Business Skills Development Focus

Part 3:The future of business skills training

Richard Lehnerdt

Continual learning approach principles

By understanding some of the major reasons why traditional approaches to training in the modern workforce fail to deliver a suitable return on investment (ROI), and how skills training has evolved over the past three decades, we can get a clearer approach as how training should be structured. Looking at the evolution of training four distinct types of learning that, if thoughtfully combined, can provide an effective, ongoing development approach for skills training in an organisation. Based on more than fifteen years experience training various organisations and multiple independent research sources, we have outlined a set of core principles for an ideal learning program for organisations that effectively want to entrench business skills as part of their workplace skills plan (WSP). The problem of measuring ROI on business skills training is that these skills appear to be different to "hard" skills and the connection to business is vague. If the skills learning program is designed to be applied, then it should be applied in the work environment to show action/activity/behavioural change. Alternatively, if it is designed to drive business impact, then the consequence should be a visible business impact. Each is a measurable and quantifiable outcome - soft skills are no different. 

These principles specifically address the major barriers to successful business skills training and provide the basis for a sustainable ROI:

Business process alignment
Without a thorough understanding of the specific process (or processes) which enable your employees to align to their specific function, it is not possible to determine the types of competencies required for successful alignment or effective measurement (KPI). As a result, most training initiatives omit critical training requirements completely and the process is not aligned to the company’s WSP. In addition, a business process map also provides insight into various tools and templates that provide the most impact for their job and/or passing queries onto other departments.
Objective assessment and measurement
Successful organisations need defined models for evaluating the knowledge and skills of both their staff and managers. Without objective assessment and measurement (KPIs), it is impossible to determine where gaps exist and how training investments impact the skills and abilities of the organisation, and hence no WSP can be accurately defined.
Realistic training plans
Training plans need to be layered over time, from basic concepts to more complex topics. Attempting to force too much learning content into a compressed timeframe is unrealistic, and yields little performance improvement. Role-based curriculum plans should lay out realistic, staged learning and reinforcement paths for staff and managers.

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Comprehensive curriculum
Many skills training initiatives focus on a single aspect of business skills, such as presentation skills or communication, and do not address many important competencies (e.g. time and stress management, emotional intelligence, conflict resolution, etc.) The “learning library” needs to comprehensively span business skills essentials and intelligence, through to management disciplines. As staff acquire core business skills sets (competencies), they should progressively have access to more curriculum “on-demand” subjects that lead to mastery in advanced soft skills, such as negotiation, emotional intelligence, problem solving, etc.
A two-tiered reinforcement model
Reinforcement needs to be both scheduled and on-demand. Many organisations provide on-demand learning and reinforcement systems that receive limited usage, because both staff and their managers are preoccupied with their daily activity. Most employees need structured reinforcement that is aligned with their learning path, and “pushed” to the employee on a planned basis. On-demand assets provide a second tier of reinforcement that provide highly personalised access to content on an individual basis.
Repetition and variety
Essential concepts need to be learned and reinforced in multiple forms over a predefined time period. Learning theory supports an ongoing learning experience that utilises multiple modalities. These forms of content delivery should both support the learning objective and offer variety to retain the interest of the learner. An effective program combines many forms of learning and reinforcement delivery, including instructor-led training, e/m-Learning, virtual classrooms, “pushed” content, video scenarios, webcast “refresher” lessons, searchable knowledge repositories, and access to forums and discussions.

Access to an on-line reinforcement system
Access to learning assets, essential how-to’s, what-is,  and other tools need to be instantly accessible to staff in multiple forms. Staff should be able to quickly locate and access learning content through a number of logical pathways. These pathways can include a business process map that links to learning content, a searchable knowledge base, an indexed set of business skills tools, direct linkage through sales-playbooks or scripts etc. When designed appropriately, these integrated assets comprise an Electronic Reinforcement Library which supports both scalable reinforcement and self-coaching.
Unlimited learning access
The historical pricing model for training has been typically a cost per-person or cost per-event. As a result, many aspects of useful intellectual property and methodology are not made available to the entire organisation because of cost considerations. The consequences of this approach are that many useful areas of business skills  methodology are never addressed at any point in training initiatives. In our view, the program of the future provides open access to all methodological content, allowing teams and individuals to pursue unlimited learning opportunities.
On-the-job integration
The majority of organisation make use of systems such as ERP/CRM or email to organise and track work related information. The “last mile” of learning and reinforcement can be accomplished by integrating essential how-to’s and learning assets directly into these systems usage. For example a  sales-playbook integrated into a CRM can reinforce best practices and can also link to context-based learning resources that are focused on the actual task being undertaken. Scripts can be integrated into the systems that customer service staff use. Email etiquette can be delivered right into the inbox.
Ongoing program management
Skills training programs need to be managed as a business investment. Regular business reviews that measure both learning and business metrics should be mandatory in any organisational development program. This needs to cover not only the ROI of the training but look a review KPI's on a regular basis.

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With these principles of an ideal business skills training program in mind, what does such a program actually look like? We believe that a continual learning program consists of several critical components.  Click here to have a look at the breakdown of a continual learning approach
When considering a skills training initiative, companies will have a clear choice to make. Will they continue to invest in event-based, flavour-of-the-month training? Or will they make a legitimate commitment to a continual learning strategy – one that may span multiple years and become ingrained in corporate process and culture, with WSP and KPIs that are aligned to business processes to ensure ROI? The challenge is moving from a collection of good ideas to tangible action, and translating these best practices into a formal program for learning and development. With more than 15 years experience in the business skills training area, CorporateWise has adopted such an approach and believes that the challenges of the future for successful companies demands nothing less for agile excellence.