16/03/2015

By Mark Norris, Head of People & Change, North Highland UK


Having the right people with the right skills might be an age old problem, but the pace of change today highlights the need to be able to quickly adapt to new skills as they come to prominence. Within HR, it’s become common language to talk of individuals “owning their own careers and development”. The concept sounds great in theory, but despite giving people the tools they need to do this, something isn’t working in practice. Even organisations that offer a wide array of Learning & Development (L&D) options often wonder why uptake isn’t high, or why there’s no tangible uplift in capability across the organisation.

There has been some progress – most organisations now recognise that on the job learning should form a larger part of development than traditional classroom training or e-learning. It is now commonplace for 70% of learning to take place on the job; 20% to be social - in the form of coaching for instance and 10% to take place formally, in the classroom. There is still a place for more formal learning, but it needs to embrace the concepts of Customer and User Experience in order to make a real difference.

Here are some practical tips to improve L&D using an experience based approach.

1. Involve employees from day one to create a hunger for career development and improve offerings

Agile is one of the current buzzwords. A key principle behind agile is to get user feedback throughout the lifecycle of a product. This applies to L&D too. Get user input from the start, involve them in the design, then try out different approaches in practice, gain feedback and continually improve. Early involvement from employees gains buy in and makes the creation of effective learning solutions a joint challenge – not something the L&D team go away to create in isolation. Accept that some things won’t work and change them quickly when they don’t. Where it does work, there’s always room for improvement – L&D can quickly become stale if it’s not kept up to date.

2. One bite at a time

Along with agile and experience, “bite sized” learning is a hot trend, and for good reason. The science behind learning shows more information sticks when provided in bite sized chunks with practical use of the learnings in between to reinforce them. You wouldn’t do all of your training for a marathon in one week, the same applies at work.

3. The trainer is dead! Long live the people that do!

We’ve all been taught by trainers who last applied what they teach some time ago. They roll out the same PowerPoint they’ve been using for years and the anecdotes are as old as some of the people they’re training. We believe that training is typically best delivered by the people who really know your business and culture and are applying the skill in practice. Empower internal people who show a passion and talent for training and work with them to develop learning that’s tailored to your organisation. You might still want to use external trainers to coach internal trainers and co-facilitate, but have a voice of the company as part of the training.

4. Make it easy

The rapid rise of the user friendly, reliable technology at home has generated higher expectations of technology at work. The same applies to L&D. It’s got to be intuitive, easy to get your head around and the key takeaways have to be obvious. HR departments need to make it easy for employees to find and do the learning, whatever the method or channel.

5. Make it fun and collaborative

Consider using gamification where appropriate - a little competition and recognition never hurt! Think of ways of making the learning fun and collaborative – a game or a collective problem solving exercise based on a real issue, rather than theory, can really improve engagement.

6. Challenge your leadership to get involved

Taking a leaf from teaching, there’s nothing like explaining something to others to make sure you truly understand it yourself. Make sure your managers and leaders are involved in creating and delivering L&D, whatever the format. An added bonus is that we’re naturally interested in, and learn from, others’ experience. Getting leaders to talk about the best learnings they’ve had and how they’ve built their careers (the good and the bad) is inspiring to others.

7. Focus

The temptation for organisations planning L&D is to try to fill all skills gaps at once. Not only does attempting this generate significant work, but the overall offering becomes too complex and the key skills gaps get lost in the weeds. Employees aren’t clear what the focus is and there can be so many L&D offerings that people don’t know where to find the ones relevant to them. Instead, focus on a handful of key skill gaps and build up from there.

8. Know what good looks like

Not having people who’ve seen “good” is one of the biggest reasons for failure we see across organisations. If you don’t have people within the organisation who know what good looks like for a particular skill or role, consider alternative ways of building that expertise. This could be bringing in new permanent or temporary talent, or forming mutually beneficial partnerships with other organisations that have different expertise.