How should learning programs be adopted?
• Embrace technology innovations and increase the emphasis on “peer-to-peer” learning. Information technology can bring down the cost of corporate learning, increase its effectiveness, and make it more appealing to younger workers. For example, companies that adopt online training can reduce travel expenses for trainees. And these programs let employees do required coursework when their schedules allow, minimizing potentially costly disruptions to business.
Younger workers, who tend to be up to speed on the latest communication and collaboration technologies, have different learning needs and preferences. This generation has grown up with the idea that content should be available on demand, that data should be accessible anywhere, and that the best information is often provided, Wikipedia-like, by peers.
One software company surveyed by Booz & Company has created a knowledge exchange in which its workers are expected to post their own educational content. Face-to-face training has become the exception rather than the rule. This has led to a new role for the company’s learning officers, who are now accountable for fostering learning inside and outside the classroom.
• Work closely with content and delivery partners to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of joint learning programs. The days are numbered for outside educational vendors to push a one-size-fits-all product on corporate learning departments. To extract greater value without greater outlays, learning departments increasingly require that these companies be true long-term partners.
A global magazine publisher, for example, recently mandated that training vendors must offer customized programs based on the publisher’s business model and they must share with the publisher ownership of the content they create.
• Ensure a close fit between the corporate culture and learning and development programs. For example, ask executives to be directly involved in curriculum development and to teach courses or deliver talks themselves. This allows them to craft some of the company’s strategic messages and to get to know high-potential attendees. At some companies, hands-on teaching experience is essential for aspiring executives, alongside international experience and responsibility for a P&L.
Which metrics are most telling?
• Foster accountability through transparent measurement. The return on investment in corporate learning is notoriously hard to measure. The most salient approach is to establish visible guidelines to determine if programs are having the desired outcomes. These may include basic metrics for delivery, such as participation and completion levels; self-reported or observed changes in behavior on the job; and estimates by participants (or their bosses) about the impact of learning programs on the business.
Some metrics can be directly tied to results. For example, a training initiative’s efficacy can be measured by whether workers complete a process (such as new customer enrollment) more quickly after taking the course. Or the success of a learning program can be assessed by an analysis of annual retention figures.
Although the practices described here offer guidance on successful initiatives, they cannot give the whole answer. For that, leadership teams must fully understand the challenges facing their organizations, in terms of both strategic priorities and the requirements of a dynamically changing workforce. This is not a time for playing it safe. The ground is shifting, and executives must use corporate education to put their companies in a better position.
- Thomas Ripsam is a partner with Booz & Company based in Florham Park, N.J. He focuses on the consumer and media industries, specializing in developing and implementing strategies to improve sales and marketing effectiveness and organizational efficiency.
- Edward C. Landry is a partner with Booz & Company based in New York. He focuses on strategy development, business transformation, and sales and marketing effectiveness across a broad range of consumer businesses, and is coauthor (with Leslie H. Moeller) of The Four Pillars of Profit-Driven Marketing: How to Maximize Creativity, Profitability, and ROI (McGraw-Hill, 2009).
- Bradley Fusco is an associate with Booz & Company based in New York.