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Where performance and learning merge to create competitive advantage

Patrick Boyle

L&D value at the top table and earning its place there

Learning & Development is one of the most important and often underappreciated groups in your company. It is one of the most valuable things HR departments or People departments do. Arguably it’s one of the most critical things the company does, if we are to believe that people are our most valuable assets and maintaining our valuable assets is important. That said, the L&D group are often a gem that needs more polish.

If you ask managers on the frontlines in just about any industry, they’ll say they want more training, rather than less. Adding a new product line? Introducing new safety protocols? Leaning out a process? Need to comply with new legislation? Upskilling? It is a business need to train your people.

When you ask the same managers where they turn for training resources – if they look for training resources – a significant number bypass the L&D team. Unfortunately HR and L&D are often seen as not being agile enough, business savvy enough, and ultimately failing to provably impact the bottom line.

Often, the L&D training budget is one of the first places that gets cut in down times. That said, things can be different. L&D has the opportunity to have a huge impact on the company’s bottom line. There is an opportunity for L&D to create a competitive advantage through people. To do that, there needs to be a shift in thinking from traditional corporate training to performance enablement.

Performance Enablement – Where CI & L&D meet

When I look back at my career, what stands out are all the people who took the time to help me. That’s what helped my career go well and that’s what I’ve tried to do in turn – be as helpful as I can be.

You can be more helpful by trying to understand what managers need to make their roles, like Operations, more successful. Often it comes down to simply helping people do their jobs well with the appropriate tools and the appropriate performance support, which can be Just in Time (JIT) training or well designed, simple job aids.

Seek out the Lean, 6 Sigma, continuous improvement, or operational excellence folks. Work with them to develop the hands-on job aids and micro-learning tools that they need in their change management programs.

These programs, when implemented properly, can be responsible for fast substantial improvement and incrementally improving processes over time. Outputs that demonstrably create efficiencies, increase quality, reduce accidents, re-work, and waste. These also have the benefit of being trackable improvements for which L&D can rightfully take credit and prove.

Many of them rely on learning in the moment, with hands-on tasks, that are repeated as a process. That is important for retention and continued application. If the task being learned is in the moment, if it is needed, if the person has the appropriate support and can do the task without stepping away from work, the outcome will be better. Also, since it was job related and needed, the retention will be much higher. If you can provide the job aids and instructions that accommodate accurate hands-on learning, your colleagues will be successful the first time and improve every time after.

Consistently working in this manner will naturally lead to a virtuous cycle of continuous improvement. When colleagues have the tools to do things the right way, it becomes second nature and they can focus their minds on improving the process. When they have an easy way to provide feedback while in the midst of performing tasks, they’ll come up with incremental ways to improve the process. All processes need feedback loops built in to tell us how the process and the people are performing. Including feedback metrics as part of the system allows us to constantly improve in real time based on operational rather than L&D metrics. That is important for L&D people to internalize. When you can improve operational metrics, you add value and get a seat at the table. In my experience, incorporating training and job aids into the workflow and the quality system adds enormous value and has the line managers asking for more.

In abstract, some of these concepts may seem challenging to implement or validate. But with the right tools, like those available in Acadia, training can be easily incorporated into workflow. Using digital tools means the entire process can be audited. Then data from process improvement can be combined with company performance data providing insight into the impact of the program, the system, and the people. This allows further performance enhancement to be identified and so on it goes.

A Real World Example

For a better sense of what’s possible with this approach, here’s an example of what an Acadia customer has achieved.

A global CPG company was looking for a way to onboard a large cohort of new plant managers. The multi-week program required each manager to become familiar with important aspects of the production process before dispersing to the plants they would help lead.

The training specialist, leading the program, determined that the group would learn best by working hands on. She added all the processes they would need into Acadia as SOPs, incorporating videos, images, and diagrams to help aid learning. After reviewing the material, the employees were quizzed on what they had just learned. The results of the quiz helped the training manager see who needed more help before they could safely move to the live environment.

As each manager took their turn working the line, the SOPs converted to checklists they could follow as they worked. When they got stuck, a video or diagram helped them move forward. At the end of the program, the participants were confident in their understanding of how the production process worked, because they had actually done the work themselves.

The training program was a success because it trained the group on a large amount of content in a relatively short amount of time. But what was more important is that the new managers said that the training stuck with them. Since the beginning of the program, the training specialist who started the program has become a global leader for training at the company and is expanding the use of Acadia across the enterprise.

Start Today and hold yourself accountable

Start small. Learn what one manager in one department is working on. See if you can help develop some job aids. See if you can help make SOPs more accessible. How can performance support fit into the workflow in real time and impact operational and other business metrics positively?

Ignore the minutiae. Even if 25% of employees have started a learning program. Have those who accessed your content improved performance? Has quality increased? Have we made fewer errors?

About the author

Patrick Boyle is an SAI advisory board member with more than 30 years of industry experience. He recently retired as Senior Vice President & Chief Learning Officer for UL. There he established the award-winning UL University that enabled cultural change and increased competency across the company, creating a competitive advantage that helped grow revenue, margin, and profit substantially.

Prior to joining UL, Boyle led Organizational Development in the Asia Pacific territory for Medtronic. There he established people practices including HR, L&D, and OD. He also reengineered the regulatory process for global medical device acceptance, which delivered several hundred million dollars of incremental revenue. He received Medtronic’s Star of Excellence Award for this effort.

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