The business environment in many of today’s organisations is more complex, more fluid and more ambiguous than the second half of the 20th century. Critically, our world is changing so fast that traditional methods employed in learning and development no longer have the traction and impact they once had or some may argue ever had.

This presents us with a paradox: at a time when learning and development can provide organisations with the capabilities they need to succeed, the traditional approaches and methodologies employed can be increasingly less effective in providing sustainable results.

So why are these approaches ineffective? And more importantly, what is needed to change these contradictions and overcome the challenges of development?

Ways of learning
Human interaction, combined with technology, have been utilised in the learning landscape for the past 40 years. This was first pioneered with computer assisted learning during the 1970s; the 1990s saw the rise of computer based training; more recently this has evolved into e-learning.

The paradox that we are currently facing is not an issue over a lack of technology, but that training has not universally been adapted in a way that can make an operational difference in organisations. All too often training in an organisation is carried out for training’s sake. What often fails to be considered is the sustained impact on the wider business.

In economic climate downturns one of the first budgets to be cut is that of learning and development. In light of the aforementioned paradox, the business case for this is understandable; learning and development provides no proven cost benefit. The change that is needed therefore is to demonstrate measurement of the training investment and underpin it to the business strategy.

Changing path and finding a solution
One of the fundamental reasons why businesses can struggle in implementing effective people development is a failure to measure and task employees on the learning investment; and a failure to link this performance management process to organisational performance. In order to sustain learning in this way a platform is needed; line managers – who play a pivotal role in coaching, mentoring and working closely with employees – are key to this.

Senior management, in tough economic climates, can often be focused on cost cutting and so drive line managers to bonuses through Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Subsequently targets are often not set for taking an active role in the productivity of a business’ biggest asset – its people. In my opinion this is the crux of the issue.

Learning and development is far too often reactionary, but to bring real value training must be about more than simply ticking a box. The real key to the issue is measuring the impact of the training investment back into the business. This measurement needs to be done in a way that enables line managers to monitor progress and for employees to produce evidence that is not solely linked to personal development, but to business performance as well. This can drive ongoing conversations between line management and employees. If a company fails to sustain the training in this manner then it becomes redundant and an unnecessary business cost, rather than an investment.

The role of a line manager clearly indicates that a core aspect of the role is to manage people, but commonly this is not a skill that those in the job end up doing due to the pressure of KPIs. Line managers need to develop a stronger focus on coaching and soft skill development of their people, to ensure training investment is realised. This could mean that training is needed for line managers, and this training should follow the same process. The long term benefits of this though are invaluable to an organisation.

The crystal ball
I believe that this is where the future of learning lies and moving the learning and development agenda into the boardroom is essential to this change. Evidence to show the long term results – and business benefits – of training, means learning and development can easily be reported to board level.

The advent of social networking, social learning and continuing technological advances can provide high quality, cost effective and rapidly deployed training to everyone within an organisation. This ability to reach all employees, combined with adopting the principles outlined here, cannot only have a huge business impact but can also empower the employee to take charge of own their own career development programme.

The learning and development function of organisations has a massive contribution to make to the wider business picture. The combination of human interventions and technological advances available means this is much more flexible and easy to achieve. The focus should be on leveraging all assets of an organisations together in a coherent strategy.

It is time that learning and development people realised the magnitude of their contribution to the wider business picture. This shift is a big step for the learning and development world but making the change will only lead to positive outcomes – for their industry and for businesses.

About the author:

Phil Purver leads the continued growth of The Working Manager as Managing Director.

The Working Manager (TWM) creates systems, now referred to as a VODE® – a virtual organisational development environment – that help people grow and deliver as organisations transform. The VODE® is an online solution which engages employees online and aligns people performance and organisational goals, delivering future success.
Proud to work with some of the UK’s leading businesses and organisations TWM offers highly cost effective bespoke solutions across a wide range of Leadership, Learning and Organisational Development needs.