Business Executives and L&D Professionals: Learning is About Connecting

The changing landscape of learning is profound. It’s most evident in workplace learning where digital disruption reigns and business leaders struggle to keep up.

Whether you are a small start-up and have never heard of a learning management system (LMS), or a Fortune 500 company with a corporate university and multiple learning platforms, the change facing us all is significant. Often, the biggest obstacle in meeting this challenge head on is the lack of partnership between business and learning leaders.

Do any of these statements sound familiar?

  • Senior executives don’t recognize the value of learning and development (L&D) leaders in the organization.
  • The L&D team does not know how to prove their value to senior executives.
  • Executives and learning leaders rarely communicate.
  • Legacy knowledge is untapped or walking out the door.
  • Business outcomes are not being met by established training processes and products.
  • There is no ROI in investing time and money in a learning strategy.

This article focuses on companies who value learning and have one or more employees dedicated to the learning and development function. There is often a gap in what is valued by business leaders, learning leaders, and employees, and what is practiced. I

t’s common in today’s companies for both senior executives and L&D leaders to trudge along in the status quo, each often in their own world, rarely coming together to discuss the massive demand for change.

Much has been written and discussed about the lack of partnership between senior executives and the L&D organization, so we know that business executives value learning but often do not put their money where their mouth is.

And we know that L&D professionals are passionate about learning and learners, but often have difficulty clearly outlining and articulating their strategy, outcomes and value to the business. These gaps result in unmet goals, dissatisfied learners, and even declining revenue.

Change is inevitable, and we all know it

Now, in this digital age we see an organic transformation: a flattening of the organization regardless of job title and even with little or no help from those responsible for workplace learning.

Without changing corporate learning culture, what senior executives plan or purchase or even what L&D leaders offer or implement have less and less bearing on learning and the learner.

But it doesn’t have to be this way, and it shouldn’t. Managers need to embrace the concept of shared authority and empower employees to fully participate in the learning culture.

Here are just a few critical scenarios that require a huge shift in the way we think about corporate learning:

  1. Today there are up to five generations in the workplace. Traditionalists, Boomers and GenXers possess an incredible amount of legacy experience, skill, and knowledge and if it isn’t shared with those who will carry on, it will soon walk out the door.
  2. The 4th Industrial Revolution impacts nearly every industry and requires new skills and agility. Most companies will not find a sufficient number of skilled talent externally to meet the need so employees must transform their skills to take on emerging roles and responsibilities. I learned this first hand, leading AT&T Skills Transformation initiatives starting in 2012 and still going strong.
  3. There is a significant shortage of talent in several sectors, placing far more pressure on recruitment and retention.
  4. Millennials, the largest demographic in the workplace today, are not satisfied with traditional methods of learning delivery. Younger workers know how to obtain knowledge where and when they need it. And it’s often not in a classroom or on your LMS.

Cultivating a strong corporate learning culture is a business imperative, a challenging one, but doable. To execute well, the company must recognize that learning must be “owned” at all levels. It’s no longer driven by top-down communication or solely an L&D responsibility. It includes individuals at all levels, where employees can create and share content, provide input to drive learning solutions, and take responsibility for their learning needs.

These may very well be the leaders of tomorrow! Innovation is key to the success of the business. The ability to experiment, work out loud, learn on the job and pivot quickly means that individuals, not necessarily the L&D department, drive the learning culture, strategy and need for supporting technology.

Opportunities to Create Success

To begin, executives and L&D leaders must take a good hard look at the current learning culture, strategy and technology infrastructure. The traditional L&D-centric methods of creating and pushing content are becoming obsolete and no longer impact business outcomes. Rather, positive business results are driven by employees who are empowered and who recognize and demonstrate the value of learning in its many expressions.

Does this mean the L&D function is obsolete? Absolutely not! Change is inevitable, but it does not mean that valuable functions and people disappear. Those in the L&D role recognize, probably more than any other, that their roles are changing I believe they are changing for the better.

The future of learning and development professionals is extremely bright! The caveat is whether change is welcomed or shunned. This is true of senior executives as well.

Business and learning leaders who are serious about facilitating the shift from a traditional to agile learning culture can start with these four opportunities:

  1. Evaluate the company’s vision, values and goals. Do they support learning, innovation, employee empowerment, and transparency? If not, what changes need to be made and communicated?
  2. Evaluate the current company structure and culture as it relates to the company’s vision, values and goals. It’s not enough to communicate values, for instance, processes and practices must support those values.  
  3. Take a good look at the learning culture and current learning processes and practices. Do they align with the one- to five-year corporate objectives? Do they support an innovative and agile working environment? Does the learning culture attract and retain talent and/or encourage employees to take responsibility for their skills transformation and career progression? Is learning developed and pushed by the L&D organization or is it shared across business segments at all levels?
  4. Assess the state of the current learning technology infrastructure. Does it support company values and expected change? What capabilities does the LMS have to support the shift in learning strategy? Can it be expanded or integrated with a learning engagement or experience platform? Should it be replaced? Does the learning infrastructure support transparency and employee empowerment? Are employees able to create their own learning paths, pull content from various sources, and get rewarded for skill building? Can they create their own content on business-specific matters and spread it to coworkers?

Senior executives and learning leaders must begin these discussions if they want to survive and thrive amidst the significant changes rapidly approaching. Continuing with the status quo will have dire consequences.

Business and learning leaders share the burden of corporate change by not only immediately tackling the above items, but also by modeling the open network concept. A strong learning culture cannot be developed or cultivated without transparency and without both leaders and employees at all levels taking ownership.

Next month we will take a deeper dive into the dynamic corporate learning landscape and how new learning technologies are facilitating a flatter, agile, engaged and empowered workforce.

*Learn more about fostering a learning culture in this Bersin research article: Fostering a Learning Culture: Why It Matters Now

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This is the 1st in a series of articles hosted by 360Learning focused on the significant changes occurring and expected in corporate learning and development in the 4th Industrial Revolution. 360Learning is a Learning Engagement Platform where business leaders, L&D professionals, and learners connect to create a continuous work and learning environment. Your insights and feedback are welcome!

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Amy Rouse is a learning strategy and technology consultant helping businesses transform their learning ecosystem and improve their business outcomes. After 25 years in military and corporate learning, the majority of that as Director of Learning Architecture and Instructional Design at SBC > AT&T, Amy is passionate about helping companies improve their business outcomes through the effective use of technology to improve and enhance talent development, engagement & empowerment, skills transformation, and change management. Amy can be reached at amy@learningwithtoutlimits.co.

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