Archive for April, 2011

Learning: Solution or Band-Aid?

As a learning professional I would hope that answer is always “solution” and a value added one at that! The reality, however, can be far from the truth. Ultimately it is not about what learning CAN do for you, it is about what it does.

And “does” can take many forms. At it’s ideal, learning is a tool or discipline to enable performance at either the skill or competency level. The targeted skills have been purposefully identified as necessary to move a person or organization in a certain direction to meet a strategic goal. The learning solution allows the individual to effectively move from the current state to the desired state. The end result? Objectives met, goals achieved, and perhaps more importantly, growth…something most adult learners crave and organizations need to flourish.

At it’s worst learning solutions are ill thought out band-aids. Reactive, not well understood and not well supported. The results can be devastating. Learning solutions are rarely an end destination. They should in fact be part of a greater change initiative that is supported by strong communication, leadership, reinforcement and evaluation. If the need for the learning is not well understood, it will fail. If the learning message isn’t a credible one (and credibility in learning is worthy of a blog post in its own right) meaning that the need for the learning doesn’t align with a commonly accepted performance gap or a preferred end state then it will fail. If an employees manager and higher level leaders do not support the learning messages, the learning solution will fail. If broader organizational systems do not support the new skill or behaviour then the learning will fail. Failure is unfortunately too regular an outcome. Common to a break down in any or all of these key areas is wasted resources. An investment in learning is expensive, an investment in a band-aid is an opportunity cost with little chance of a return on your investment.

Let me give you an example. A customer centric organization that I have worked with in the past prides itself on the exceptional customer experience it creates for each and every member. A key performance measure that the organization was held accountable to was the net promoter score….simply put, the number of people that would recommend your service to others less those that would not. Customers feedback was king and acted upon immediately. Or should I say reacted upon immediately. Solutions ranging from process changes to training sessions were thrown at the problem. Were the problems fixed? Yes…most of the time. But we will never know whether it was the change in process, the change in system, the quality monitoring or the training solutions targeting all who may touch the customer that fixed the problem. In this case we had band-aid layered on top of band-aid and no way of knowing whether the healing was taking place. The result for this organization was a suboptimal use of scarce resources. More significantly it negatively impacted the employees views on “learning”. They often felt that the learning solutions were overkill. Employees who were resistance to the change knew that it would be only a matter of time before a new and improved solution was rolled out. Why bother to change now? Passive resistance was rampant. Above all else this is the death knell of a learning solution for adults cannot learn if they are not open to it.

Learning should never be a band-aid. It should not be a gut reaction to a perceived problem. As leaders we need to better engage with our learning professionals to understand what the true need is. Only then can you design a solution that may move you forward. Understanding the need and the focusing on the objective will allow you to build in an evaluation process to measure whether you have actually addressed the problem and only then will be able to able to potentially call the solution “learning”.

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