I think learning is important. Strike that—I know learning is important. I’m pretty sure you agree with me. After all, you’re reading this article in an online magazine about workplace learning solutions. But does everyone value learning like we do? What about the people you support at work? Do they recognize what learning can do for the organization, or do you have to sell the importance of learning to your internal “clients” over and over again?
Learning is a lot like health. Common sense says that it’s super important, but for some reason, it’s still not a top priority all the time. It follows suit that “learn something new” was the eighth most popular New Year’s resolution in 2015. And we all know how resolutions tend to go as the year progresses … unless you’re Mark Zuckerberg.
In a perfect world, everyone would be as geeky about learning as we are. But, in real life, most people just don’t focus on learning in their day-to-day lives. This is especially true at work, where outcomes are the only real currency. In a marketplace rife with disruption, the ability to solve problems and deliver value now is essential. This is why stakeholders tend to want either quick training solutions or zero L&D involvement until called upon.
It’s important that we recognize this reality and—rather than fight it—leverage it to inform our strategies. There’s plenty of data out there that validates the value of workplace learning, but how do we help our partners see the promise of our learning strategies when all they care about (rightfully) is results?
Here are five ideas that have always worked for me:
1. Get to know your business
Why should your partners value your work if you don’t understand theirs? L&D pros must demonstrate a fundamental understanding of the business they support. Start by spending as much time in the operation as possible. At Disney, I always made time for “costume shifts” in the operation, sometimes coming in on my day off. This not only kept me familiar with the day-to-day, but also earned me considerable respect from cast members.
It’s also helpful to go to meetings that have nothing to do with learning and everything to do with improving your understanding of the business. If you still can’t quite get it or you’ve transitioned to a new industry, ask your partners for help and demonstrate your interest in the business. They’ll be more likely to reciprocate that interest and value your support efforts.
2. Put their context ahead of your strategy
Learning strategy must fit into the context of the work, not the other way around. Are you being told constantly that employees “don’t have time to learn”? Then imagine how it looks when you suggest strategies that require considerable employee time and effort. You must understand the day-to-day lives of the people you support and provide resources that fit.
Performance support is a great example. Focus on helping people solve problems now before working on more complex, long-term strategies. At Kaplan, we started every project by assessing the available reference information. We made sure employees could find answers in the moment of need before building additional learning solutions.
3. Relate your solutions to real-world experiences
Most people don’t know anything about learning theory. What they do understand is how they use popular resources to solve problems in their everyday lives. Adjust your communication strategy to limit use of “learning language” in favor of comparisons to familiar real-world experiences.
Using video to support learning? How does your strategy relate to the way people use YouTube? I’ve been using the “how do you fix a broken pipe at home” comparison for years, and it always resonates. Incorporating gamification into a solution? How is this idea similar to the way popular apps or loyalty programs leverage game mechanics? We know that people more readily accept new information that builds upon existing knowledge. We must take advantage of this principle to help partners understand the learning experiences we design.
4. Share success stories
Your company hired you because you are a learning expert, but not everyone you work with thinks about that. Whenever possible, you have to provide additional info to back up your learning strategies and justify why they’ll work. The best way to relate your ideas to tangible outcomes is to share success stories in which other organizations benefited from an approach similar to the one you’re proposing.
Find case studies that demonstrate the way a learning solution solved a business problem. Invite peers from outside the organization to share their experience and perspective with your partners. I always leverage recent external research to justify my internal suggestions. If I had a nickel for every time a Jane Hart quote or diagram appeared in my proposals …
It’s up to you to figure out which types of stories resonate within your organization and validate your strategic approach. Show your partners that your expertise transcends your organization and will deliver the results desired.
5. Make an effort to measure results
No, I don’t believe you can really ever prove the overarching ROI of everything L&D does to support an organization. However, we have to get better at linking our work to business results. We can’t always try to get by with a “right thing to do” justification. In my brief time with Axonify, I’ve been amazed by how much our presentations stand out because we can communicate success in terms of cost savings, revenue, and speed to competence.
Start small and pick a project that has a simple measurable outcome. Design a strategy that will link your solution to that outcome. Put in the effort necessary to measure results and share your findings—even if they don’t match up with your initial target. Use these results to inform your next project and grow your measurement strategy to include more and more of your work. Take advantage of tangible moments of success to both validate similar projects and justify efforts that cannot be measured as easily.
Imagine how much simpler and more effective L&D could be if everyone valued learning as the legitimate solution to business problems that we know it is. It’s up to us to help our partners understand the value of our solutions in the context of our workplace. This will benefit everyone in the long term, especially when we can spend less time hunting for buy-in and more time providing resources that help people do their jobs better.