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Is Your Corporate Learning Program Falling Behind or Leading the Way?

It’s clear that organizations with engaged employees typically outperform their competitors in terms of profitability, productivity, and customer ratings.  But, how do they do it?

One key area is through effective corporate learning, which is not at all a new revelation. Although there’s a benefit in giving employees an opportunity to build their skill sets, businesses find it difficult to provide learning for every employee. Factors like cost, time, frequency, reach, and consistency of corporate learning all play against business success – especially when it comes to serving customers and supporting strategic activities.

This week’s episode “Future of Corporate Learning: Leading Edge or Falling Behind?” from The Future of Business with Game Changers, a special edition series of SAP Radio, explored the relationship between how retaining top talent and improved customer satisfaction is directly linked to engaged employees. The panel featured Patrick Heffernan, practice manager of the Professional Services Practice for TBR; Jeff Losey, head of Claims’ Professional Development Center for the University of Farmers; and Lori Williams, VP of Market Development and Channel Sales for SAP Education (North America).

Those who view corporate learning as time well spent will have good employees and clients

Patrick Heffernan kicked off the discussion by stating, “Managers who consider time spent learning as unproductive will be left without good people or good clients.”  The cultural mindset that subscribes to a negative view about training is taking a short-term mentality about what the business needs. Instead, businesses should focus on how training enables employees to improve performance and the overall business to serve its customers better.

Heffernan also noted the need to pay attention to the substance, speed, and sustainability of corporate learning – rather than focusing on how different generations learn in different ways. Heffernan explained, “It’s easy to get caught up in how we are going to teach Millennials and to lose focus on what we are actually trying to get done.” Rather, businesses should make sure that corporate learning is relevant to today’s business world, any technological changes, and the company’s mission. But more importantly, employees need to stay engaged and believe that their employer has a long-term vision and their job makes good use of their talents and abilities.

According to Heffernan, “Training is like maintaining a tank. It has to be part of every day, just like standard required maintenance.” When employees understand their own professional development depends on keeping a steady pace of training and they know the rewards for compliance and penalties for failure, it becomes part of the corporate culture.

A rising tide lifts all boats

Jeff Losey continued Heffernan’s thoughts by conveying, “If all employees are incrementally developing themselves with a laser focus on things that will make them more effective, the effectiveness of the entire organization will rise.” By teaching employees how to teach themselves, they are better able to get involved and stay directed.

“We need to build tools that support the training and development of individuals, so they can learn on their own,” stated Losey. “Just imagine the level of efficiency if the culture shifts to people learning on their own. There’s no more corporate structure of climbing the ladder – instead, you are developing yourself to be where you want to be.”

But even if the tools are available and the culture encourages learning, Losey did convey the importance of a comprehensive development plan. “There are three elements to a good development plan. It has to be good for the employee, good for the company, and a priority for the company,” commented Losey. This can be done by tying individual improvement to organizational impact and correlating organizational development to strategic impact.

As a result, individuals are rewarded for their personal development because they are then doing what they want to do. Losey suggested, “With development, you can go anywhere.”

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.

Lori Williams mentioned that communications are being used as an alternative to training and learning, which is not very effective if businesses want their employees to remember and use that information in their daily work. On the flip side, training requires employees to cram information in a short amount of time and recall that learning when needed – which, unfortunately, does not change employee behavior because it is easy to forget what was learned.

Williams advised, “We can make behavioral changes and increase productivity when someone moves from having ‘head knowledge’ to owning practical experience.” This can be done when the student becomes the teacher – in other words, the trained employee is made responsible for relaying that knowledge to a co-worker.

But Williams cautioned, “Training and learning are not the same things. Though they are inextricably linked, each is quite unique. Training is the giving of information, where learning is really about absorbing and applying that information to improve business outcomes.”

By providing experiential and continuous learning, businesses can create the sustained human capability they are seeking. And given the rapid pace of business and technology advancements, leading companies need to achieve learning at the speed of change.

To listen to a replay of this edition of the Future of Business with Game Changers series, presented by SAP Radio, click here.

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