Corporate learning and development in the workplace – Where are we going wrong and what to do about it? - FocusU

Corporate learning and development in the workplace – Where are we going wrong and what to do about it?

The only thing worse than training employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay
– Henry Ford

There is no doubt that learning and development for employees is an integral part of an organisation’s growth. If you speak to managers or employees, though, not all of them will express complete satisfaction about the corporate learning and development structure in their respective organizations. Managers often feel that the employees are not displaying the behaviors or skills that their training should inculcate in them. It is also common to hear employees speak of training as a chore that needs completion.

This 2019 article by the Harvard Business Review quoted a survey in which three out of every four managers expressed dissatisfaction with their organization’s learning and development process. The same article quotes a Mckinsey survey in which just one in four employees felt that their training brought about visible and measurable improvements in performance.

The FocusU experience

For a decade and more, we at FocusU have been crafting and delivering experiential learning programs that have had impactful learning outcomes. All these years, most of our offerings were instructor-led and face-to-face. Last year we changed our approach completely, and pivoted to a bouquet of virtual learning. 

This gave us a good view of what was working and what was not, both for in-person and for virtual delivery of our sessions. Here is our take on where we are going wrong with corporate learning and development in the workplace, and what we can do about it.

1. The wrong metrics

Most organisations still rely on an annual learning calendar for employees. The employee must go through all the recommended modules before the close of the year. In this social age, employees are also encouraged to post their certifications on social media. This drives a culture of showing off the courses completed. Neither business leaders nor employees seem too concerned about how much of the learning gets implemented at the workplace. The focus seems to be on how many rather than how well.

What to do about it

The L&D team must discuss the annual calendar with individual managers at the start of the year. For every employee under a particular manager, they need to agree on the expected changes in aptitude and attitude. If that is too difficult, then they can do the same for that manager’s team at least. Every manager must provide feedback at reasonable intervals about how many of those goals each employee has met.

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2. The wrong modules

This happens when an organization creates a one-size-fits-all training calendar for all employees. For instance, every employee might not need to become an expert in business correspondence. Negotiation skills is another example of a skill that only selected employees would need to use within the next one year. Yet these are two of the dozen or so training modules that almost every employee trudges through in many organizations. This, in spite of no opportunity for them to use those skills. This is why measuring the effectiveness of such programs becomes difficult.

What to do about it

In continuation of the previous point, at least a part of the training plans for every employee need to be tailor-made either to impart skills she might need for a future role she is being considered for, or skills she is not proficient at presently. If the coaching skills for a particular skill is not available in house, the organisation should outsource a learning and development specialist to run that particular module.

3. The wrong length

The pandemic has brought to a grinding halt the days of employees spending an entire day in an indoor venue closeted with the learning and development trainer. People do not have that kind of attention spans anymore. Organizations need to rightsize their training modules as well.

What to do about it

More and more companies are using microlearning modules to coach employees about specific skills they need. Employees can access these modules at their own pace and time on their smartphones with the help of a mobile application. There are several examples of companies like Walmart, Uber, and others using microlearning to get more impactful results.

4. The wrong sources

This has more to do with a learning and enablement culture in the organization than the instructional design of a corporate learning and development plan. Leaders and line managers need to realize that learning does not need to happen during a designated training program only. When you have a question to ask, you usually end up searching for the answer on the internet instead of waiting for the next training program. You might also ask your colleagues or your manager, but whether this would happen would depend on the learning culture in the organisation.

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What to do about it

Leaders of any organization must be willing to devote time to coaching their employees while on the job. People learn faster and retain better when they see someone doing it, rather than by someone telling them how to do it. The leader of a sales team taking along a junior employee during a sales call can be a huge learning experience. 

Leaders setting an example can motivate others in their team to come forward to help their colleagues or juniors. This is not to say that an organization can do away with the formal learning and development process entirely. But the annual learning calendar can become more effective if coaching and training becomes an ongoing activity at the workplace.

Time to set things right

Learning and development is too important for organisations to ignore. The price they would need to pay is too high. But an even bigger mistake would be to do  multiple training programs that fail to produce the optimal results and the proper engagement from participants. Managers need to stop looking at learning as something that happens in separate sessions outside the workplace. Employees need to stop thinking of a training session as a well-deserved break from actual work.

Even two years back, more than $1300 was the annual spend per employee on corporate learning and development worldwide. It is incumbent on all stakeholders to make every such dollar count. If you are looking for help, we would be glad to help you design a customised program, as per your team’s needs.

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