posting reviews of courses and recommending a friend). Other recommendations included use existing communications structures and processes and using external recognition of success to raise internal credibility (something that is proven to increase take-up yet is done by only 34% of organisations).

Demonstrate value - build evidence of success and use it!

Finally the group turned its attention to how to demonstrate value back into the business. One suggestion was to measure what is important to business and report on it – we have found that this activity directly correlates to take up yet again is only done by 34% of organisations. Other suggestions included using the evidence that exists via case studies and research in similar sectors and companies to help to build the business case.

Just do it

Over 70 years ago, Dale Carnegie wrote a book to support his popular training course designed to help adults express their ideas more effectively and engage the people around them. ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ has since sold 15 million copies. It has 27 simple principles, most of which are pretty corny and could easily be dismissed today. But I have to say quite a few of his principles were picked up by the L&D professionals at the Learning and Skills event ( e.g. ‘talk in terms of the other person’s interest). Much of Carnegie’s book, like the suggestions above are common sense but research has shown that they work’s when they are applied! If you have had success with any of these ideas, or have others that have worked for you, we would love to hear from you.

Laura Overton is managing director of towards Maturity CIC, an independent not-for-profit organisation that provides free research and case studies to help organisations improve the impact of learning technologies in the workplace

Author Profile Picture
Laura Overton

Learning analyst

Read more from Laura Overton

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