Brad Zomick

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The 3 L&D Questions Every Company Must Answer

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To understand what’s going on in today’s businesses, and the Learning & Development revolution that’s about to arrive, take a look at this “map” of the brain.

In the 19th century, this is how some phrenologists (those who analyzed character by studying the shape of skulls) imagined the human brain works. To their credit, they got some things right. The idea that different parts of the brain do different things turned out to be true.

But along came MRIs, and this old map, based on guesses, went out the window.

The same is true with the “brain” — the skill makeup — of today’s organizations. We’re still in the age of phrenology, trying to guess what skills exist inside our companies, and where they lie. We haven’t had the data to show us.

That’s changing now. New technologies allow companies to see the talent shape of their organizations and plot steps toward the talent shape they need to stay competitive.

These tools let you keep tabs on the evolving talent shape of your entire industry, your market and your competitors. You can keep adapting your in-house learning and external hiring to take advantage of all the latest trends and emerging opportunities. In short, it has huge repercussions for L&D.

To take advantage of everything this new era has to offer, every company must answer three questions.

1. What skills should we learn?

To answer this, you need to discover the two basic ingredients.

Demand

Demand comes first. This information is available — it just needs to be pulled together.

It lies in your job postings. Take, for example, a posting for a product manager. The job description shows the skills you need this person to have.

The technology we use at Pathgather allows us to collect this data for all your job postings at once. We chart the skills that show up most often in your postings. In this graph, for example, skills E, H and J are the most in-demand in your organization.

Supply

Now, it’s time to find out how big a supply of these skills you already have among your staff. Most executives don’t realize the hidden talents of their employees because there’s been no system in place to help them keep track. So they end up hiring external candidates without realizing that they already have the talent supply inside their organizations.

There are numerous ways to gather the information on your employees’ skills. The best and most reliable data comes from performance reviews and feedback. Employees can also take part in skill assessments. And some data comes from personality assessments and self-ratings.

We use technology to pull all this information together, presenting you with the talent shape of your organization. It shows who has what skills. This data is invaluable for you, allowing you to make strategic decisions.

Implement learning initiatives

Now you know which skills you need employees to learn, and you know which employees already have those skills at different levels. Feed all this data into a machine learning algorithm, and it will lead your learning experience platform to recommend learning initiatives for employees that will help you fulfill your skill needs.

As your skill demand and supply change, the technology will update with new recommendations. This is crucial, since digital transformation leads to constant change. The half-life for skills is now as low as 2.5 years.

To stay current and avoid the guessing games of the past, it’s time to leverage big data.

2. How should we learn these skills?

This second question requires a broad understanding of what today’s learning resources look like.

Traditionally, businesses have used learning content that they either created themselves, or procured from an external course library. They then build those resources into a learning management system (LMS), making them available to employees.

Today, this system is outdated. Business needs change constantly, as do content offerings. The traditional method of creating content or purchasing an off-the-shelf library has become too slow to adapt. So if companies wait for their LMS to do the trick, they’ll lose to the competition.

These days, learning is available in hundreds of different locations — from Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to TED Talks to YouTube videos and more. You need a single platform that brings all the best offerings into one searchable system, similar to what Kayak does for travel.

You need a learning experience platform to unify the wide ranging and disparate ecosystem of learning resources. It allows your company to remain agile and evolve with the changing business environment, while leveraging new resources as they become available.

But how do you make sure the best content is found easily, so employees will know which resources are most promising? L&D leaders can’t possibly have the expertise to know and judge all the offerings on every topic. So the solution is to empower your workforce.

Allow employees to add content they find anywhere, and even create their own. Be sure they can rate courses as they take them. And enable them to curate learning paths for one another. L&D leaders should be curation enablers — not curators of all content.

See how Visa makes sure the best content can “bubble up to the top.”

Also, businesses should ensure that managers have the tools to help guide the career development of their reports. The vast majority of managers want to do this, but don’t have the resources. With a learning experience platform in place, managers can point to resources that will help employees get where they want to go in their careers.

3. What’s in it for us?

This is the most crucial question for both employees and executives.

For employees

If they can’t see within the first few minutes how the platform will benefit them in their careers, your employees are unlikely to come back for anything outside of mandatory compliance training. So it’s crucial to have a consumer-grade platform that shows employees what opportunities are available within their organization, what skills they need and the best learning resources to acquire those skills.

The platform should offer different options so that employees can make choices about their futures. For example, someone in payments may want to become a payments manager or product analyst, or she might want to move in a new direction and become a security engineer. Given her goals and interests, the learning experience platform shows her what she needs to learn.

These kinds of development opportunities are particularly important to millennials. Gallup found that 87 percent of millennials say “professional or career growth and development opportunities” are important to them in a job, as do 69 percent of other employees.

If they don’t find this kind of growth available at your company, great employees will leave for other businesses that do offer these kinds of pathways.

For executives

The top brass, meanwhile, need to know what’s in it for the company.

LinkedIn found that while L&D is top of mind for 80 percent of executive teams, only 8 percent see the business impact, and only 4 percent see the return on investment (ROI). To get top-level investment in building a learning ecosystem that will make your company competitive, you need to be able to show how the company will benefit.

For too long, the metrics offered to justify L&D initiatives have been about course completions. Those figures don’t show the actual value of the learning.

It’s time to change that by focusing instead on two central metrics that are calculable: employee retention and internal mobility. By integrating your learning experience platform with your Human Resources Information System (HRIS), for example, you’ll be able to see how a modern L&D platform retains employees and increases internal promotions.

This easily translates into dollars and cents. Companies are wasting huge sums of money on external hires, despite research showing that they “get paid more and perform worse, than internal staff.” Internally promoted candidates already know the company, the culture and the people, and are more likely to stick around. Oracle found that more successful companies have much higher rates of internal mobility than their competitors.

Fix the skills gap

Answering these three questions, and taking the right steps to advance L&D accordingly, will build not only stronger businesses but also a stronger economy as a whole.

The World Economic Forum notes: “Many countries struggle with vast unemployment, underemployment and huge untapped labor pools beyond what can be attributed to the recent global economic slump. Yet, many industries struggle with significant talent shortages and skills gaps that are dampening economic growth.”

By creating these new workplace L&D initiatives, enterprises will fill shortages, tap into the potential of the labor force and help turn businesses into what they can be: universities of the 21st century.

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