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Why a ‘break it’ approach to learning and development will bring business success

Just because a learning solution might not appear broken on the surface, doesn’t mean you should continue with ‘business as usual’. By aspiring to constantly evolve your L&D offering using a ‘break it’ approach you will bring far more value to your organisation.

28th May 2020
Learning and development expert
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If the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is that organisations need to be agile and able to adapt quickly to meet unexpected or evolving circumstances. These can be many and varied. For example:

  • Downsizing to manage costs

  • Meeting changes in political, regulatory, environmental, health and safety requirements 

  • Introduction of new IT systems and/or refining processes to improve productivity

  • Creating new products and services

  • Re-skilling the workforce

The list is endless and, sometimes, existing business processes, groupthink industrial action and resistance to essential change can often inhibit the speed at which change can take place in order for companies to remain competitive.

I believe it is the duty of learning and development professionals to be the vanguard of change within their organisations. To be constantly challenging the status quo. To be looking at ways to improve processes and standards to ensure their organisational values and business targets are being met.

It’s also L&D’s responsibility to ensure learning solutions are meeting the demands of the business and to adopt ‘break it’ thinking. In other words, ‘if it ain’t broke – break it!’ This mentality ensures learning practitioners are constantly looking for continuous improvement in the solutions they create and are able to adapt at speed to business needs effectively.

Question everything. Challenge your business leaders. Ensure your solutions are adding value and meeting business objectives. 

If you’re looking to adopt the ‘Break It’ approach to learning, here is a list of questions you might like to ask yourself:

  • Is my organisation supportive of learning in the workplace in both knowledge and skills? How does this manifest itself?

  • To what extent is the workforce aware of the values and beliefs of the organisation they work for and the business targets that have to be met? Do all levels of the workforce live and breathe these values?

  • What structures currently exist to identify learning and development needs at all levels? Are they fit for purpose? If not, what needs to be changed?

  • What solutions are currently in place to meet these needs? Are they fit for purpose? If not, what needs to be changed?

  • What do I need to do to become a more effective change agent within my organisation? How can I better influence the decision makers to make the right decisions?

  • Am I doing the right things to ensure learning and development is delivering for the business? Is what I’m doing helping the business and the people within in it to meet their individual and organisational goals and objectives? Am I adding value by helping to reduce waste or create revenue?

Here’s a couple of real life examples of how learning and development can become better aligned to business goals...

Example one:

A division of an organisation I worked for (prior to the pandemic) had face-to-face ‘training’ programmes for various grades of staff from managerial through to front line delivery. The programmes lasted a number of days (ranging from 1-10 working days) and were often held in hotels based in exotic overseas locations throughout Europe. 

To benefit from these, an applicant had to have the ‘right grade’ for the programme. Of course, there were many instances where people were doing higher graded work without getting the requisite grade for the job. Whilst they would probably benefit most from the training, they did not qualify for it under the ‘rules’. 

These programmes were looked upon as a bit of a ‘jolly’ by business managers. There was little expectation of improved learning or the application of the learning, nor any expectation that any ‘accidental’ learning would be transferred to the workplace. And, even if it was, there were no internal structures to monitor, measure or support it.

In other words, it was a complete waste of time and money. The learning and development division was still living in an era where learning was provided so it was ‘seen to be done’ but had little or no impact on meeting business needs.

How this was fixed:

  • Competences for all levels of staff were introduced

  • Precise and measurable learning objectives for each programme were written in line with the agreed competences

  • Structure and content for all programmes were revised and brought in line with the measurable objectives

  • Testing was introduced to measure understanding, knowledge and skill application

  • All measurement and programme feedback was linked to the existing performance management process for the line manager to read, discuss and support the transfer of learning

  • Candidates were selected on merit and the grade qualification was abolished

  • Support processes at the workplace were introduced and a ‘coaching for improved performance’ process was put in place managed by line managers

  • Programmes were shortened in length where appropriate to reduce cost and time needed for delivery

  • All training was conducted at an easily accessible purpose built training centre closer to London, that the organisation owned, but was not being used by the division

These changes enabled the division to be more focused on the effectiveness of their training and facilitated the transition of learning to the workplace.

By focusing the learning on established competences, and by introducing measurement and testing, together with line manager support, the division was able to demonstrate to clients the professionalism of the people they employed and, as a result, were able to combat any potential litigation issues.

Learning and development solutions should always look first at new, exciting and revolutionary options to help move their business forward, rather than sticking to what ‘has always been done’.

Example two:

An organisation I did consultancy work for wanted to improve their L&D provision to their clients. Training was provided to client representatives on technical issues using face-to-face presentations. These were published on their ‘open courses’ website, often involving one or two days in delivery. Some of their training sessions were bespoke and delivered ‘in house’ on client premises depending on client need.

Some clients were demanding more flexibility in the training provision as releasing staff for a whole day was becoming more difficult and costly for their business.

My recommendations were:

  • To review each programme and re-write objectives to make them more measurable

  • To break each programme into ‘bite size’ chunks of learning of about 20 minutes in length

  • To introduce a means of testing knowledge and understanding remotely

  • To commission experts in the creation of ‘bites’ of learning for iPhone application for selected programmes that would be most suitable for conversion. To pilot a selected programme with a selected client that was known to be supportive for a trial of the new application process

  • To review outcomes and make appropriate changes

  • To formulate a price structure and a marketing strategy

Allowing clients’ employees to conduct required learning using their mobiles, at any time and in any place, enabled the organisation to meet clients’ needs for flexibility and to increase revenue.

Championing the ‘break it’ approach

There are times when ‘tried and tested’ may well be the right action to take. For me, this is always a ‘fall back’ option. Learning and development solutions should always look first at new, exciting and revolutionary options to help move their business forward, rather than sticking to what ‘has always been done’.

Question everything. Challenge your business leaders. Ensure your solutions are adding value and meeting business objectives by focusing on ‘bottom line’ improvements. It will test your organisation’s commitment to continuous improvement and the exciting opportunities learning and development can provide to ensure the workforce has what it needs to be successful and for the organisation to be fit for the digital age.

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