“We’ve invested in, and trained our people, so why aren’t we seeing a significant lift in (KPI) scores?” 

This was a question put to us by leaders at one of Australia’s largest companies. The context was a roll-out of a major new customer-first methodology, as well as a proposed multi-million dollar sales training program – the third such program within a decade.  After an extensive round of interviews, research and conversations, we discovered answers and solutions that fell into three categories. 

Speed to Competence (S2C)

The desire to get new employees fit for role in a reduced timeframe is a clear corporate objective. This also applies to existing employees entering a new role. Traditional learning for faster S2C is instructor-led training plus lots of on-job development.

But what we found was Speed to Competence was hit or miss; more often a significant miss in getting people fit for role. This was compounded by a significant trend toward reducing time-in-training costs and pushing as much information as possible into e-learning (with increasingly varied quality).

Best Practice S2C has three elements which deliver a consistent fit-for-role outcome:

  1. Highly engaging training– which effectively transfers the requisite knowledge, skills, processes, and cultural norms required for competence. Instructor or digital format does not matter; engaged learning does. 
  2. Deliberate practice– “The more I practise, the luckier I get.” We all know you cannot be a high performer without constant and consistent practice, yet companies do not make this available, and individuals do not make the time. Coaching support – especially through the nesting/onboarding period – means more than formal coaching conversations; the fastest shortcut is to model excellence – buddy up and learn what the best do. Why find your own way to be successful at a particular thing when somebody else probably already has? 
  3. Objectively assessed competency– while this stands to reason because it provides a clear role-excellence development path, cost and time pressures often prohibit objective assessments.

Maintenance of Competence (MoC)

Maintaining capability is often the role of manager feedback and on-the-job training. A tweak to what you do here and there. There are a number of problems with this approach which go to the heart of why the ROI on learning is often poor. 

Most important is the role of the manager. Feedback as coaching is, under the constraints of time, most often a discussion of directives – what we may hear called “GSD – Get Stuff Done”. This is not developing skill or knowledge, it’s just moving through the task list. This is compounded by the cognitive load we all experience in a society suffering information overload, always-on connectedness, and reduced employee numbers while expecting growing corporate outputs. Burn out is the new normal. If you aren’t exhausted, “you aren’t working hard enough”.

With all this, we do not prepare for the greatest of all challenges: change. A new system, process, project, skill, manager, or role. While these things are situational, it is our adapting to change that does our head in. And given corporate behaviours around fitter and faster, the introduction of cloud-based software systems, and the rapid advance of technologies that disintermediate so much of what we now do, we are constantly in flux without time to learn to adapt.

In conversations with organisations across many different industries, we hear that managing the learning requirement around change is almost never done, and certainly not effectively.  Best practice capability of competence has 4 elements

  1. Objective assessment of competency
  2. Deliberate practice – using digital simulations and the like (not e-learning)
  3. Coaching support – again, using digital tools such as a thin ‘bottom up’ coaching app
  4. Re-assessment of competence (repeating step one after intervention)

Extension of Competence (EoC)

We undertook a survey of Learning & Development professionals earlier this year and found that the number one corporate learning investment for 2016 and beyond is growing internal talent. There are many reasons for this, none the least is the relatively high cost of hiring vs the cost of internal development.

What often goes wrong in leadership development is not the program of learning itself, but whether or not the person identified has the emotional intelligence (EI) to be a leader of people in the first place. The well-known data that says three in four people leave their job because of their manager, should be sending warning bells about the lack of EI in the workplace.

The ability to work with people is both fundamental and critical to organisational life. While EI as a componentry of effective leadership is well known, testing for EI is often put aside as “another cost we cannot do right now”. That’s understandable – and so is the result you get by not testing. 

The New Wave

So how do we best manage learning to ensure more people are fit for ever-changing roles? Best practice learning consists of 3 fundamental approaches:

  1. Highly engaging learning interventions.
    Anything that engages the learner and gets them motivated. This includes instructor-led training and also gamification, quality e-learning and digital learning (the two are not the same)
  2. Deliberate practice
    Anything that forces people to practise. Learning is a process, not an event.
  3. Coaching Support
    And an acceptance of one unarguable truth about human beings: learning to do and achieve more is an unfolding process, not a one-off event.

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