Put Learning at the Heart of Talent Strategy

Learning Gears

A guest column by Piers Lea, chief strategy officer at Learning Technologies Group, plc

In a recent article on the critical role of L&D in business success, HCM Technology Report Editor Mark Feffer stopped short of declaring 2019 “the Year of Learning.”

But naturally, as someone who’s devoted their career to the seminal importance of workplace learning, I’m prepared to go there.

And while it seems like the obvious position for an executive at an L&D company to take, I’ll say the massive opportunity for enterprise organizations—and the risks they face if they fail to seize it—cannot be understated.

Enterprises have a massive opportunity to enhance their workforce & business with #Learning. And they face huge risks if they don't. #HR #HRTech @PiersLea @LTGplc Click To Tweet

Learning is the New Work

Across industries, work and workplaces are shifting to keep pace with technology innovation and digitization. Experts may debate its pace and progress, but no one disputes that the digital transformation is irreversibly under way.

By its very nature, this constant technical innovation and the accelerated pace of business is putting organizations of all types squarely in the learning business.

That is, if they want to succeed, companies must invest in the programs and technologies it takes to manage change, develop skills, grow knowledge and instill desired attitudes and behaviors.

It means that, as employers come to realize just how critical learning is to business success, their talent strategies will refocus around learning, including:

  • Assessing a candidate’s interest in and ability to learn during the hiring process.
  • Aligning L&D with performance, succession planning and business impact.
  • Giving employees the opportunity to learn and grow their careers, supported by the right L&D technologies.
  • Incorporating learning proficiency, potential and performance into compensation strategies—and investing rewards to drive business outcomes.

What Learners Want from Work

LTG's Piers Lea
LTG’s Piers Lea

In systems terms, to integrate learning into talent strategies means companies must adopt a constant process of redefining job roles. They must also align qualifications—and compliance—with learning so they can scale and flex to meet new opportunities.

What this means for employees is that they must always be learning.

Predictions from Gartner, MIT Sloan Management Review/Deloitte, McKinsey and others paint a clear picture: From here on, careers will hinge on the ability to keep pace with continuous change. They will be defined, as noted in Deloitte UK’s 2018 Global Human Capital Trends report, not by jobs and skills “but through experiences and learning agility.”

The good news is that employees seem to know this already. They see learning as its own reward and they expect to learn at work. It’s become a key part of the employee experience.

The synchronicity of this is worth emphasizing: Employees want to learn. And employers need learners.

It follows that in order to attract the talented learners they need, employers must approach talent acquisition with a learning mindset. And they must create and embrace a culture of learning by:

  • Investing in L&D programs and modern technologies.
  • Building learning into every aspect of their talent strategy.
  • Promoting L&D opportunities as part of their employer brand and employee value proposition.

And with that, we’ve come full circle: Just as your talent strategy is your business strategy, your learning strategy is your talent strategy.

What Learning Cultures Look Like

The hallmarks of an organization with a true culture of learning aren’t hard to spot. After all learning, by nature, is transparent.

A few key features of a learning culture include:

  • Talent-centric approach: The talent strategy balances compensation, benefits and other tangible motivators and rewards with learning and other intangible rewards.
  • Systemization: Learning is baked into the systems and SOPs that manage the entire employee lifecycle—from recruiting and onboarding through performance, compensation and succession–as well as enterprise workforce planning.
  • Continuous: Learning isn’t episodic. It happens all the time, right in the flow of work.
  • Consumer-quality experience: Employees learn at work the way they do as consumers—via video, mobile app and impromptu collaboration. In addition, they can create and share their own learning content with colleagues.

Learning for Your Organization and its Operations

Because learning is cultural, it must be founded, fostered and facilitated within the context of your organization. It must be incorporated across your operations, especially the talent strategies deployed by HR.

Many learning professionals–including my colleagues here at LGT–recognize that each client’s landscape dictates which solutions will work best. The complexities of modern business demand flexibility, not monolithic technology stacks that force them to adopt and adapt.

Across industries—financial services, retail, pharma and healthcare, aviation, manufacturing and more—companies need a blend of learning approaches. For certain roles, the learning management system (LMS) must track training and certifications to ensure financial planners or pilots, for example, are qualified. Fail-safes must be built into the system to stop work if anything is missing.

At the same time, companies increasingly seek low-touch learning tools that reach employees in the very flow of work—without interrupting sales, operations or client care. They also need solutions that connect employees to facilitate peer-to-peer learning, cross-functional mentoring and coaching.

HR pros in charge of the learning strategy need to consider their own unique challenges and specific needs when selecting partners and technologies to optimize the learning experience.

This need to blend and optimize solutions is the reason LTG married our digital learning with PeopleFluent’s talent acquisition and talent management technologies.

Together, we aim to fulfill the broader vision of interoperability and integrated talent management: Delivering a learning and talent ecosystem that drives measurable business results.

The Future of Learning & Talent Strategy: 7 Questions

When I say that learning is its own reward, it’s not just an industry sound bite. I’m personally and professionally energized by the opportunities ahead. And I’m inspired by questions that blur the boundaries between learning and talent strategy:

  • How can employers assess a candidate’s appetite and aptitude for learning?
  • If they can assess candidates, how can employers incorporate the results into the onboarding process?
  • From there, how can learning assessments feed into an employee’s individual L&D and performance plan?
  • How can an L&D program help employees unlearn skills and behaviors in order to learn new ones—for example, to progress into management and leadership?
  • How can line managers gain visibility into the learning needs of their teams and the impact of learning on team performance?
  • How can learning become so ingrained in the operating DNA of a business that it’s routinely surfaced in management reports?
  • How can all of this be measured against business outcomes?

As a lifelong learner myself, I’m eager to pursue these questions and their answers.

Piers Lea is the Chief Strategy Officer at Learning Technologies Group (LTG) plc. He has over 30 years’ experience in learning technologies, advising global enterprise clients on L&D and talent strategies. He’s a recognized thought leader on emerging technologies and methods for measuring the business impact of learning. Read more of his insights at PeopleFluent and LEO Learning.

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