Two things have radically changed the job of learning and development (L&D) professionals in the past few years.
Big changes to how we all do our jobs require more – and more specialized – training, and the easy availability of cheap and accessible external L&D suppliers mean that line managers are now much less likely to turn to the L&D function when they want their employees something to learn something new.
While many in L&D may see it as a positive that the line is finally control of their learning needs, the reality is that 70% of line-led learning is wasted because it’s a re-creation of something that already exists, it’s low quality, or both. Which is particularly bad when you consider that four out of five senior executives say the right learning is now more important to hitting business goals than it was three years ago.
The response of a lot of L&D teams is understandable. They’ve tried to become a “best-in-class learning supplier” by providing better training and looking for ways to show managers how this makes their employees perform better. But, while this might have been useful 10 years ago, it doesn’t address the fundamental problem that most learning now doesn’t happen in the L&D function.
Taking a Leaf Out of the Retailer’s Book
Instead of trying to compete as just another “learning supplier,” L&D should itself learn something from the way that many successful retail and restaurant chains run their businesses: L&D should become a “learning franchisor.” Taking a franchise approach helps it balance the right amount of control over the firm’s L&D activities while giving the function the scope to take responsibility for all learning, and not just that supplied by the function.
Much like any other franchise, L&D should lean heavily on a core set of operating principles and brand, and then support controlled experimentation that, if successful, can be adopted across the firm. L&D teams should support their “learning partners” – line managers most involved in L&D activities in their bit of the business – in the same way a franchise supports its franchisees.
L&D can help learning partners build content, processes, and capabilities that provide consistently high-quality learning without breaking the bank. And CEB data show that those L&D functions that made this transition saved their organizations over $3 million in wasted learning spend, while also improving overall employee performance by 21%.
Three Steps to Becoming a Franchisor
Streamline learning inventory throughout the firm: L&D must first determine what learning is happening outside the function to ensure that different teams and vendors are not reinventing something that already exists. This is easier said than done, but L&D should interview colleagues (e.g., HR business partners, line managers), use available data (e.g., SharePoint site, procurement alerts), and survey learners directly.
Then it should excise any repetitive learning or improve low-quality learning. Finally, L&D must motivate it’s learning partners to collaborate, either by showing them the personal value of collaboration or rewarding them for making and using learning that matches L&D’s expectations.
Standardize processes by increasing ownership of L&D standards: Instead of trying to set and communicate firm-wide standards, L&D teams should encourage learning partners to take more ownership of the process by crowdsourcing ideas and integrating common operating standards from the line into L&D standards.
It is also important to adapt the learning management system (the software that provides e-learning and tracks employees’ consumption of it) to account for the different needs and perspectives of learning parnters in the line. This will also help learning partners champion the use of the LMS, and create a consistently high quality of learning throughout the firm.
Deliver a single brand by extending L&D capabilities throughout the firm: The third core principle for any effective franchise is to build and use a single brand that incorporates L&D’s strengths.
L&D should rely on its learning partners to analyze the learning needs of their bit of the business and evaluate how good the existing learning is. They can then work with L&D to improve or create new learning. Learning partners should be supported with both formal training and access to best practices, as well as a community portal with relevant tools, and access to mentors and one another.
For more on the research behind the need to build a learning franchise, download a copy of CEB’s most recent Learning Quarterly.