Is this the right time to revolutionize your L&D?

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There are a number of reasons why it’s time to build your winning L&D organization, but perhaps the biggest is the growing expectation that L&D is a strategic partner to the business. That’s right: it’s expected of you. If it isn’t, if will be. If no one has told you to be more strategic and people in your organization think that a tactical L&D is ideal, you have the biggest opportunity of all. You can do things your way, with the opportunity to build a strategic partnership from scratch. By being proactive, you set the rules of engagement.

I remember a training director whose CFO demanded an ROI figure for all of the money the company was spending on training. The client started with the Phillips ROI method and presented her findings back to the CFO. She used vanity metrics, such as attendance numbers and satisfaction scores that were available via the LMS. The CFO’s response: “You don’t understand our business or how to do your job. If you can’t figure this out in two weeks, you’re fired.” These vanity metrics were completely disconnected from the metrics the business used to track its successes. They aren’t actionable. People outside of training say, “You took my team off the job for a week to train them. What return did I get for that?” The training director, panicked, tracked me down for help and was fortunately able to save her job by providing the numbers the CFO was really looking for.

The CFO had a box in his head, and whatever the training director came up with needed to fit into that box. If you are proactive in offering evaluation results to the business, then you have the opportunity to design the box. Many L&D leaders are afraid to take this step because they don’t know what they’re doing, but eventually those expectations will be placed upon you. If that time comes and you don’t have the capabilities, you’re in deep trouble.

Compared to even 10 years ago, L&D has matured as a function and a discrete department within large organizations. As HR has become more strategic and data-driven, L&D began to follow suit. When the 2008 recession reared its ugly head and organizations began tightening their budgets, L&D was one of the first areas to see dramatic cuts because it’s traditionally been considered a cost center. Even as the economy and organizational balance sheets have seen improvements, the prevailing atmosphere is one of “do more with less.” Now, I don’t take issue with the “do more with less” mentality. As you’ll learn in later chapters, putting analytical rigor behind your learning investments helps you to do just that. Where I do take issue is with cutting L&D because it seems like an unnecessary expense, an expensive luxury in a world of making do. And this is where strategic leadership can transform your situation. L&D takes on the critical business of building the organization’s talent by equipping people to excel at their jobs. Talent is the company’s most critical asset when it comes to executing strategy. L&D, therefore, is critical to the business. Strategic leadership enables you to connect those dots for your C-suite colleagues.

And speaking of talent, the war for talent is very real. In 2014, 63% of CEOs were concerned about the availability of key skills (up from 49% in 2009), and 50% planned to increase headcount in the following year. Some industries feel this more than others. Once you have good people on board, L&D’s job is just getting started. 64% of the CEOs in the 2014 survey said they were prioritizing building the skills of the workforce over the next three years.

Another important change that impacts just about every area of L&D is the growth and complexity of technology and data. In the early 2000s, my colleagues and I tried introducing advanced human capital analytics to the marketplace. The pitch had several deficiencies, not the least of which was that it was very technical in a field where the audience wasn’t really even aware of data and analytics. The growth of practices like Amazon ratings and recommendations brought these kinds of analytical concepts into the mainstream. Today, big data is here to stay, and computing technologies have made it easier than ever to collect, manage, synthesize, and analyze data. Furthermore, progressive organizations have broken down the data silos between departments, allowing for deeper and more comprehensive analysis of the workforce and company performance.

Have you been following the news about IBM’s Watson technology? As IBM’s engineers grappled with the three big trends in technology—cloud, mobility, and data—they realized that the biggest challenge was to make sense of all the data in our world today. Their answer, Watson, is not artificial intelligence, but augmented intelligence. Watson can scan hundreds of millions of journal articles against a patient’s medical symptoms and provide doctors with relevant findings and recommended treatments. It can take the many weeks-long process of creating a movie trailer and curate clips for the film editor to build in a matter of hours. It has even helped to design a stunning gown worn by a high fashion model. In early 2016, Watson gained the ability to detect emotions and respond based upon a subject’s feelings. If you think this kind of technology and intelligence is out of reach for our industry, think again. It’s already here.

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