Business coach Gary Cole has a few words of wisdom to share with HR teams on how to improve on their L&D strategies.
I was recently challenged to put my money where my mouth is in terms of explaining exactly what I would do better if I were an HR director myself, as opposed to being a L&D coaching specialist, who often, as part of my work with an organisation, ends up advising HR directors on how to improve the way they work in this area.
So here goes.
1. Train all leaders and senior managers as qualified coaches
For the uninitiated, let me make something very clear: there is a profound difference between the practice and impact of quality coaching versus a half-hearted internal mentoring programme. Trust me, I've experienced both, either as the recipient or supplier, and the experience quality is vastly different. Line managers can deliver as much as a 27% swing in an individual's performance and I personally believe that equipping your managerial talent with cutting edge coaching skills will help them and your business reach the top end of this swing. If you're serous about following this up, I would recommend Barefoot Coaching - and no, not because I qualified with them - but because they were truly outstanding and most alumni will say the same.
2. Work with partners who drive sustained change
Organisations so often have a legacy supplier list of training and/or coaching suppliers. If you haven't undergone a recent tender process, then I'd recommend you embark on this pretty quickly. It is alarming how many businesses stick with the same old suppliers, delivering the same old thing. There is an irony here in that the underlying rationale of L&D is to deliver positive change, isn't it!? Reasonably prominent within your tender briefing document should be the question: "What can you do to help us drive sustainable change within our people and culture?” A good, modern supplier should be changing and adapting with your operation as your results and people develop. So you should be ensuring that an element of 'training the trainer' is in place to ensure that the role of future suppliers is to support and enhance their performance - not to regurgitate training content from the 1990s.
3. Make personal development a KPI for all line managers
For many reasons, I am a huge believer in empowerment to build a performance culture and to deliver outstanding results. I therefore think a primary KPI for any manager should be to a) delegate effectively in a structured and developmental way and b) identify and recommend learning and development requirements. The frequency of this reporting or feedback should be at least quarterly and ideally achieved in a process working with peers or key stakeholders. Please, please don't wait until the dreaded annual budgeting process where L&D is sadly given lip service and often marginalised. HRDs - you should be driving a culture of ownership here! It could save some of your personal time too, surely?
4. Separate 'training' from 'entertainment' on the P&L
This is a follow on from the point above in some ways. In my previous career as a sales director (and P&L owner), I would be forced to budget in a finance template for training and entertainment as one budget line. Oh yes, this would be annually, as part of the dreaded budgeting process too. This is wrong on several levels, but chiefly because training shouldn't be perceived solely as an employee benefit but also something that will drive and thus benefit the business. The danger here is that training is viewed as a day out of the office to suck Foxes glacier mints. I refer you to the existing supplier list point made in (3) above.
5. An ROI approach, focused on benefit not cost
An MD from a new client of ours recently shared his opinion that investment in L&D is similar to investing in solar panels on residential housing. His point is that you could either chose to look at the cost of installation or alternatively the value of the long term savings they will bring. I would strongly suggest that planning your L&D initiatives should 'start with the end in mind', like all successful projects do. Be clear on what success really looks like, and be clear on what you need or how you would like to see thing done differently.
6. Undertake 'pilots' with suppliers until you're completely satisfied
Many ‘old school’ training and coaching suppliers will shudder when they read this, but I would strongly advocate an initial pilot period when dealing with a new partner, or even a continuation of a legacy one. A pilot is a period of time with clear and defined success measures. If the program passes this gateway then it continues. The subtle difference with a pilot approach is that you can phase in multiple test and learn windows, which provide the perfect antidote to failure and procrastination.
7. Ensure line managers and leaders are responsible for tracking and delivering implementation & ROI
In the same way that your managers should be taking responsibility for the identification and recommendation of L&D solutions, they should also be responsible for driving post-programme changes and ROI evaluation. It might also be worth considering amending your trainee feedback mechanism to include an indicative financial evaluation of the training programme. This should also be performance managed, verified and reported by their line managers to help you justify the ROI.
8. Encourage and drive a structured internal knowledge share
One of the most effective ways of developing talent, as well as teams and individuals, is to involve them in the L&D process itself. In some ways this links to the point I made in (2) regarding sustainability as well. Put simply, it should be incumbent on individuals who have benefited from training or coaching to impart their experiences and knowledge to others. Not only does this reinforce the development you hope the trainee has retained and applied, but role modeling can be a very effective way of inspiring others to embrace new skills too. Need I point out that this tactic can also represent a cost saving on repeated programmes as well?
Gary Cole enjoyed a 20-year career predominantly in commercial management/leadership roles in the digital media industry before retraining as an ICF Coach in 2012, when he set up his business, Archipelo.