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Focus Less on Learning Innovation and More on Business Outcomes

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I’m not a Luddite. Really. I’m a change agent. I support technological progress and the use of technology as an enabler for work performance.

Learning Innovation Abounds

More specifically, in terms of learning innovation, I’m an ardent advocate of:

What am I not fond of? Well, since you asked… I’m not fond of:

  • Solving the wrong problem with a shiny, new solution
  • A focus on “being innovative” instead of “getting results” or “achieving verifiable outcomes.”
To avoid a virtual lynching, I want to be crystal clear that I'm not suggesting that everyone in the learning community who touts these solutions or uses them is making such poor business judgments. That’s simply not true. But this is a problem I’ve seen more frequently than I would like. There is plenty of “bright, shiny object syndrome” out there.

The solution challenge comes in two forms, it seems. One is the reverse; those who avoid new solutions entirely. And then my pet peeve, those who seek them out as an end in themselves. While those are both problematic, I worry more about the latter behavior.

Please Pass the Bright, Shiny Object

I won't share details, but could easily cite a dozen times over the past two years where industry peers or practitioners approached me to discuss how they could create more innovative training solutions, for their companies or clients. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that on the surface. As I dug into the requests, though, and why they were looking for such a solution, in almost all cases they wanted to overcome a poor perception (lack of value) for training that was provided previously (usually to a harshly-judgmental sales audience led by those pesky, demanding sales leaders). Words I heard frequently included, “new, exciting, different, innovative, technology, and fresh.” Hmm. A perception problem, in search of a bright, shiny object.

What I didn’t often hear about was a problem-solving approach with a focus on results, outcomes, behavior change, or solving strategic business problems through learning, to achieve specific business outcomes.

This hurts us all. It hurts our industry and our reputation as a profession. It damages the perception of the business value we deliver, removes any hope of being perceived as thought leaders, erodes credibility, impairs trust, lessens impact, and reduces us to people pleasers who pursue great smile sheet ratings at the expense of business impact. If this is how we want to behave, we might as well be entertainment directors.

The Not-So-Merry Go-Round

Some among us have been doing this for years now, though, haven’t they? I have a love/hate relationship with learning innovation for this exact reason. All of those innovations that I said I support, listed above at the beginning of this post, are truly awesome innovations, and frankly, very cool (or is that “kewl?”). Some are newer, others have been around for years but still aren't well utilized. (Remember when elearning was going to kill off ILT? How about Gloria Gery's first edition of Making CBT Happen?)

We need to stop this. We need to get very serious about elevating the learning and performance profession, especially for those of us involved with fueling our sales forces (since no selling = no company).

So, I'll end this post offering two things:

  • To encourage better analysis (aka job, need, gap, and root-cause analysis) of the real issues, so your solutions solve them and you can add real business value.
  • To consider, at a high-level, about how you might combine both concepts (solving the real problem with innovating learning options). Consider it a blueprint of sorts… or ways to weave learning innovations into your solutions as you create great learning systems (that is, when the problem can be solved by training – which is a topic for another post).

Ways to Apply Learning Innovation in Support of Business Outcomes

With that in mind, here are some suggestions to consider. This list is not meant to be linear, nor exhaustive. But hopefully it will offer and spur some helpful ideas.

When you identify a business problem and determine that it can be solved through sales training:

  • In your analysis, study the right top producers and exemplary performers to identify the right content.
  • In your design and development, chunk, sequence and layer the knowledge that is required to perform tasks differently and use asynchronous learning for the knowledge transfer.
  • Deliver, assess, track and report the training progress and results through an LMS.
  • Use virtual classrooms for information that requires voice-to-voice engagement for demonstrations, more complex concepts, or for preparation for upcoming classroom exercises or activities.
  • Focus ILT on creating loops of skill practice with feedback loops/coaching and re-application. Help learners move as far toward mastery as possible, while they are with you.
  • Consider an assessment center approach, using simulations that are as realistic as possible.
  • Use assessment tools to test and report learning along the way and also Level 2 learning (knowledge).
  • Use mobile apps to reinforce and assess learning, post-course.
  • Set-up online communities for discussion, sharing, questions and answers. (Consider a Wiki, Chatter, SharePoint, Yammer and other tools.)
  • Build the changes/learning into workflow. Provide integrated workflow performance support whenever possible.
Of course, to make a business impact, even these suggestions require the learning solution to be aimed at problems that training can solve, and a link between the new behaviors and a strategic business objective. Combine those elements consistently but put results first, and you’ll be well on your way to earning that coveted “seat at the table” in your organization.

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