The anatomy of a continual learning approach
What does it constitute?
With the principles of an ideal business skills training program in mind, what does a continual learning program actually look like? We believe that a continual learning program consists of several critical components.
First, before launching any actual training, a “Program planning, alignment and configuration” phase typically is required to ensure that the organisational goals and objectives are understood, and that the overall training plan is aligned with organisational roles and competency levels. Without aligning training to business processes, a WSP will not be able to show ROI. Program planning and configuration would typically include the following activities:
Business process design/validation
A business process map will reflect your business’ process, and enable the definition of aligned workflow steps, with activities, verifiable outcomes and milestones/indicators defined for each step. The business process map may includes definitions of various roles, responsibilities, tools and technology to be employed per step. Not only does this allow for a skills-gap analysis, but this will also serve as the initial benchmark for ROI purposes.
Role-based curriculum plans
Recommended learning plans for specific roles (staff and managers) should be defined with a prescribed learning and reinforcement schedule/timeline. It is important to note that these curriculum plans may address as many as 7-10 broad competency areas and span 18-36 months. These should cover both foundation materials as well as advanced topics that are relevant to the various position (e.g.production line manager, shift supervisor, publisher, IT support personnel, territory sales rep). Each will have its own objectives to determine the impact level for learning objectives and performance requirements.
Skills tool tailoring
Methodology-specific business skill tools can be extremely valuable for both learning and consistent application of new techniques. It is important to identify and populate these tools and templates prior to training. The tools provide both a relevant context for training, as well as excellent reference material after training.
The manager as a coach
Focusing on coaching and supporting employees by breaking away from traditional top-down performance appraisals encourages a more employee-focused performance management process by allowing employees to gain valuable skills and knowledge from their coach. Coaching also provides constant (and measurable) feedback mechanisms to how the employees are performing, by constant following up with their progress.
The planning and configuration phase lays the groundwork for a well-designed continual learning program.
The diagram on the right illustrates an example of a six month window for such a program.
The top half of the diagram depicts a scheduled sequence of planned activities for a delegate, and the lower half illustrates on-demand resources that complement the individual’s learning path.
Then a continual learning program will provide scheduled learning and reinforcement. Scheduled training and learning events provide a momentum to any skills development program, and is a key component to driving results.
These scheduled learning and reinforcement components include:
Pre and post-training assessments
These assessments should test respondents’ likely compliance with best practices described in each training course within their defined role-based learning plan. In addition to measuring the degree of skill improvement, these online assessments help to determine areas of focus for individual reinforcement activities. These are constantly fed back into by the business process-aligned WSP to show a measurable impact.
Based on the learning plan, training content should be assigned at specified intervals. This training can take the form of instructor-led training and/or e/mLearning, or even a virtual classroom with eLearning as a prerequisite. Regardless of modality, the key to success is to avoid overwhelming learners with more content than they can assimilate and retain, especially if your organisation is making a major shift in its business agility approach.
A series of ongoing “push” questions, tips, and other information to staff and managers to stimulate thinking on the application of corresponding course concepts, skills and tools. This content may vary based on roles, and the duration of the pushed reinforcement is usually for 3-4 months following a scheduled training event.
Review and coaching sessions
At least two to three times a quarter, it is extremely valuable to assemble various teams and review their actual experiences in applying new methods or concepts learnt in skills development and their direct impact on their individual business process.. These sessions should be designed around functional issues and best practices surrounding the application of the concepts learned during training.
In addition to scheduled learning and reinforcement, a comprehensive learning program will incorporate an extensive array of on-demand learning and reinforcement resources that all align with scheduled learning activities. Managers can also direct their team or individuals to specific learning and reinforcement content they consider relevant to emphasise. These on-demand resources should include:
An e/m-Learning Library
A comprehensive, self-paced training courses in all competency areas – these modules can be used as part of a scheduled plan, or as post-training reinforcement.
A “skills knowledge center”
Standard, searchable content encyclopedia covering essential planning, skills and management how-to’s, as well as various tools and templates.
Well organised discussion forums can provide an effective way for geographically dispersed staff to discuss challenges and best practices.
Recorded webcasts/podcasts can provide a quick “refresher” on key concepts for common skills topics.
Videos that demonstrate best practices (and bad practices) in various work situations and engage the user by providing thought-provoking questions.
These action strategies and plans can be embedded directly within mainstream ERP/CRM systems, and they provide context-based help with various tools, techniques, and learning resources right in the context of working efficiently.
Any skills development program represents a significant change to organisational behaviour upon which future success of the enterprise depends. Therefore, dedicated program management and administration is a key part of the success of any skills continual learning program. Assigned program managers should monitor, inspect and report progress of the program, identify barriers to success and help to overcome them, and finally, measure business results and provide feedback on ROI.