When was the last time your organization’s L&D management team discussed strategies and plans for delighting your customers? I’m not talking about external paying customers; your sales or customer service teams are likely responsible for keeping those customers happy. I’m referring to delighting your internal customers: the employees on the receiving end of your L&D initiatives.

Having worked with L&D leaders in the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors for over 20 years, I’m noticing that an increasing number are more preoccupied with keeping a seat at the table than making sure their growing infrastructure is focused on creating an internal culture where employees actually enjoy their training.

Of course, it is very good news that, in most organizations, L&D has a permanent seat at the proverbial table. Implementing and maintaining complex learning management systems, rolling out mandatory courses, and reporting on compliance rates is important and represents a lot of money. Twenty years ago, a seven-figure annual L&D budget would have been unthinkable, but it is now par for the course in larger organizations.

And yet, if you asked randomly-selected employees from across your organization to speak honestly about your L&D initiatives, most would admit that they do not look forward to a never-ending stream of mandatory courses housed in labyrinthine LMSs where the only thing that counts is completion status.

Time and again, employees tell me how long it takes to find and complete their courses; how most course content is so dry and heavy that they only skim it; and how their intelligence is insulted by the preachy instructions and rote-recall quizzes that lead to a “Congratulations, you’ve completed this course” certificate.

The hidden paradox

Here is the hidden paradox I believe all L&D executives must confront: Although L&D has larger budgets, more staff, and greater influence than ever before, why do so many employees dislike the formal training they are required to take? When they have more training resources at their disposal than ever before, why do they prefer to ask a peer or just figure it out on their own?

The answer may well lie at that senior management table, where L&D’s gaze has shifted from the employees it supports to the projection screen where activity-related statistics—number of courses created, course completion status, Kirkpatrick Level 1 results—are displayed for C-suite review. Those stats, however, rarely provide insight into whether L&D is helping employees willingly pivot into their new tasks, skills, and responsibilities.

Shifting the focus back to internal customers is not an easy task—but it must happen if L&D wants to survive modern disruptors such as YouTube, Wikipedia, MOOCs, and social media. If employees are not constantly delighted with L&D products, they won’t willingly seek them out or return for them—especially with so many free and easy alternatives at their fingertips.

Expand L&D stats to include the ones that count

Senior executives will inevitably start asking questions about the organization’s ROI on L&D’s growing budgets, especially since training is not always the answer to performance issues. Indeed, they should already be asking about how quickly employees transfer their new knowledge and skills to the workplace, and how decisively meaningful key performance indicators—like employee engagement levels—improve as a result of L&D initiatives.

How can you expand your L&D stats to include the ones that count? By keeping a pulse on the changing preferences of your employees, and asking customer-focused questions.

Here are three to start:

  • Do your employees absolutely need another new training course, or will a well-designed job aid, eBook, or email accomplish the same goal?
  • Have you convened a focus group of employees to validate your assumptions and to ask for examples of previous training they enjoyed and applied?
  • If a new training program is indeed required, how, specifically, will it delight employees?
Let’s make 2018 the year that L&D shifts the focus to our internal customers—our employees. Let’s remember what sales and (external) customer service teams have known for a long time: If our internal customers aren’t delighted with our L&D efforts, eventually the C-suite won’t be, either.