Are managers the problem?

LinkedIn just released it’s 2018 Workplace Learning Report, and the results are fascinating.

Apart from the fact that only one-third of talent developers would recommend their own programs (!), we were struck by the stark findings around manager engagement.

While 94% of surveyed employees said that they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career development, most of them also complained that they don’t actually have time for learning. What would encourage them to find the time? Their managers directing them to complete specific courses in order to gain or improve their skills.

What these findings suggest is that employees want their managers to play a role in curating and encouraging their learning. It isn’t enough for an organisation to make learning available, it must work to get managers to promote it.

This resonates perfectly with our own experience of implementing online learning programs. When we scope a project, we usually include a piece of change management or communication work designed to ensure line managers are engaged. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for clients to strike-out this line item and then fail to take care of this important work themselves. An all-staff email is no way to launch a learning program!

So while we would agree with the survey finding that managers can be a barrier to the successful roll-out of learning programs, we would suggest that this is because not enough is been done to engage them.

In the absence of a very compelling business case, it’s hard to imagine any sensible manager directing resources (staff time and sometimes actual budget) towards a learning program that even the talent developer herself struggles to recommend.

Getting more bang for your training buck: does online learning really deliver?

We often hear about the savings that online learning can deliver because it reduces the need for physical training spaces and instructors.

What we often see often overlooked, however, are two other ways that online learning can dramatically reduce training costs:
1. By reducing the actual time spent learning
2. By shifting some of the training time to non-productive time.

Reducing the time spent learning may not sound like a wonderful thing, but it can be. Traditional live training can absorb hours of productive time while delivering minimal result because it’s irrelevant or overly theoretical.
Online learning changes things up. Employers can replace lengthy generic programs with tailored programs that address the needs of small subsets of staff – or even individual employees.

Online learning also facilitates micro-learning: short sharp sessions that drip-feed content and encourage learners to apply their learning in the real world.

When delivered by Learning Management Systems that are web-based and mobile-friendly, these short sessions are also likely to be done outside of traditional work hours. An entertaining learning module that goes for 10 minutes is an appealing option during a boring commute or lunch break.

Of course, producing an entertaining learning module isn’t cheap. There are however, ways to make it more affordable:

  • Find people internally who either have the skills or want to develop the skills to produce content. This can be an excellent development opportunity for them while keeping production costs down
  • Use third-party content. There’s a massive amount of training content out there if you know where to look. You can even buy licenses to broadcast Ted Talks. Finding the right content – with the right tone – for your organisation and integrating it into a curriculum can be time consuming, but it’s definitely an option to consider
  • Partner with an existing provider like 2000 Mondays, who can tailor existing programs to your needs and provide you web-based software that will manage the program for you.


Are you protecting your ecosystem?

Mercer recently published a solid think piece about learning development trends. They observed seven key trends, as shown in the diagram below.

We particularly liked that they included ‘ecosystems’ in their model because we’ve noticed that contingent workers are frequently overlooked by organisations designing L&D or career development programs. (The term ‘ecosystem’ usually describes a network of people that an organisation interacts with in order to tap into as-needed talent, e.g., contractors, freelancers and consultants.)

There is growing demand for quality contingent workers as organisations get leaner and more dependent on technological innovation to compete. And yet, very few organisations do anything to attract, retain or engage members of their ecosystem, other than offering them more money. This is despite the fact that research shows that contingent workers want many of the same things as permanent workers, including feedback and professional development.

Why is this the case? Basically, because most organisations’ people-management culture and infrastructure lag behind reality. In many companies no one is accountable for managing the contingent workforce in any meaningful way. Over-stretched line managers might have nominal responsibility for the contingent workers they bring on, but they are unlikely to invest time or budget in developing people they view as more of a commodity than an organisational resource. An arms-length relationship suits them just fine.

Systems too are an issue. Many contingent workers don’t have access to company networks, and are shut out of learning systems as a result.

We have started talking to some organisations – including recruitment and staffing agencies – that want to change the way they manage contingent workers. Specifically, they are looking at giving contingent workers:

  • Some kind of formal onboarding so that they have context for their work and can form internal networks more quickly
  • Performance feedback, recognition and other forms of career development including being included in succession planning and global talent pools
  • Access to training and development opportunities via web-based learning systems.

This last point – the space where we operate – is probably the easiest of the three to implement. Technology makes it possible to offer learning opportunities to almost anyone, from casual staff on the shop floor to independent contractors based overseas. And doing so sends a clear message: “We are prepared to invest in your development because we value your contribution”. Imagine how compelling this message would be if you were a contractor more used to hearing “We want you to deliver great work and then get out of here”…

Feeling the heat in L&D

If you work in Learning & Development, you’re probably feeling the pressure.

L&D received a net-promoter score of -8, which is as about as low as you can go, in Deloitte’s most recent survey of over 700 business and HR professionals.

If you’re in the field, you can guess the reasons for the unhappiness. Most corporate learning programs are built on out-dated LMS’s and deliver content in a way that no longer reflects people’s learning preferences. And that’s before we even start to talk about the content itself. When you can find almost anything you want to know online, content needs to be extremely rich and relevant to have any kind of value.

To compound the issue, at the same time as many companies are realising that their LMS’s can’t deliver the curated digital experience employees expect, the need for corporate learning is increasing. In fact, Deloitte Human Capital Trends’ latest research identifies ‘reinventing careers and learning’ as the second-biggest issue for business. Organisations are waking up to the fact that they can’t attract – or retain – talented people unless they offer better opportunities for growth and career development.

Of course, this isn’t news to 2000 Mondays. Our founder saw the writing on the wall a few years back, when she was running a search business that focussed on millennial talent. Having met with thousands of candidates in their 20s, Melissa realised that what the emerging generation wanted wasn’t a ‘great job’ so much as to join an organisation that valued personal and professional growth and invested in learning.

So, what can L&D to improve its relevance and start delivering on everyone’s expectations?

Our key recommendations would be to:

  • Get clear on the potential that learning offers beyond compliance and technical training. Work closely with HR, for example, to tap into broader organisational pain points such as retaining millennial talent
  • Accept that one LMS might not meet all your needs. For example, a PC-based system might work fine for desk-bound workers, but if you have field-based or retail workers, it’s close to useless.
  • Invest in systems that can tailor learning pathways to individual employees and collect data about their progress. The efficiencies and information such systems deliver will make it much easier to build business cases for future learning interventions.