Are you holding your learners accountable?
Towards Maturity and CIPD’s recent study ‘Preparing for the Future of Learning’ made for insightful reading.
It found that organisations and business leaders are ‘focusing more and more on productivity and adaptability,’ with greater expectation that their L&D teams will deliver these innovative learning solutions in order to support these outcomes.
Refreshingly, the study also revealed that there is a confidence that L&D will deliver results as they embrace flexible, digital training solutions that suit the needs of the changing learning landscape of modern businesses.
While this all sounds very utopian, the reality for many organisations is that the culture required to support these changes simply isn’t there.
In order for this to happen, four fundamental elements – accountability, continual review, effective appraisals and managing expectations – need to be put in place, thus creating the bedrock of an effective learning culture.
A is for accountability
Apart from helping identify their learning needs, how many employees are actually included in the discussions which take place prior to training?
Do they understand their role in achieving a healthy return on investment? How can we expect our learners to embrace training and understand the impact it has on the business if we don’t create the right environment for learning?
The business needs to encourage a culture of accountability – and to define this, I quote management consultant Todd Herman, who suggests it is "being willing to answer…for the outcomes resulting from your choices, behaviours, and actions."
Those organisations where staff are actively encouraged to be personally accountable for all areas of their jobs are reaping dividends.
Not only are they taking ownership of situations that they are involved in but they are taking responsibility for the process and outcome – good or bad. It’s not about blame, finger pointing and one-upmanship – it’s about trying to find the solution and doing your best to make things right.
From a training perspective, an accountable employee will take this beyond their personal learning journey and into the wider arena of team and departmental accountability.
And when these actions are being practised by the organisation’s leaders, it builds trust and fosters a culture where people can depend on one another, are liked and respected.
From a financial perspective, this can of course save money, time and resources as those who take responsibility tend to speak up and look for solutions quickly, rather than hiding behind others, causing delays and disruptions and costing the business money.
Finally, being responsible is a trait that is considered valuable and shows leadership potential – something that is prized in employees, nurtured by L&D, and rewarded with promotion and benefits.
Fostering a culture of accountability is not a walk in the park.
It’s a top-down process that requires a forward–thinking CEO, a strong and well-aligned team of senior managers who understand their own roles and the expectations asked of them, and a desire to support learning.
This brings us to the next element: how can learners be accountable when they are unsure of what is expected of them?
Among other struggles unearthed during our research, we found that this key relationship is a critical link in the chain of effective learning - from initial buy-in from line manager to delivery and finally, the metrics and demonstrative effect on the bottom line.
Louise Hunt, HR Director at VCG Kestrel, has implemented a number of effective learning strategies that deal with measuring the effectiveness of the training, creating learner accountability and clearly defining expectations – three of the key elements needed to bring about a learning culture.
Louise, who is responsible for around 300 staff across four different organisations, asked us to roll out our Foundation Leadership Training to fill some gaps at junior and senior management level.
This was delivered off-site over a period of three months, amounting to three lots of two-day sessions for around 50 people.
From the outset, she outlined clear objectives for the training and at the end of the final session, the learners presented a talk to senior staff explaining the ROI of the training they had just undertaken, which in turn helped them to analyse its immediate effectiveness.
“It was very insightful seeing just how much thought they had put into the presentations, and return the business got from it. They had looked at the cost, the result and could see for themselves what a beneficial exercise it was.”
Louise gives a very pertinent analogy to illustrate why she believes that being clear in your expectations is integral to success:
“When a high jumper is running towards the bar, if they don’t know that they need to jump over it, they might just go underneath. If there are no clear expectations of an acceptable performance level – how can you encourage an employee to do better, to fulfil their potential?”
One of the reasons this is a successful approach for Louise and her team is because they have a culture that naturally encourages accountability.
Rather than define in such distinct terms, the company has created an organic approach which has been shaped as a result of regular collaborative meetings where objectives are set for team members.
These are well-defined individual, team and departmental expectations and have far-reaching benefits, not least because employees understand what is required of them and how to go beyond their expected levels of achievement to progress professionally.
Continually reviewing to underpin learning
Many organisations set targets for their people attending CPD or training programmes, but merely measuring attendance is tantamount to bean-counting. This is where another of the pillars of the learning culture becomes pertinent.
As an L&D leader, learning needs to become part of the fabric of the business, encompassing all forms of training from mentoring programmes and leadership schemes to soft skills, but in manageable ways that are not deemed intrusive or obstructive to daily tasks.
This very much hinges on buy-in from line managers who can see that the training is well designed, flexible, relevant and effective.
Training becomes less of a tiresome ‘must-do’ and is assimilated into employees’ everyday roles.
Towards Maturity’s research shows that the top learning companies in its benchmarking study invariably support continuous, long-term learning in the workplace.
“We should be constantly reviewing and learning - it shouldn’t end when the training is over,” agrees Louise.
In order to underpin her training programmes, she has set up focus groups where staff openly discuss their training experiences which in turn help measure its ongoing effectiveness.
This approach encourages the learners to remain engaged in the process, see how their achievements affect the business in real terms, and utilises the new skills and behaviours they have learned.
The research we undertook into L&D’s pain points revealed that identifying training needs was an ongoing concern for many of the respondents with the performance appraisal process being an area in need of development and improvement.
Rather than simply being an annual box-ticking exercise, smart organisations make use of the appraisals system to identify skills gaps, promote CPD, support employees who may be having problems and promote a sense of worth.
It also provides an opportunity for the employee to take accountability for any areas of weakness, and understand how they can improve and progress.
VCG Kestrel has enriched its own appraisal process - which is done annually on the anniversary of the individual’s start date. This is where training and CPD goals are discussed, with employees suggesting areas they need to improve and training that they feel needs to happen.
“We have also developed a one-to-one form in addition to the annual appraisal – where every six weeks or so, we discuss different areas for staff development in 45 minute sessions,” explains Louise.
“It might be looking at aspirations or additional training needs. It keeps a chain of events going and might include setting or altering objectives or simply keeping up with changes and new dynamics.”
Are you holding learners accountable? Yes you must and you should. But it’s only possible if you create the right conditions to build a culture to support learning.
Learners indeed need to be accountable and to understand the ROI of their training but in order to facilitate this, the business needs to encompass these four pillars which will help create the cornerstone of an evolved learning culture and, over time, can bring about significant organisational change.
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Stephanie Morgan FLPI was the former Managing Director of Bray Leino Learning.
Stephanie has extensive experience in Learning and Development and is passionate about helping people thrive in an ever-changing world.
One particular passion is helping people progress their careers to board level. Stephanie believes...