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Linking learning and business results: are you part of the problem or part of the solution?

Hardly a week goes by without a conversation with a learning colleague about the constant need to validate their department’s worthiness to leadership. When business is booming and profits are flowing, life is great. Management professes their devotion to their employees in every communication.  In many cases, they put their money where their mouth is with increased training budgets and support of new and innovative professional development programs.

However, as soon as business shows signs of slowing, or profits start to diminish, training quickly becomes an expense instead of an investment, a luxury instead of a necessity, and is usually first in line for budget cuts. At the very time when increased skills become most important, when competition is tough and business is scarce, investment in skill development can disappear overnight.

How can you improve your chances of NOT ending up at the bottom of the food chain?

Become part of the solution as opposed to part of the problem.   How do you do that? Make sure that every training program is linked to the desired business outcomes of the unit that funds your training budget. Sounds simple doesn’t it? Yet, I am constantly amazed when I speak to learning colleagues who don’t know the strategic plans and operating targets for the organizations they support. How can you link your learning activities to desired business outcomes unless you know what the desired outcomes are? If you cannot, you will quickly become part of the problem (expense) as opposed to part of the solution (investment).

Once you know what the desired outcomes are, ask yourself these questions about every training program you want to implement:

  • What will someone be able to do after they participate in your program?
  • What skill in your competency model and proficiency will they acquire?
  • How will this new skill or skill level contribute to the desired business outcomes?

In other words, if they have this new skill, so what? If the answer to “so what” is not helping the business achieve its desired goals, go back to the drawing board and rebuild the program until it does.

Once your program is providing competency-based learning, measure it.  Have participants use a competency assessment tool to assess that skill before and after your program.  If possible, capture the business results before and after your program.  Measure the difference in skill and business results.  If your program is not impacting the desired skill or results, go back to the drawing board and rebuild the program until it does.

Stop trying to justify your programs to leadership.  Show them why they need you with numbers.

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