The new year is fast approaching, and that means it’s time to start focusing on your 2018 learning strategy. However, as you probably know, coming up with a set of tangible, critical areas of focus can be tough. Not only is it hard to parse what behaviors and pain points to focus on, but it can be even harder to get buy-in from your stakeholders and prevent other priorities from completely diluting your efforts.
To help our customers develop a strong and actionable learning strategy for 2018, we held our first ever strategy workshop in our New York Office last week. It was great to meet such a motivated group of L&D leaders and take the time to assess and respond to the learning and business challenges they’re facing in 2018. And you know what? As we discussed and brainstormed as a group, we found that despite our organizational differences, our learning challenges are often very similar.
In case you couldn’t make it, we wanted to share some tools and tips from the workshop that you can use to make this coming year your best yet. Here are the three steps I recommend every L&D practitioner use to create a viable 2018 learning strategy:
Step 1: Start Small
Many “first time” learning initiatives fail because the scope is too large. Set yourself up for success by first narrowing in on a set of specific employee behaviors that will support your company’s business goals, then craft a learning strategy around that.
Find a Problematic Behavior:
During the session, we asked participants to share some of the common challenges they face related to employee performance. One challenge nearly everyone mentioned was a lack of accountability among managers in developing and guiding their direct reports. This is something that we’ve heard often at Grovo, too, and it’s a highly relevant—albeit challenging—behavior to target as part of an learning strategy.
Land on the Root Cause:
Spotting problematic behaviors isn’t enough, though. You have to dig down to the the actual cause behind the symptom. The best exercise for this is the “Five Whys.”
The “Five Whys” originated at Toyota as a part of its lean manufacturing approach. The goal is to dig deeper and identify the root cause of systematic problems. While you don’t always need to use five whys—sometimes two or three are enough—the exercise prompts you to test your thinking on a topic.
For example, let’s say you’ve identified the problematic behavior of “Managers not taking accountability over coaching direct reports.” To conduct the five whys, you will start by asking “why?” to the first problem. For instance:
- Why#1: Why aren’t managers taking accountability? Because they think management is a low-priority skill.
You then continue asking “why?” to each answer you generate, until you can drill down no further:
- Why #2: Why do they think management isn’t a priority? Because it doesn’t help them achieve their goals.
- Why #3: Why don’t they think it helps them? Because their team members don’t directly contribute to the most important goals.
- Why #4: Why don’t they contribute? Because the managers are hoarding all work for themselves.
- Why #5: Why are they hoarding work? Because they don’t know how to delegate properly.
Ding, ding, ding! There’s your root cause!
Relate It to a Company Goal:
In this case, a lack of understanding and motivation around delegating is the underlying learning challenge—not a lack of accountability for managers. With this in mind, the L&D manager must show how a lack of delegation skill is preventing the company from achieving goals that matter. For example, if a sales manager insists on having every sales conversation herself, she’s limiting the total amount of revenue that can come in by not empowering less senior people to move new business forward.
Step 2: Stay Focused
Now that you’ve identified the root cause your strategy should target, you’ll need to stay focused to maximize impact. To do that, you’ll need get ahead of all the other competing priorities that could derail your specific initiative.
Identify Your L&D Solution:
Start by finding the right approach to effectively prioritize the behavior, interaction, or exchange you want to improve. If you continue with the example from step one, your L&D solution would involve learning opportunities around delegation. Tactically, this might start with an in-person session to teach managers the importance of delegation, followed by a plan that each manager makes to identify an area of their work to delegate more often and a set of steps they can take to hold their direct reports accountable for on-time, high quality work.
Identify Competing Priorities:
Once you pitch this idea to management, make sure that you’re aware of other competing priorities that might try to hitch themselves to this training. “Sure, sure,” your VP might say; “delegation is important, but these managers also need training on delivering performance reviews and having difficult conversations. We should address all of these in the same session.”
Spreading your efforts across a laundry list of priorities is a recipe for weakening your impact. When competing priorities pop up, be prepared to defend the discrete business impact of the original solution you’ve proposed and suggest keeping the solutions separate from each other to maximize their effects on learners.
Step 3: Make It Stick
Learning that is immediately transferred or applied to a real-work scenario has an 80% greater chance of sticking, which is why most L&D professionals strive to design their learning strategies around real work. This also supports efforts to deepen your organization’s maturity as a learning organization.
Establishing a learning organization requires a shift in typical mindset around the function and application of learning. Take a look at Josh Bersin’s L&D Maturity Model to identify where your organization currently stands.
Level 1 of this model is Incidental Training—this type of organization typically views learning as a “check-the-box” activity, conducting reactive trainings, typically focused on compliance.
Level 2 is Training & Development Excellence. Here, the organization is still chiefly focused on compliance subjects like information security and anti-harassment, though they devote more energy to the design and quality of these learning experiences.
At Level 3 of the model, Talent & Performance Management, the L&D team is starting to think about behavior change and is focused on targeted learning outcomes that will help improve the business. This is a sharp change from focusing only on reactive, required trainings, and requires a more long-term and goal-oriented perspective on the L&D function.
Finally, at companies that reach Level 4, Organizational Capability Development, learning has become embedded as part of all functional systems. Further, L&D is empowered to drive change through learning and maintains the support of executive leadership.
The question you should ask yourself is where is your organization currently, and what factors might be limiting your ability to move up the ladder? By focusing on tactics that allow you to enrich the overall health of L&D at your company, you’ll be able to maximize the likelihood that your 2018 L&D strategy will take hold.
Let’s make 2018 a winner
I was encouraged by the attendance and participation at our inaugural strategy workshop! It’s clear that L&D practitioners continue to believe in the transformative power of learning for employees of all levels and remain committed to seeing meaningful change at their organizations. I challenge you to consider how you are aligning your learning strategy with your corporate strategic objectives and how you will drive change at your company in 2018.