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The transfer of training: It’s all in the blend


Like coffee, Pete Bennett argues that effectively linking learning and training to organisational objectives is all about getting the right kind of blend.
Countless column inches in the trade and business press have been written about the importance of linking learning and development (L&D) to organisational objectives. Long before the recession, L&D professionals were being urged to ensure training made an impact on the bottom line such as by improving productivity or increasing efficiencies. Tradition says that we will see training budgets slashed or frozen for the foreseeable future. If this is the ridiculous and short-sighted reaction to hard times, then so be it.

With this prospect in mind, and when the department's work is so under scrutiny, therefore, do many L&D departments fail to put into place practices and processes that will measure the effectiveness of training and, in turn, demonstrate L&D's value in hard business terms. This, of course, could still be down to under resourcing where people know what they should do but simply can’t. Whenever it happens, however, it renders the process of training pointless.

The age-old issue

There's nothing new about the core elements required to link L&D's aims to those of the business. They include those stalwarts of the L&D and HR toolbox as appraisal or performance reviews, pre and post-course assessments, objective-setting, 360-degree feedback and key performance indicators. But what has been missing has been the will and a way to join them up and turn them into a cohesive framework that means something to the business.

This task falls to L&D which, in fairness, has had enough on its plate just fighting its corner to ensure a level of training is maintained throughout the economic downturn. Many L&D managers are being expected to do their jobs with less money, fewer resources and less capacity so how can they ensure effectiveness? The answer is that they cannot do so alone and need to employ the use of technology to make it possible and to draw others into the process to spread the responsibility.

Too often though, when L&D managers talk about the use of technology in training they think elearning and content when what they should be thinking is 'e-process'. By this I mean using technology to create a robust framework that allows training to be managed, controlled supported monitored assessed and measured against organisational objectives. This should be instigated by L&D, but the use of this framework or infrastructure needs to be extended to line managers who, after all, are the people best placed to pass judgement on whether the training is helping the business.

Building a robust framework

The framework must underpin all training and training-related activity, turning it into true development. The starting point should be the individual's appraisal and performance review. Managers need to identify what training is required to plug any skills gaps that might be holding back the individual and consequently the business and record this information into a development plan. Although some form of assessment can be made immediately after the training, it should also be revisited after a period of say three to six months to more accurately measure whether there has been an improvement in skill level and/or the changes in behaviour required to make a difference to performance and therefore to the business. Once again, the results of this should be recorded and documented.

Now you’ve just read that last bit and thought “we all know that…”. Yes, I know we all know it, but do we do it effectively and is it joined-up and managed? And can you see exactly what’s happening and what’s not happening at any time? I suspect the answer is no.

There are two critical parts to joining up the pieces. Firstly join up the L&D components, as indicated. Secondly, join up and extend the programme components so events become processes and training therefore becomes development. It's a case of ‘blend and extend’.

Introducing blended learning

In many organisations, there are less people doing the same amount of work and because of the demands this places on an employee's time, a blend of different learning components increase the chances of a training programme having the desired effect. L&D, therefore, needs to look carefully at the make-up of training programmes and offer employees flexibility and choice when it comes to learning preferences. Given the current climate, it also makes sense that one of the components of the blend is a work-based project which links the learning directly to the person's day-to-day role or responsibilities. Such projects should be selected carefully and approved by line managers and should then form part of any programme's effectiveness evaluation or assessment process. Alongside the framework, this is also another device to draw the line manager into the L&D process.

Using a blend of components can also helps to make some necessary cultural shifts that will make training far more effective. People are still in an event-based mindset rather than a process-based one as far as development is concerned. Following up a management development programme with a workshop and a work-based project both reinforces the learning and turns it into a more memorable and meaningful ongoing process than a one-off event.

Many people in L&D are still simply delivering or commissioning courses and events rather than well thought-out, component-based development programmes and measuring the impact of these. But they have to realise that gone are the days of benevolent executives and boards who are happy to fund such an unmeasured and unstructured approach to L&D. They must embrace technology as a means to join-up their L&D processes and their development programmes since, without it, we are left with bits of paper, unconnected events and disjointed elements, far removed from organisational improvement, and it will be impossible to assess whether the training has been successful for the organisation or the individual.

Technology adds a much needed layer of discipline to L&D, both for L&D professionals and for employees/learners. Crucially, by creating visible and accessible connected development and learning processes, it demonstrates the link between activity and its impact. And, after all, isn’t that what development is all about?

Pete Bennett is the CEO of Learning Resources International (LRI).

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