Every investment in business must contribute directly to business and strategic objectives. Therefore, proposing to allocate money and resources to an activity not meeting this basic requirement would be unusual, but this appears to be the case for training in many organizations.
Despite endless promises about training becoming more accountable, a lot of work still needs to be done to link workplace learning and performance (WLP) to strategic outcomes. The challenge to resolve this is twofold.
First, learning professionals are coming to terms with their need for a better understanding of their relationship to the organizational strategy while being able to communicate learning outcomes in business terms.
Second, C-level managers must realign the learning function so it is an integrated part of the strategic infrastructure. There are still too many executives resisting this change and too many learning professionals who aren’t adequately equipped to deal with it.
Training and development departments must focus on two primary issues: managing internal tasks and spearheading workplace learning initiatives. These initiatives need to be in line with organizational needs and help the entire organization integrate various learning activities into everyday business processes.
This requires those responsible for training to have a proper understanding of business processes and their connection to other operational areas. To ensure learning professionals become more effective and integrated in the business, three specific areas of knowledge are required: an understanding of financial concepts, developing lasting and result-oriented internal partnerships, and communicating outcomes in business and strategic terms.
Understanding Financial Concepts
In the past, learning professionals were not called upon to be involved with or report financial requirements. They were hired, justifiably, for their training and employee development expertise. Within your organization, these professionals now are being asked to a) report their results based on financial performance and b) be accountable for their business needs. Even though they may not possess the skills themselves to deliver answers, it is the responsibility of senior management to ensure their learning department acquires the necessary financial acumen to more effectively communicate with other business units while aligning with the strategic objectives.
Developing Result-Oriented Internal Partnerships
It's important for C-level managers to step back and determine how they can take training out of the shadows. The first step is to have management and those responsible for training position training and development (T&D) as a strategic asset for the organization. T&D must develop strong relationships with its customers (other business units) to ensure they understand their requirements and how it all fits together. Learning professionals must take on a leadership role with their customers to foster strategic discussions and innovative thoughts.
Communicating Outcomes in Business and Strategic Terms
Being understood by others is the primary objective. In business, however, communication often is more about speaking in the language understood by the receiver. But it is human nature to communicate in terms we are knowledgeable about. As such, learning professionals tend to convey their outcomes in "learning" terms. Even though these may be impressive outcomes, the results will mean nothing to the receiver, especially other businesspeople. They are concerned with performance outcomes, and more specifically, how their investment impacts financial, business, or strategic issues. As such, those responsible for learning initiatives must communicate results in performance terms they understand.
It is also senior management's responsibility to open communication by supporting and integrating learning into the fabric of the organizational strategy. C-level managers are looking toward future performance and finding answers through non-financial performance measures. This is the strength of the learning function. Management must leverage their organizational Balanced Scorecard (BSC) and connect the learning and innovation component to the rest of the organization and strategic direction.
If managers truly believe their employees are their greatest assets, then it is critical that T&D not be an afterthought. Whatever direction an organization takes, one thing is certain: Performance and accountability are the reality. As for the rest of the organization, they must leverage the role of learning to assist them in reaching their objectives. In the end the message is simple: Work together with one voice and for one goal.
Ajay Pangarkar, CTDP (email@example.com), and Teresa Kirkwood, CTDP, are partners at CentralKnowledge.com and Learningsourceonline.com. Their upcoming book, "The Trainer's Balanced Scorecard," will be published by Pfeiffer. Their current books include "The Trainer's Portable Mentor" and "Building Business Acumen for Trainers" by Pfeiffer. CentralKnowledge aligns learning strategy and performance with business and strategic objectives. For information, call 866.489.7378.