This sentence describes my journey through the whole people development arena in my career. At college I learnt about employee training. At University I learnt about employee development. When I started work we talked about training and development, and after time this became Learning and Development (L&D). But all of these terms were really still talking about the same thing. People going on courses to learn new things.
As I got older and wiser, I started to question how these L&D courses improved business performance. This is why I think we should think differently about L&D, and adopt a mindset of “learning for performance”. This is the first of two blogs I’m going to write on this subject. In this first blog I’ll explain what I mean by the concept, and then in the second one, I’ll explain how I think we can do it.
Isn’t learning all about increasing performance anyway?
Well you would hope so wouldn’t you? Anecdotally it is, but when you open the bonnet in many L&D functions you’ll find some discrepancies.
We often measure the performance of L&D based on:
- the quality of courses as perceived by the attendees
- the number of attendees
- the number of courses ran over a period of time
- the content of courses, and whether they were needed or not
- how efficiently the team works – time utilisation or cost of the team and events
These were the issues I had my most difficult conversations with Senior Managers about. So the mindset this instilled in me was about courses, delivery and cost control. None of which was bad or wrong. But it wasn’t often I was asked about whether individual’s had implemented some of the learning from their courses. Occasionally I would try to pick a performance related KPI owned by the operations team themselves, and tracked the trend before and after the event. But on a daily basis, that wasn’t a priority of the business, or me.
I always struggled with things like… people coming to a workshop with concrete objectives related to their performance; or people having not had conversations with their manager to agree how to apply the learning to their jobs.
Do L&D help themselves here?
To be frank – No. Traditionally we in L&D haven’t focused on performance change.
For example, as learning professionals we are taught to develop SMART learning objectives. Our “programme purposes” also revolve around what an individual will learn. We rarely mention what performance improvement could result, or what behaviour change could be seen as a result of attending an event.
Our starting point should be the performance change needed to be seen in the attendees. These performance changes should be agreed with the business. By agreeing this, and then advertising this to the delegates – you’re setting up a different set of expectations. “You’re here to be better at…” Rather than, “you’re here to learn…”
Don’t get me wrong – we should still then define learning objectives – but they are an internal tool for the learning professional to know what needs to be achieved from a specific part of the event. Does an architect approach their work with the goal of building an extension for you? No, they understand how you want to use the new space, what you want to do or how you want to live. That’s their measure of success.
How something seemingly small, can necessitate a bigger change.
If we start off with a different end goal in mind, we can then have a different conversation about what we measure to determine success. If we have agreed upfront what performance change is needed, then it becomes more sensible to measure that performance outcome.
If we are going to sign up to measuring performance changes instead of whether learning objectives have been covered, we also need to change how we “do” L&D. The traditional approach of people attending an occasional face-to-face course isn’t the way to change behaviour and performance. If we are going to adopt a mindset of learning for performance, we need to update how we deliver training, development or learning.
Behavioural change comes from practising new skills until they become new habits. So L&D events need to be more responsive, agile and iterative. In fact, not events, but experiences.
I’ll go into detail about what I mean by this in part 2.