At City & Guilds Kineo, and in the broader City & Guilds group, we focus a lot on the skills crisis in the UK and the global economy. The mismatch between the skills employers need and what would-be employees bring to the table is always staggering. We’ve just spent 4 exhilarating days at the Skills Show, where over 70,000 young people found out more about their futures and the skills they’ll need to be successful.
As we launch our third annual Insights Report, and return from the Skills Show, we thought it was a good moment to examine that mismatch a little closer to home. So let’s look in that mirror: are L&D teams skilled up to address the business challenges that their internal clients will face in 2015? Or do we need to refine the skillset?
Hey L&D - You Need Skills Too!
We were struck by the number of comments through over 30 interviews this year on how ready – or not – L&D is to help business with future growth. One consistent theme which emerged this year was the need for learning to be applied, to make sure learning is clearly aligned with business needs and “to make a difference”.
A major challenge for L&D departments is having the range of skills and experience to design and deliver an increasingly wide range of learning interventions. It’s less about L&D, and more about organisational development (OD).
These comments caught the mood of the emerging skills crisis in L&D:
"We are not growing L&D talent fast enough, in the business, or in the UK plc in general."
"I have money and vacancies. I want to find people who can manage change in businesses through OD – but I can’t find them."
Fair challenge – so what does the talent need to look like? What should be part of the L&D skills audit? Through our research, we saw five coming through. None of the core skills around instructional design, blend design, delivery and so on are going away – of course not. But you need to be thinking about another five hooks for your superhero utility belt, if your L&D team is going to save the world:
This echoes a theme that was strong in last year’s report. L&D teams need to move from transactional relationships with their stakeholders to more consultative: less order taking, more solution driven. To deliver learning that applies itself effectively to a business challenge, you need to “Walk in the shoes of your business people. Don’t stay on the outside.”
We all know that we need to stay closer to our business partners to ensure we’re aligned to their pains and challenges, but it’s easy to let go of this when you’re down in the detail. Make sure you’re stepping back to ensure your L&D agenda is aligned to the business challenges – are you obsessing with onboarding when the real problems are with customer service? Be agile enough to shift your focus to support the business.
As one L&D manager put it: “learning team members need to be able to talk more about ‘learning strategies’. It’s not good enough to focus at the project level anymore.”
Persuading and convincing of the merits of your proposed approach – this is arguably a subset of consulting, but too important to miss out. We heard a very senior automotive HR executive tell us recently that L&D teams are just too timid in boardroom budget discussions:
“Compared to say the marketing team, who ask for the world and then get asked by the CEO if they sure it’s enough, the L&D team come across like Oliver Twist, ‘please sir’... - and get treated like that.”
The advice was to be less humble and more confident in the value of learning. Maybe hang out with those freewheeling types from the marketing department more?
How do you convince people of the value of learning? With evidence of impact:
“There is money for training but it has to show that it improves sales or performance, if it doesn’t it’s not considered important.”
“Budgets are tight and there is more scrutiny but a well-constructed business case, articulating the benefits will help win the case.”
So how good is your L&D team at constructing the business case? Do you have the numbers that prove you can do it? Which leads to…
Proving impact means investing in measurement – drawing a clear line between L&D’s efforts and business results. It’s often held up as the Holy Grail, but does it have to be so difficult?
What stops it is time and budget - of course you have to be realistic about this. But we’re seeing more and more teams hire evaluation specialists, and extend the consultancy element of projects, to measure effectiveness. Yes, it costs. Yes, it’s worth it. Because it gives the confidence that the solution should scale to even greater benefit.
We’ve partnered with an independent evaluation consultant on a recent project to do control group studies to prove how a new model has moved the performance dial. And it’s unlocked the next major investment. In retail, organisations like McDonald’s, who can measure to the penny how sales have changed based on a training intervention. It’s how you win.
If you’re purely using cost savings and learner feedback as your metrics, you may find your arguments are not strong enough.
A key theme in the report this year was social learning as part of the new blended skillset. Empowering peers to support and learn from each other is a must-do in any progressive learning culture. Who’s responsible for promoting, sifting, providing editorial filters, and ensuring the best content is promoted and shared? That would be you, L&D: “We’ve started adding curation skills to job descriptions” said one interviewee.
Core instructional design skills are not going away, but the scope has expanded considerably in the new learning context. L&D are expected to be on top of tools and techniques for curation and social connection. Whether that’s Yammer for in-store communication, YouTube channels for best practice sharing, or something else - the team is looking to you to champion the new approaches.
Blended learning, applied to solve real business problems, remains at the top of the order of business for L&D. But blended learning hasn’t stood still. To be heard above the noise, it’s expanded into the realms of marketing and communication.
We’ve heard from several companies in this year’s report on how they’ve built in comms and marketing components into their learning solutions. The phrase ‘learning campaign’ has become commonplace. One L&D manager said it is no longer “one and done” but rather “building on key messages and taking people along through a communication strategy”.
We’ve written extensively on how learning needs to be more like marketing. Whatever solution you’re developing, be it compliance, sales, leadership or onboarding, ensure you’ve got the marketing element in your plan - because it’s increasingly expected.
Time to Develop your L&D Core Skills?
So that’s five C’s where L&D needs to be shining. We could have added five more with change management, coaching, channel management, creative thinking, compressing (but shorter is better) - and that's just for a start.
Find out more about how you can develop your L&D core skills in our new Learning Insights Report.