It’s the bad news no L&D pro wants to hear: Times are tough, and the cuts we’re making everywhere include learning.
The financial hardships rooted in Covid-19 — now compounded by threat of recession — can devastate your company’s revenue and obliterate any business unit. Organizations around the world are operating on economic quicksand. In a climate like this, L&D programs are too easily discontinued.
Retaining your budget is imperative. If your organization is going to survive another economic downturn, it needs learning intact to help, retain and upskill top talent and get ahead of the competition.
If you want L&D to remain essential, now’s the time to closely align your learning with the most critical goals of your overall business.
Alignment requires understanding.
Where can you start? Look to the near term and tweak L&D to match important business objectives now and for the next quarter. By thinking through this with urgency, you can equip the right people to make the right work happen as soon as possible.
“The number one measure they [senior executives] want to see is a business impact. Number two is ROI,” according to a recent article in Chief Learning Officer by analytics expert Jack Phillips and former utility executive Patti Phillips, who together serve as Chairman and CEO of the ROI Institute, respectively.
Imagine an HR team that’s so tightly aligned to its line-of-business counterparts it doesn’t submit separate budget requests. When IT implements a new system, part of the IT budget includes training programs sourced or curated in partnership with an in-house L&D expert. Or when Sales leaders want to expand into new territories, they request headcount and an accompanying sales enablement program with help from learning partners.
“Most executives see learning as a cost, not an investment. When this is the case, they cut costs to save resources,” the Phillipses said.
Alignment today requires thinking through recession.
Programs at risk typically land in one of four categories, according to the Phillipses.
- Expensive programs (a good cost-cutting target)
- Soft skills initiatives (often considered “fluff”)
- Long-term or culture-change programs
- Easily-postponed initiatives (including new ones)
As an L&D leader keen to prevent cuts, it’s important to identify your specific risks and strategize your defense and determine which programs you can stand to cut a little.
The Phillipses identify several key actions:
1. Rally your supporters.
Budget decisions are typically not made alone. L&D leaders should call in all favors.
“Although the top leader may have final approval, other key executives will influence that decision. Think about the major projects you have successfully conducted with different functions of your organization, such as Operations or Marketing. That success positions you to ask those department leaders to support L&D funding in the budget meetings.”
2. Buy time.
It’s rare for a budget cut to be enforced absent discussion and analysis, adding you can use that time to bolster your defenses. “Most executives will allow you that time.”
3. Show impact and ROI.
If you can convince executives they’ll get more out of a project than they put into it, you may be able to save or obtain funding. Preparing and sharing a credible ROI forecast may be necessary. And it’s not just the Phillipses saying this. Learning leaders across the L&D space back this approach. As Senior L&D Manager Megan Dillon recently said: “Tie it back to dollars.”
We here at Degreed would add that the right metrics — data points that take success measurement above and beyond traditional L&D methodologies — can breathe new life and value into your learning team’s narrative.
“Telling your workforce development story — in fresh ways with new metrics — can capture the attention of your business leaders and make your learning program an important business priority,” according to Susie Lee, Degreed Senior Vice President & Global Business Transformation Officer. She encourages L&D pros to communicate metrics that reinforce the value and impact of learning, talent development, and career mobility. “It’s about your company’s highest priorities and biggest goals and demonstrating how an investment in people can help achieve them.”
In their book, The Expertise Economy, Degreed CEO & Co-founder David Blake and Degreed Chief Learning & Talent Officer Kelly Palmer caution corporate learning is often viewed as a cost center rather than a revenue-generating function. “Learning typically becomes more reactive than strategic. For example, one business leader asks for a conscious bias training program, another wants an agile development training program, and maybe a third asks for an onboarding program.”
As Blake and Palmer noted: “A strong learning leader who understands business can develop a… strategy based on data from several sources and show how this learning can impact both the business and employees in meaningful ways.”
The Right Metrics — Moving Beyond “Meh.”
Tracking and sharing course completions and hours of training won’t effectively reinforce the value of learning to your CEO, business leaders, managers, individual contributors or anyone else.
Combined with efficiency ratios like hours of learning consumed per worker, the cost of learning per hour, staff-to-worker ratios and your modality mix, these metrics begin to tell a basic story of how your workforce interacts with your learning initiatives.
But those metrics don’t confirm that anyone actually learned anything.
You can do more:
Tell your engagement story.
Low employee engagement costs the global economy $7.8 trillion and accounts for 11% of GDP globally, according to the State of the Global Workplace 2022 Report by Gallup. The analysis of 112,312 business units in 96 countries found a strong link between engagement and performance outcomes including retention, productivity, safety and profitability.
Your engagement story at the end of the day is about driving business results. By understanding if your people are personally committed to their career development and advancement\ you can determine whether you’re creating a culture of innovation and evolution that drives profitability.
Focus your learning data on:
- Login frequencies
- Monthly Average Users (MAUs) and whether they’re returning
- Assignments made and completed
- Net promoter score (NPS)
Communicate your social story.
The goal here is understanding how people at every level of your organization are sharing their expertise, so learning isn’t solely a structured series of L&D-driven events. It’s about discovering how your people are interacting to help each other via crowd-sourced, collaborative, peer-to-peer upskilling. It helps you identify who people are turning to for guidance, so you can find, engage, and retain influencers and experts. All of this can help make sourcing and curating learning content more efficient.
- Trending or emerging skills
- Recommendations for content, people, and experiences
- Takeaways, including the percentage of workers logging them
- Subject matter experts (SMEs)
- Organization network analysis (ONA)
Relay your skills story.
Developing a skills story demonstrates what capabilities your organization has currently and those it still needs. These metrics answer the question “Are learning programs helping drive or save revenue?”
- Capability gaps
- Emerging skills
- Velocity (how quickly people are learning)
- Skill shift (how quickly individual or organizational skill profiles change)
- Skill value (the dollar value of in-demand skills)
- Skill cost avoidance (recruitment savings from internal upskilling)
- Workforce readiness
- Talent identification
- Career mobility
Still not convinced? Look to the horizon.
If your company’s goals are to survive, recover and grow, then diminishing your capacity to deliver the learning your company needs could be its downfall.
When the economy does bounce back and hiring picks up, companies that have either previously cut L&D programs or full departments find themselves behind the curve, according to learning industry consultant Andrea Maliska, owner of Rebel Learn.
Those companies “are left with no onboarding programs for new hires, no role-specific training for key roles in profit centers and no product training to make sure sales, support, and product teams understand the intricacies of a product to successfully sell, support, and evolve the product,” she said.
“All the money, time and effort that once was put into the L&D program seemingly went up in flames when the program was cut or stopped being supported. This can create a huge impact on a business that is trying to hire back the best talent and land the best-fit clients.”