No matter what business or sector you work in, there are two words that will be at the forefront of senior leadership thinking; performance and productivity. The question of how to improve is no longer an option if your organisation wants to survive. 

A fresh approach to organisation learning must be a key part of the solution; not an old paradigm where staff attend an occasional face-to-face course but one in which learning that takes place at the heart of a business, on a daily basis. Learning must get closer to the business, in several profound ways. 

Ahead of the CIPD Middle East People Conference & Awards, Andy Lancaster leverages his years of research and L&D experience to share 7 key things that will help you move learning closer to the business.  

1. Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture: focus on key business needs 

Firstly, there must be a primary focus on key organisational needs. While there may be a broader learning offer, the core L&D effort in high-performing organisations must be supporting the achievement of key KPIs, and that requires greater clarity for the learning team about business drivers. There is a groundswell in learning circles about the importance of moving from traditional learning needs analyses (LNA’s), which are often slow and based on inadequate insight, to performance consulting conversations. Learning professionals must be in the heart of the business and undertake forensic diagnoses about the real needs to be supported.

2. Make learning everyone’s business, not just L&D’s 

We must encourage the development of a wider ecosystem that underpins a successful learning organisation. The responsibility for learning is not solely with the L&D or HR team; they must be the advocates and facilitators of a wider development engine. 

For that, senior leaders must become champions of the learning process. It’s no longer enough to simply have a senior sponsor for learning programmes; we need leaders who engage and promote learning as a core part of their role and are known learners themselves. Managers are also vital; to 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.

3. Involve learners in learning design for increased engagement 

But learners, of course, are the most important people in the process. We must involve them more intimately in learning design. As key stakeholders, their views on what learning support is needed, how it should best be provided and when it should be accessible are essential to effective learning and development. In the past few years, we have seen the rise of learner-generated content which is so effective in supporting performance. Is it any wonder that engagement increases when learners have a part to play in learning design and delivery? This trend must increase.

4. Perfectionism is over: Deliver agile learning with ongoing improvement 

Another emerging trend is the need for learning solutions to be rapidly created and deployed. 

We no longer have the luxury of the L&D team taking weeks or months to develop a solution: performance support must be highly responsive. L&D teams must develop more agile, iterative design processes where improvement is ongoing. Many of us will need to set perfectionist tendencies aside for learning solutions that are ‘good enough’ to create learning impact, whilst not being perfect!

5. Learning ‘in the flow’: Empower employees to learn as they work

A key shift in learning strategy is the delivery of development ‘in the flow’ of work. Employees must be empowered to learn as they work and work as they learn. It’s becoming a well-coined phrase but learning that is genuinely close to the organisation is about “resources, not courses”. That means developing performance support tools, videos, podcasts and blogs will play an increasingly vital part in an ongoing performance improvement process. 

6. Focus on establishing a vibrant coaching culture  

Conversations are also key in the move to embed learning in the workplace. Communities of practice are not a new concept, but we must encourage vibrant learning communities where time and technology support meaningful interactions and the sharing of ideas and practice. It’s time to invest in establishing a vibrant coaching culture where managers and peers can offer mutual support.

7. Adopt a greater ‘can do’ approach to learning technologies 

The focus has often been on having the right organisational platform – but, so often, a platform-based approach fails to provide a convenient, learner-centred interface. Across the globe, the smartphone is transforming personal lives and the rise of artificial intelligence enables increasingly personalised solutions and content. Both should be a focus for L&D. However, the use of the mobile phone is often seen as a distraction in the workplace; which undermines its value. As digital and social technologies have the potential to revolutionise workplace learning, 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 conclusion, we must address the disconnect that exists in many organisations between frontline business activity and learning. 

Learning must increasingly move into the flow of work and, for that, we must develop learning ecosystems where employees play their part in engaging and supporting learning.

L&D teams will need to move to consultative conversations to diagnose the key needs that must be met to drive performance. Learning solutions will need to be deployed through agile methods to provide rapid support. And, for learning in the flow of work we must leverage workplace-based learning methods such as learner-generated content, communities of practice, coaching cultures, agilely produced resources and smart devices. 

What is a key mantra for L&D and HR teams to ensure learning impacts business performance? 

Let’s get learning into the flow of work, placing it at the heart of the organisation!

Andy Lancaster is the Head of Learning at the CIPD, where he is responsible for the vision and creation of innovative learning to support the people profession worldwide. His latest book, “Driving Performance Through Learning”, details strategies to embed learning in the workplace, in the flow of work. 

Hear Andy speak at the upcoming CIPD Middle East People Conference & Awards, taking place in Dubai on 2 - 3 September 2020. More details on and tickets available HERE.  

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