Performance and productivity, no matter what business or sector you work in, are likely to keep your senior managers awake at night. The question of how to improve what you do is no longer an option if your organisation wants to survive. Not to mention that government ministers are still scratching their heads wondering how the UK has fallen behind its competitors and how the situation can be remedied.
A fresh approach to learning is a key part of the solution. Performance and productivity are driven by learning – not the old paradigm where staff attend an occasional face-to-face course, but learning that takes place at the heart of a company every day.
For that to happen, learning must get closer to the business. And that requires organisations to change the way they approach learning. First, there must be a primary focus on key business needs. While there may be a broader learning offer, the core effort must be supporting the achievement of key KPIs, and that requires greater clarity for the learning team about business drivers.
Senior leaders should be champions of the learning process; we need leaders who engage and promote learning as a core part of their role and are known to be learners themselves. Managers matter too. They define the needs, facilitate the time and space for learning implementation and monitor outcomes and improvement. Learning should be an agenda item at every team and 1-2-1 meeting.
But learners, of course, are the most important people in the process. As key stakeholders, their views on what is needed, how it should be provided and when it should be accessible are core to effective learning and development. Learner-generated content is so effective in supporting performance; is it any wonder that engagement increases when learners play a part in the design and delivery?
All this means we need learning solutions that are rapidly created and deployed – performance support must be highly responsive. That requires an agile, iterative design process where improvement is ongoing.
Driving performance through learning very often means delivering development ‘in the flow’ of work. Employees should be able to learn as they work and work as they learn. Learning that is genuinely close to the business is about ‘resources, not courses’ – that means performance support aids, videos, podcasts and blogs are a valuable part of a continual performance improvement process. Learning can no longer be seen as a series of fragmented events; it must become part of a new mindset where every opportunity is recognised and taken to increase knowledge and skills.
Conversations are key in all this. We should be encouraging communities of performance where time and technology are used to support meaningful interactions to share ideas and practice. It’s time to invest in establishing a vibrant coaching culture where managers and peers can offer mutual support.
Is there a role for new technologies? Undoubtedly. Digital and social technologies have the potential to revolutionise workplace learning, which means those responsible for IT solutions need a greater ‘can do’ approach to supporting learning through devices and systems that are in common use outside work.
In many organisations, there remains a disconnect between frontline business activity and learning. No single initiative can fix that. But shifting learning closer to the business certainly can.