It has been over three years since McKinsey Quarterly warned that new learning tools and platforms, designed to facilitate knowledge sharing and employee interactions, were “challenging — and sometimes appearing to sweep away” corporate academies.i
Five years after the survey, organizations are implementing those technologies. They have become de rigueur in enterprise learning management systems. New platforms deliver social learning and mobile-enabled training “in the flow of work,” anytime and anywhere.
The Learning Disconnect
According to McKinsey’s research, only 57% of participants in a 2014 survey believed their academies aligned with organizational priorities. Only 52% reported that they enabled their companies to meet strategic objectives.
Five years later, the struggle to align learning and development to business priorities continues. In Deloitte’s 2019 Global Human Capital Trends report, 86% of CEOs rated the need to improve learning and development in their organizations as important or very important. However, only 10% felt ready to address it.ii
Who is addressing the gap? While we can agree that CLOs in leading organizations have strategic roles, many L&D leaders are too far down in the organization to have a big voice. They get a fixed budget and limited staffing, and then must deal with demands from both the top and the bottom to improve learning. If they can’t deliver, operating units find a way to fund off-the-shelf training or consultants.
21st Century Skills
An example of the learning disconnect is the need to develop soft skills: communication, critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity.iii Knowledge alone will not develop those skills. It requires experiential learning with coaching to build self-awareness and sensitivity to social cues necessary for social interaction. Yet too often, the default is to throw e-learning at the problem and provide brief in-person training.
In a white paper, “Preparing the Workforce of Tomorrow: Learning and Development for a Changing World,” Else Powel Strong advocates an individualized, one-on-one approach coupled with AI-driven adaptive learning.iv While we agree with the strategy, we think many learning leaders don’t have the clout to make it happen.
They need help, and we believe they will find it in their own organizations. If a business needs to up-skill or re-skill its workforce to remain competitive, that is a strategy problem—one that should involve the entire enterprise.v
We believe the most viable path from tactical to strategic lies in learning governance: “the formal framework for managing decisions about learning and talent development.”vi It involves the enterprise at every level, from strategic decisions to daily learning.
Learning Governance Framework
The context of learning governance is organizational or corporate governance, which is accountable for the interests of stakeholders: shareholders, management, customers, suppliers, financiers, government, and the community.vii Ensuring that management is developing a viable workforce is a responsibility of the board of directors.
At the top of the governing framework is a council, committee, or governing board that establishes a strategic plan for learning. The group should comprise senior executives, supported by representatives of stakeholders in the enterprise.
Among the benefits of a governing group at this level is that they can provide a forum for managing turf issues when learning crosses over into marketing and knowledge management. They can also serve as a liaison with operating units as learning becomes embedded in the flow of work.viii
The most critical function of this group is to establish and communicate the strategy for steering committees.
Depending on your organization, there could be several steering committees that develop policies and procedures to execute the strategy. Their responsibilities are to determine and govern how learning takes place.
The operators comprise all the people responsible for executing the policies and procedures. They include anyone who has a role in creating and delivering learning.
The Role of Learning & Development
Where is the learning team in all of this? It depends on your organization. The CLO will be the leader of the executive group in some organizations. In others, L&D may be a tactical leader or an expert advisor.
What’s important in the beginning is to start from where you are and let the framework and relationships develop over time. That approach will minimize disruption and enable learning to develop strong collaborative relationships.
Getting to the Right Framework
Our sample framework is just that—a sample. It would be a mistake to copy another organization’s model, thinking it will work for you. Every organization is different. All learning may be centralized in one organization, and in others, business units could be independent.
There is no standard framework, but you can create one that works in your organization. It may take some time to get it right, and it may not be easy, but the benefits can be huge. Governance will help you:
- Align learning with business strategy
- Assign and track accountability
- Prioritize initiatives, budgets, and resources
- Drive better and faster decisions and
- Facilitate learning transformation.
And here’s the bonus: your learning efforts will be more efficient, effective, and supportive of your people.
i. Benson-Armer, Richard, Arne Gast, and Nick van Dam. “Learning at the Speed of Business.” McKinsey & Company, May 19, 2016.
ii. “2019 Global Human Capital Trends.” Deloitte Insights. Accessed September 7, 2019.
iii. Strong, Elsa Powel. “Preparing the Workforce of Tomorrow: Learning and Development for a Changing World.” Training Industry. AREA9 LYCEUM INC, February 13, 2019.
v. Barden, Steve. “The Role of Governance in Learning Transformation.” Inside Learning Technologies & skills.” December 2013.
vi. Deloitte, cited in Barden, Steve. “The Role of Governance in Learning Transformation.” Inside Learning Technologies & skills.” December 2013.
vii. Barden, Steve. “The Role of Governance in Learning Transformation.” Inside Learning Technologies & skills.” December 2013.
viii. Barden, Steve. “The Role of Governance in Learning Transformation.” Inside Learning Technologies & skills.” December 2013.
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