Date: 04/09/18 | Duration: 00:19:41

In the changing context of work, performance and productivity are key considerations for organisations of every size. Today’s L&D teams play a vital role in helping organisations to address these issues. In order to do so, learning must be embedded at the heart of their businesses and this may mean a significant shift in learning culture. L&D teams must seek to revolutionise their approach if they are to drive productivity and performance in their organisations.

In this episode we explore the latest research from Towards Maturity which looks at L&D in high performing organisations and how they are able to achieve astounding improvements in their performance and productivity. We discuss the role L&D practitioners, senior leaders and managers play in driving these changes and challenges they may face. And we hear from an organisation that has already implemented many of the recommendations from the research.

Philippa Lamb: Your report was feisty.

Laura Overton: Feisty. That's an interesting word.

PL: Laura Overton is CEO at Towards Maturity and an old friend of the podcast. Now she's co-authored a report looking at what sets high performing organisations apart from the rest.

LO: What makes you say that?

PL: Do you know the reason I said it was feisty because we pulled out various quotes from it, and this is my personal favourite ‘The L&D industry is in flux and overwhelmed and under-skilled and less than 50% of L&D professionals have the ability to consistently drive the seven key priorities we’ve highlighted for modern professionals’ That doesn’t sound great does it?

LO: It doesn’t sound great but I think it’s just a reflection of the fact that everyone in work is overworked and under-skilled. There's so much change, technology, transformation, is having such a massive impact on the thinking and the behaviour of organisations that learning professionals aren’t alone in this space but I think there is a deep awareness that they need to be much more agile. We’ve found that in the research over the last year over 90% of learning and development leaders are saying, ‘We want to be able to help the organisation respond faster to change.’

PL: It’s a real concern though isn’t it because I think elsewhere in your report you make the point that organisations are turning away from L&D and reaching for change consultants and external professionals and people outside their organisation because they’re not understanding the connection between well-designed and delivered L&D and business performance. So is this first and foremost a communication breakdown?

LO: I think it’s a communication breakdown but I also think first and foremost a lot of business leaders are looking at their learning functions as cost centres, as those who are just generating courses, proving compliance and they're not expecting anything else. Expectations of learning and development have been set low and no one’s breaking the mould.

PL: Towards Maturity has been investigating how learning innovation can impact on a business for 15 years now. This latest report analyses how 700 top tier global organisations have achieved impressive improvements in productivity and performance. It also looks at how the rest of us can do the same

Andy Lancaster: I'm Andy Lancaster, head of learning and development content at the CIPD. This report was really important for CIPD and we were really interested to distil the things in terms of learning and development that directly drive performance, hence the title of the report Driving Performance and Productivity. So we now know that whatever sector, whatever organisation you’re in performance and productivity are two things that are likely to keep your senior managers awake at night. So now we need to think about learning which is relevant and impactful in a workplace that's

changing, where globalisation is creating all sorts of complex challenges, where the diverse workforce now has a variety of needs, where we need to think about delivering learning across dispersed locations. And for that to be the case we just can't have an old paradigm where we have occasional face to face courses but we now need learning which is delivered in the heart of the organisation. So at the heart of this report we looked at the data to see against those kind of factors what are the things that will really drive performance in organisations and we found some very interesting conclusions.

PL: One of those conclusions was that high performance learning organisations are, on average, seeing their productivity and performance leap up 24% as a result of learning done well.

AL: What we found in the research was some real common sense factors which really drive performance from a learning perspective. But the interesting thing is even though these are real common sense they’re not always common practice. So there's some very practical concepts and ideas here and if we do these they’ll have a real impact on learning that drives performance. And there was four key areas: goal-setting, getting there smarter, building ownership and empowering people.

PL: And in each of those four areas the report goes on to suggest practical and applicable ideas for building effective learning.

LO: I think what the headlines for me were that actually these tactics are not rocket science. They are not, you know investing in the latest and snazziest artificial intelligence or robotics or redefine who you are. It’s about going back to the basics. Goal-setting for example, what we found had a correlation back with productivity and performance was the whole issue of managers discussing with staff what they expect them to be able to do differently as a result of a formal learning intervention. How simple is that? And yet it has such a powerful correlation with that individual coming back and being able to connect and yet a fraction of us are actually taking these strategies and making them work.

PL: So let’s take each of the four areas in turn. First goal-setting.

AL: What we found was the organisations which are really good at driving performance, the objectives of learning are discussed with individuals before they start the learning process. So this is about planning before someone even engages with learning and great learning organisations have these conversations to really prime people before their learning experience.

PL: Not only this but there's ongoing support from line managers

AL: So there's that kind of process going on to ask and shadow and coach someone to ensure the learning is being applied. And lastly we also saw a third important trait where there's a real strong communication between line managers and supervisors and learning and development. In other words we need to think about revisiting learning, maybe a few weeks, months or even years from the learning activity, to understand how those goals are being met.

So some practical tips from our leaders and learning network who had a look at the report, firstly we really need to integrate goal-setting as part of our one to one supervised meetings. It’s no good not to have those discussions going on.

And goals really need to be objective and not subjective. And also we really see for goal-setting an active engagement between learning and development and line managers. It’s really good that we invest in our managers to have those great performance conversations.

And we also need to define how a goal is going to be evidenced. So if we’re going to provide some learning how can we see that that's really being evidenced in the workplace? And this kind of continuous feedback needs to be in place.

So some really practical things we can do in terms of making goal-setting really objective but also tracking how the learning is having an influence of the delivery of that learning within the workplace.

PL: The next part of the report, getting there smarter, looks at how to use insights to improve learning transfer.

AL: And what we found from the research study was about 50% of the real top learning organisations were now actively using learning analytics to improve the design and delivery of their learning services. So what we’re seeing is a real emphasis on understanding what we’re trying to measure and perhaps more specifically why. It’s no good us measuring everything we need to be very targeted in thinking about the smart measures that we have to understand how learning is affecting performance.

And what we’re also seeing as well this is about quantitative and qualitative data. So this is not just about numbers but also thinking about great stories, great case studies which can evidence how learning transfer is taking place.

And for that there's a number of things which we can see really underpin this. Firstly the data we’re looking at needs to be business data not learning data. So we need to understand that the learning is driving a business outcome. And to that extent often L&D professionals need to get much more confident in the use of data and metrics and in particular how data and metrics are used in the business.

And also that really requires us to think about stakeholder relationships because often the data is not owned by learning and development it’s owned elsewhere, maybe customer services or finance. So that stakeholder relationship is really important.

PL: Laura has thought hard about the barriers that can obstruct that synergy between learning and business performance.

We were discussing earlier actually this issue of designing L&D around the objectives for the organisation and breaking that down into departments and how that can work in organisations because well alignment, why everyone is doing what they’re doing.

And there still seems to be in common practice this idea of L&D as being somehow siloed from the core purpose of the organisation and we’ve been talking about that for years in podcasts and in print and yet it still persists, why do you think that is?

Because L&D professionals they arrive at events, they educate themselves, I don't think there's any lack of intent on the part of L&D as a profession, is the resistance at the other end is it more that C Suite just still hasn’t grasped how learning and development can directly play into their business objectives?

LO: I believe so. I think it’s because of the language that we use. Now I'm not saying that learning and development professionals should drop the language that sets their profession apart but we need to know how to interpret it for business. And that means first and foremost starting where the business is at. So for example in this report we’re talking about driving performance and productivity because that's what’s important to government; that's what’s important to business leaders; that's the point where we should start talking about what we’re able to do for organisations, that point of creating value for an organisation. If we can establish our credibility by saying, ‘We understand what’s important to business right now and we believe that we can help you drive that,’ suddenly the business will say, ‘Maybe this is worth discussing. Tell me more,’ and then we can start to bring our expertise to apply the solutions to those business problems. We can start to create value. We can talk about business value rather than talking about models or learning management systems or compliance or look how much money I've saved you. Really talking about the issues that matter to business actually starts to address that communication breakdown.

Jonathan Holmes: I’m Jonathan Holmes. I work for NFU Mutual and I'm a learning technologies manager.

PL: Learning technologies?

JH: Yes.

PL: Interesting job title is it literally tech end of L&D?

JH: Yeah it is so I have a team of learning management system analysts and a team of digital designers. So it’s the physical technology and the software.

PL: Jonathan and his people are featured in the report as a great example of an L&D team which is driving high performance. So can we check, just talking about the strategy, how NFU Mutual designs and conceives its L&D strategy across the board?

JH: So it’s about understanding what the various business units have, in particular the profit making side of the business. What are their imperatives? What are they changing? What’s their strategy?

PL: So what sort of things do they say to you then? What sort of things are they preoccupied with?

JH: So very much around performance, very much around productivity. One of the key themes for us and them at the moment is what does productivity look like and therefore what sort of performance indicators are we looking to try and instil, trying to achieve, in order to allow us or to enable a level of productivity that importantly we can all agree on.

PL: Yes not much point starting if you don't know where you’re going.

JH: Yes.

PL: Okay so you understand, you have conversations with the various areas of the business about what they’re preoccupied with, what they're changing, what their aspirations are, what their business objectives are, and then back in your department you sit down and do what?

JH: We’re very much an internal design and delivery organisation at the moment. We have teams of very specialist designers. So we may be building learning journeys, learning pathways, to enable that productivity. We do a lot of discovery at the moment around the required knowledge, skills and behaviours that are critical to that final success.

PL: What sort of things, give me examples?

JH: In terms of what the knowledge might be for example?

PL: Yeah.

JH: So working in insurance we’re currently working, or just about to start working with our customer services team to really help them refresh what it means to be in terms of the knowledge and the competency levels within NFU Mutual, as well as investigating, so from my side, the technology side, investigating what tools do we have that can enable to competence uplift and the measurement of that competence?

PL: So as well as talking to business leaders Jonathan’s team also talk regularly to employees on the ground and from this they’ve designed a learner journey.

JH: This is really to engage the business with three simple ideas around engaging with their audience, gaining some commitment, measuring where they're at at the moment in terms of their knowledge, skills and behaviour. Secondary, providing the input, activating. And then the final piece of our journey is the acceleration. So back in the workplace how is your learning being embedded and how is it developing your performance.

PL: This concept nicely mirrors the third wheel in the research findings which is about encouraging and enabling people to take ownership of their own learning.

AL: Now we’re well aware that self-directed learning and learning which learners are engaged with there's much higher levels of motivation around those learning processes. So rather than having learning imposed on you as a staff member to include you as part of the design and delivery process is really, really important. So what we found was in great learning organisations high percentages now are understanding how people not only currently learn but also want to learn. And we make assumptions that people want to go on courses but the reality is there are many ways in which people can learn in the workplace. So there's kind of intelligence about asking learners how can we help you improve? Direct questions about what would be useful to you? And really involving learners in the learning process and learning design is really important.

What we also found as well great learning organisations also have really strong communication plans around learning. So conversations really matter in terms of building that two-way kind of relationship around learning.

PL: So how do you make that work?

AL: Firstly you allow people to have their own career goals. This is not about the organisation just telling you what to do; this is about you owning your development. And also asking questions, what do you need to do your job well, what’s stopping you from being great at your job, will give us real insights.

And also a number of organisations now are really building great libraries of learner-generated content, learners sharing their own stories, creating their own videos and podcasts, just like this podcast here as well.

And we’re also seeing some really creative things going on now. Some organisations are having personal learning budgets which allow people to invest in their own particular learning solutions. So ownership is at the heart of learning that drives performance and we really need to engage learners as part of the learning process.

PL: Here’s Jonathan Holmes again.

JH: If we’re piloting new ways of working and we’re always looking for continuously developing our offering, that might not necessarily be changing content but it might be changing the format of training. So we’re constantly surveying, constantly asking questions, again with line managers getting their feedback on whether or not…for example would they recommend this new method of delivery? We use the term piloting quite a lot but my view is we’re not really piloting, we’re iteratively improving. So yeah it’s a constant conversation.

PL: The last chunk of the research is about empowering people and support mechanisms that drive performance. One of the mechanisms that is often overlooked is building in time for people to reflect.

AL: And really interesting, this was perhaps one of the most interesting things for me personally, in this area of the report we also found that great learning organisation really encourage time for reflection. You’re probably in the same situation as I am that your Outlook diary is chaotic and we just don't seem to have enough time to stop and think and great learning organisations that are driving performance are encouraging staff to stop and have time to reflect on their performance and reflect on their learning. It could be individual; it could be discussion groups, communities of practice. So it’s really important to think about how we can encourage that reflective piece.

So just some practical ideas around empowering people. I think we've got to make learning intrinsic to our organisational culture. So part of that is have really good coaching conversations between managers and staff as well and part of that is this kind of reflective piece but also we’re now seeing communities of practice, collaboration and discussion, allowing people to have those active discussions really are empowering them as part of their learning process.

So part of L&D’s role is really to scaffold great collaboration but also to look at the barriers which might prevent this empowerment and to think about how we can put measures in place which really empower people to not only take control of their learning but also to apply what they’re learning as well.

PL: You'll find the tools on the CIPD website. If you’re keen to know more about the self-directed learning that Andy was talking about last month’s podcast was all about that so find it wherever you found this one. And looking ahead here’s Andy again with a run-down of upcoming L&D events.

AL: So what’s coming up for CIPD in the next few months and also in terms of our work with Towards Maturity. Well perhaps the most significant thing is we’re going to be launching our new professional standards framework which will define the knowledge which underpins great learning and development and also the skills of learning and development professionals. So those particular standards are going to define very practical things that we need to have in place and this will drive brand new professional development themes for CIPD which will be developing content but one thing we’re really interested in tracking is how our new professional standards map against the new learning organisation. So we’re now doing some work to see how those skills which we know learning and development professionals need will actually drive the new learning organisation. And that's the research which we’ll be releasing later this year.

PL: That's it for this month and if you found this useful feel free to share it round your networks and of course feed your comments back to us. We are always keen to hear what you think. Thanks for listening. We’ll be back next month.