Creating a Learning and Development strategy – Part II

13 Feb
February 13, 2014

In a previous post I outlined the first two of five rules for creating a winning learning and development strategy.  In this post I’ll outline the final three rules, which are:

  • clear value propositions for the customer
  • fine tune for the marketplace
  • communicate clearly with stakeholder groups

Rule 3:  Clear value propositions for the customer

If you were approached by one of your senior managers and asked: “What do you do round here to help us make money?” what would you say?  The chances are that you’d be rather flustered and blurt out something that isn’t necessarily that positive!

L&D Professionals won’t tend to talk that often about creating value propositions but they are essential for developing a winning L&D strategy, as I’ll explain in a little more detail.

A value proposition is a promise of value to be delivered and a belief from the customer that value will be experienced.  There are two sides to a value proposition.  On one side you’re making “A promise that value will be delivered” and on the other side there’s “A belief from the customer that value will be experienced.”

At the heart of the proposition is the word “value.”  As L&D Professionals we use words like “value” all the time, but we may not all agree on what we actually mean by value.  Here’s one view on what value means within L&D:

Value = Benefits – Costs

The value of what we offer is the benefit we bring minus the cost of delivering that value.

Although the concept of sitting down and actually working out a value proposition could well be an alien activity, as L&D Professionals you’re competing on a daily basis for the limited resources your business has at its disposal and a well thought out value proposition demonstrates that you clearly understand the needs of your business and are responding accordingly.

According to Neil Rackham, a best-selling author on the subject of sales and marketing, there are four main components of a value proposition.  These are

  • capability
  • impact
  • proof
  • cost

Let’s look at each of the four components of a value proposition.

A.  Capability

Within the L&D Profession, capability is the knowledge, skills and experience to deliver.  You may not have all the capabilities in-house – and therefore may have to outsource or hire consultants – but without the ability to offer the capability you cannot begin to build a value proposition.

As L&D Professionals, you may already have certain capabilities within your business, such as delivering classroom training, but you may want to branch out into other areas such as e-learning.  Clearly, as a provider of classroom training, you’ll already have capabilities such as:

  • adult learning theory
  • learning analysis and design
  • designing great interactive learning
  • understanding the needs of learners

So you may already have a number of the elements needed to demonstrate a capability in e-learning, but not all of them.  It really doesn’t matter how you add this capability into your mix; it could be by recruiting experienced resources or by partnering with an external e-learning provider.  Either way you must be able to demonstrate your capability otherwise you cannot build your value proposition.

B.  Impact

It doesn’t matter how much money you spend, or how many experts you involve, or how long it takes to deliver a solution; the fact is that you must deliver an impact.  Impact can be measured in a host of ways, but essentially it’s all about the positive change that you’ve made in your business or for your customers.

Impact could be:

  • reduced costs
  • increased process speed
  • fewer errors or accidents
  • increased revenues and reduced waste
  • reduced time to competence for new entrants

The key here is that just doing ‘something’ is not enough.  You must be able to measure impact, or show how you made an impact, or show what impact you are likely to achieve, otherwise you’ll be dead in the water.  The best way to demonstrate impact is by some form of financial measure, although I realise that within the L&D industry it’s never always that simple!

C.  Proof

When delivering a value proposition it’s vitally important to be able to show real proof for what you’re suggesting.  In our profession demonstrating proof isn’t always that easy. For example, try finding real proof of any of the following:

  • e-learning is more effective than classroom training
  • people fail to learn through classroom training or through formal lectures
  • the correct use of psychometric tests means you hire better employees
  • multiple choice questions are the best type of question to use when you’re assessing competency

As L&D Professionals we must always look for proof to substantiate the decisions we make.  Relying on statements such as “I think …” or “It’s a widely held belief that …” is a recipe for disaster.  You need to show real evidence whenever possible.

D.  Cost

When constructing your value proposition, the cost of your chosen approach is critical.  Although the L&D interventions you deploy are unlikely to cost £billions, their cost will still have to be offset by the benefits.  Here are a few examples:

  • developing an e-learning course for a very small group of people that’s only going to be used once may not ultimately be cost-effective
  • developing any people intervention (training, employee self-service etc.) when you have little or no capability may cost far more (certainly in terms of man-hours’ effort) than buying a solution direct.

You therefore need to be able to calculate accurately and predict the cost of various interventions in order to build up an accurate value proposition.  Remember that some companies will not reveal exactly how much they invested in a programme because of commercial confidentiality issues.  However, as long as you can show some financial saving or reduction then this is fine.  And remember, costs can differ wildly and the cheapest approach isn’t always the case in the long run.

L&D Professionals are increasingly battling to secure funds and resources for their initiatives.  Resources will always be tight within business, but the development of a value proposition is an excellent way for L&D Professionals to put forward their case in a structured and logical manner; one which will appeal to senior executives and demonstrate that you have the needs of the business at heart.

Rule 4:  Fine tune for the marketplace

Take a few moments and think about the last time you really took one of your L&D interventions or processes and fine-tuned it for the marketplace.  Let’s be really honest – do you constantly fine-tune your offerings for the marketplace – or do you develop an intervention or process but then leave it alone, saying “That’ll do”?  I suspect it’s probably the latter!

For L&D Professionals, fine-tuning can include

  • constantly updating learning and development interventions with relevant and up-to-date case studies,
  • taking advantage of new technologies e.g. social media or the use of the internet for initial applicant screening, or for reaching targeted candidates,
  • adapting your way of working to take advantage of newer communications methodologies e.g. Skype, virtual classrooms and virtual meetings, and
  • staying abreast of the latest trends and developments, not only from standard L&D publications but also from sources such as Harvard Business Review, The Economist, Wired and so on.

L&D Professionals are relatively quick to accept and implement new technologies, approaches and practices but fine-tuning for the market is about much more than that; it’s about understanding your business and how the environment in which it operates is changing – and spotting opportunities you can exploit to benefit your business.  One example is the way in which the recruitment market has been transformed by the use of online technology.

Rule 5:  Clearly communicate your strategy within the organisation and among other external stakeholders

I find it amazing how many L&D professionals I’ve talked to about strategy over the years – professionals who’ve toiled to develop their strategy, only to confine it to a dusty shelf and wonder why they then fail. After all, a winning strategy is of little use if nobody knows anything about it!

Sharing your strategy, both internally and externally, is an excellent way of signalling your intentions and gaining buy-in for what you’re about to embark upon.  Sharing your strategy demonstrates that you not only ‘get’ the key issues and challenges facing your organisation but that you also have appropriate solutions and mitigations in place.  A good strategy says to your business “we understand the issues and are well-placed to deal with them”.

You may be horrified that a strategy could possibly be shared externally, but there are few large companies – or even small ones – that could achieve their strategy on their own.  In order to be successful they have to share their strategy – or at least part of it – to remain successful.  Here are some examples:

  • Airlines need to signal their intentions well in advance to ensure that aeroplane manufacturers and engine builders understand and can respond to their needs.  After all, an aeroplane is hardly an off-the-shelf item!  Perhaps the airlines want long haul, perhaps short haul.  They almost certainly want cost-effective and fuel-efficient engines.  None of this can be achieved without sharing a strategy.
  • Major energy companies need to share their strategy in order to stimulate the supply chain.  Nuclear power stations and large-scale wind farms need a massive investment in infrastructure and this cannot happen overnight. Indeed, it takes many years for supply chains to reach fully the levels required.  Imagine just turning up on the doorstep of an organisation and trying to order 200 wind turbines; it’s just not going to happen!

Naturally, there are certain market-specific and product-specific elements of your strategy that you’ll keep hidden.  Apple is certainly uber-secret when it comes to new products or release dates, but it could not bring new products to market without sharing its strategy with the various suppliers and manufacturers necessary to bring its products to life.

I don’t intend to tell you how you should best communicate your strategy – there are literally dozens of books on the market to help you do that – but what I would say is that you absolutely must get your message out, simply and clearly, to all your stakeholders.  For L&D Professionals that should mean:

  • senior executives
  • managers
  • team leaders
  • employees – both full-time and part-time
  • contract staff and key business partners
  • unions
  • external suppliers

Remember that communication is not a one-off activity.  You’ll need to communicate continuously with your stakeholders in order to keep them informed about changes, progress and results and, of course, be prepared to answer honestly the questions that they may raise.

Conclusions

Strategy is an often-used but ill-understood word.  In these two posts $$ CITATION $$ you’ve learned about the five strategy rules which go together to make a great strategy.  You’ve also learned about value propositions and the need to fine-tune your strategy as well as ensuring that you communicate your strategy in an honest and open manner to all of your key stakeholders.

Remember that a strategy is your response to business issues – it is not solely dedicated towards showing how clever you are or how you plan to solve world hunger – and always start from the outside in!

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2 replies
  1. Michelle Ockers says:

    Thanks for two great posts with clear guidance on developing your organisation’s learning strategy Jonathan. I first came across your thinking and writing on this topic during an #Ozlearn Twitter chat in late 2014. Timely for me to revisit this given need to update our learning strategy in response to changes in our business strategy. I find your points on crafting the value proposition particularly helpful, as well as the encouragement to find proof and evidence to support your proposals.

    Reply

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