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Getting results from your Learning Services

As someone who has worked for, worked with and played a major role in making learning easy in some of the worlds best known companies, I'm always surprised at the different configurations of learning services that people use, and their rationale for using them.

In this post I want to share with you some observations that I hope will help you decide whether your current approach, or something different might bring you better results for your learners, your business and your customers.

And I'm going to do it by focusing on some essential topics:

  • Your organisation's Strategy

  • Your Learning/Training Strategy

  • Your Learning Culture

  • Your internal stakeholders

  • Your definition of success

  • Your current Learning resources

Remember - there is never a one-size-fits-all solution in Learning. And anyone who tells you otherwise should be challenged!

Your organisation's strategy

You might be asking why your organisation's strategy has an impact on how you structure your learning services. So let me explain...

Your strategy is the linchpin for every facet of your organisation's operation (or at least it should be!) and as a result of this, it will feed into how you recruit the best talent, provide opportunities for talent and growth, engage with suppliers, structure your operations and use your time.

What this means is that if your strategy leans towards hiring the world's best talent, the focus internally on developing this talent further might be directed towards experiences and qualifications that are best developed by world-class, global institutes.

Or if your strategy is more focused on attracting ambitious self-starters who are new to the field it could be expected that you invest heavily on developing programmes internally to create opportunities for your teams to grow.

And then you might have a strategy that drives towards 100% self-sufficiency. Which means everything you do must be done internally.

I've used these extreme examples to illustrate that before you even consider who, what are how you configure your learning services, your organisation's strategy will be playing a big part.

Your Learning/Training Strategy

Next it comes to the strategy you adopt for Learning across the organisation. And I'll say right away that in many cases, this will be incredibly limited, or might not even exist formally at all, particularly if you're an SME with a relatively small (<50) number of employees.

And I'll also acknowledge that the quality and implementation of Learning Strategy varies wildly! There are thousands of reasons why this might be, and I don't want to spend the rest our our lives speculating on what these are.

I've worked with some incredible clients in the last few years who have had awesome Learning Strategies and one in particular (one of the worlds biggest beverage companies) stands out for me because:

  • The 'head of...' is someone who lives and breathes learning in all it's forms. And genuinely leads from the front.

  • The Exec team are strong advocates of learning (in general) and acknowledge it's a core contributor towards the success of not just the business, but also the people.

  • Their is a crystal clear link from strategy-initiatives-experiences-results

In my 15 months working with this client I knew, at every step, how the work I was doing (even something simple like a contribution in a Town-Hall session) would support the Learning Team's purpose and strategy, the organisation's strategy, the experience for every single team-member who engaged with learning and the customers who visited an experience centre, bought a bottle from the supermarket or had a drink on a night out. It was genuinely astounding!

And the impact of the learning strategy more broadly was this:

  • If an employee wanted to access learning, they knew where to go or who to speak to. Learning happened!

  • If a leader had identified a potential capability gap in their function, they knew to engage with the learning experts in the business to get the best solution

  • When a HR Business Partner was working with a region, they knew who to speak to in order to align the Learning support necessary to achieve the capabilities goals

  • And when someone in learning received these requests, they knew who to align to support it, which external partner to engage to make it happen and which technology/approach would offer the best experience.

What this meant for how Learning Services were offered is that there was a combination of an internal team, in-business experts, external partners and ad-hoc support for peak activity. A true blend.

But it's not all sunny when it comes to learning strategy. And I'm sure you've all worked in some organisations, or with some clients who've said all the right things when it comes to what their Learning Strategy with little evidence it actually exists.

As I said earlier, some organisations don't have a specific learning strategy, and if I'm honest, I don't think it's an issue in some cases. But I'd argue that having a wonderful strategy on paper with little to back it up is infinitely more damaging. For the Learning team, for the culture of learning in the organisation and ultimately for the value team members place on continuous professional development.

An example of what I mean by this is...

Imagine you were the Head of Learning for your business of 500 people. And your Learning Strategy intimated that you valued personal development, would invest heavily (in time, or money or people) in enabling people to learn in the way that was best for them. And that you would always offer the best possible learning experience to harness people's appetite for growth.

And then imagine that in practice, you had a single team-member (let's call them a Learning Consultant) who's primary role was to schedule compliance based learning. And all other learning was either a Job-Aid that people were emailed, E-learning that was little more than a glorified presentation and 'Training Days' where staff would be talked at by a 'Subject Matter Expert' and expected to pass a 1 hour assessment.

Now finally, imagine the damage this does to the learning culture, the job satisfaction of anyone in your learning team, the potential of employees who are ambitious and want to learn more every day.

The worst thing about this (again, admittedly extreme) example is that it's more common that you would think. And often, it means that the people 'in charge' of learning in the organisation don't really know the best way to offer learning services. Which means the trust and value people place in the 'experts' in-house or external partners can be non-existent.

So whatever your approach to Learning Strategy, be clear. And follow through. And instead of paying lip-service to Learning Strategy so you can say you have an 'in-house L&D team', adjust your strategy to take advantage of the incredible learning talent around the world who, right now, have found that during times of crisis, Learning Strategies rapidly disappear, along with their job and their colleagues and are setting out on their own.

And if you want to engage someone who's worked with Learning Strategy for some time, and can help you fine-tune it - hook me up, I'd love to help!

Learning Culture

As I'm writing this, I'm genuinely trying to work out whether this is the most enjoyable part of the work I do - defining and encouraging a learning culture that's right for an organisation. And as I finished that last sentence, I decided that it is! I love it!

Here's why. Learning Culture is more than a 'Strategy' it's more than having an internal team of experts. And it's more than just sending people regular notifications about learning. Learning Culture is all about how everyone, from the CEO to the Front-line workers perceive and value learning in your organisation.

It's about opportunities to be better tomorrow than you were today. It's about empowering each and every employee to be limitless in their potential and ambition. And it's about, as a Learning Leader, how you live and breathe Learning and all it's benefits.

Because of this, the way you offer learning services is directly related to the learning culture you want, or have. So choose wisely when deciding the mix of internal/external experts to make learning happen.

Your internal stakeholders

You might be asking how your internal stakeholders impact the way you source and supply your learning services.

Think of it like this. As someone who leads an internal Learning Function (or is at least accountable for it), you're accountable for all learning in your organisation.

Let's say you work for a Financial Services organisation. You will have people in your organisation who must complete CPD activity and Certifications/Licenses provided by specific regulatory bodies.

So your internal stakeholders will want to make sure their people can access the right learning to meet their regulatory requirements, and also the personal development goals of their team. And because your learning team is a team of learning experts, it's highly unlikely that they're also experts in the certifications/regulations etc. etc. Which means that your internal stakeholders will either source suppliers to fit these needs, or they'll come to you and ask you to source them.

And the same is true in many other industries. For example, your accounting department might need the team to complete externally verified certifications. Or your engineering department might need to work with an apprenticeships provider.

And blending this external expertise with your team of learning experts means you can truly align on your strategy and learning culture, whatever the needs of the business.

Your definition of success

Let's be honest, I'm unashamedly an advocate for learning. And no-one will ever convince me that learning is anything other than one of the most important aspects of an organisation's success.

But what matters in how you configure your learning services is your definition of what successful learning is.

So if you're accountable for 'Learning' alongside many other things in your business and you can only afford to expend a small percentage of time on it, then it's likely that your definition of success might simply be that regulatory and mandatory training is completed on time. And that's fine.

And that cycles back round to how you structure your services. Because if you're managing, and everyone's doing as they're told with their learning. Great. Let's leave it at that.

If, however, in the same situation your definition of learning success is like mine (it's pivotal to business success), then you're probably going to want to invest in some strong external partnerships, or contractors, or an internal team. Otherwise you won't get anywhere near your definition of success.

Your current learning resources

For this final element, I'm reflecting on my early days as a Learning Designer, and the limited perspective I had at the time. And comparing it to how I know things really are.

About 12 years ago I worked as part of a Design Team in a Telecomms company - it was an amazing team with incredible talent - many of who are now leading learning functions or running their own business (like me) - but at the time there was far more work for us to do than we had the capacity or capability to do (I know this now, I didn't back then).

At the time, we brought in some great contractors, partners and suppliers to design, deliver and manage some aspects of our learning services - particularly E-Learning & Leadership Development. Truly - some were amazing!

But no matter how good they were, I always felt a little put-out that I wasn't given the opportunity to work on this stuff. And I don't mean 'to do it all' but to contribute in some way at least.

I took it personally and as some sign that I really wasn't good at what I did. Regardless of the truth of my perception, it wasn't a good feeling. Now, I know the reasons and accept them.

I'm telling you this because it's essential that if you have learning resources and want them to specialist on the 'day-to-day' that you make this clear. So that people know you'll be bringing in external parties to do the 'exciting stuff'. Or maybe you'll have a blend of internal/external/.

It's also critical that you have a full view of your capacity today, tomorrow and at least a few months ahead, so you can identify if, when and how you'll ramp up to meet peak demand. Maybe it's a Managed Learning Service, maybe it's a bank of contractors and freelancers.

Whatever your approach, be mindful of your team - they do what they do because they care about it, so bring them on the journey.

Final Thought

This blog is infinitely longer than I expected it to be when I started writing it - but if you've ready my posts before, you'll be used to that ;).

So as a final thought I urge you to realise these things, regardless of your involvement in learning:

  • Learning is critical to the success of your organisation

  • Whatever your learning strategy, make sure you follow through

  • Developing a learning culture where your employees genuinely value learning, and your team of learning experts will transform your results

  • Your learning team are special. Care for them. Nurture them and make them know they're special. But they're not perfect. And there are times you (and they) would benefit from bringing extra hands!

And whatever your learning services configuration, there's a place for:

  • An internal L&D Team - they're experts in your business

  • Contractors - they do incredible work at short-notice. They're specialists

  • Managed Learning Service - they're great at handling the complexities learning brings

  • Ad-hoc Supplier - whatever you need support with, there's a supplier out their for you

Remember too, that while there's a cost associated with all of these, there's probably a bigger costs of not investing in them!

Before I go

As you can tell, I really give a shit about learning. And for the rest of my days, I'll be working with clients, employers and individuals to make sure I can make learning easy for as many people as I possible can before I retire!

I'm always on the look-out for an exciting project where I can make a difference for you, your organisation and your people. So if you're in the market for a someone to make that happen - give me a call or drop me an email, let's chat.

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