This blog was co-authored by Joanne Flynn, Jim Bosserman and Debbie Gower. This article brings together perspectives and research from three strategic performance and learning and development professionals.
Part 5 – Learning & Development Series
“In the end, we expect our people capability to improve and our results to be better.” - David Novak, CEO of YUM! Brands
How many other leaders have utilized learning to improve the performance of their business as effectively as David Novak? It is our observation that while many have utilized learning as a catalyst for improving business results, there are other leaders who, in looking back, would observe they only wished they had spent more time and effort on improving the capability of their workforce.
In our case study, the role of learning and development (L&D) varied through the four transformations and the business results were dramatically different. It’s not uncommon for businesses to be distracted and forget about the power of learning to help improve the performance and accelerate the pace of change of the business and its people.
Our observation is that learning is not an expense, but is an investment in the future of both your people and the your organization. As David Novak found throughout his career, there is a big ROI on the investment in an aligned, dynamic and well-structured learning effort. Other leaders also feel the same.
Jack Welch has been famously quoted through the years that, “An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.” Pair that sentiment with “Giving people self-confidence is by far the most important thing I can do. Because then they will act.” Certainly not many criticize what Welch was able to accomplish with this mindset during his leadership tenure at GE.
Recently, the CFO of a very successful privately-held business, Dave Baldwin, stated: “I think when an organization has a number of "individuals" that are good learners that group can help change the culture of the organization to a "learning agile" culture. The really neat thing about this is with teams motivated to learn, each individual can learn far more working with their team members on business challenges / problems and thus learning far more from each other than they could individually. With a good team, it can happen very naturally.”
All of these leaders in business directly comment on the potential for L&D to directly impact the performance of the business. The message is clear. The Learning Function must partner with the business to build dynamic and enabling L&D that is constantly focused on helping the business achieve results.
People can do amazing things when you touch their “minds and hearts”. But first, utilizing learning to improve performance of the business starts with:
- having a vision for the learning effort,
- making it a business priority, and
- aligning the effort with the business strategy and needs of the workforce.
Sounds simple? To be effective, L&D has to be specifically focused and relevant to the needs of both the business and its people, but that’s not always easy to achieve given the pace of business. What business is not dynamic and changing these days? Not many. Therefore, your L&D efforts need to be dynamic which requires the business working closely beside L&D.
Further, you need to expect that business strategy and needs will continue to change over time. Learning must also be ever changing when it’s supporting the business strategy and its requirements. There are just too many legacy programs that were great ideas at one time and helped support past successful outcomes, but now they have exceeded their expiration date.
Even though it can sometimes be like changing a tire on a bus going down the road at 100 mph, it can be done. And if done well, your business performance expectations can be exceeded and employees can be highly engaged and satisfied. When you capture the “minds and hearts” of your people, you can truly make a huge difference in the performance of your business.
To assist, we have provided you with an outline of a high-level solution framework based on our experiences using strategic L&D during periods of change.
 David Novak, ASTD interview on “Taking People with You,” April 9, 2012