Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Performance Improvement

The phrase “A Good Thing” crops up a few times on this blog, in the context of “learning is A Good Thing” – it’s even an index item in The Learnforever Book.  And of course, my strapline invites you to learn like you are going to live forever.  Learning is good for you, as an individual, and is good for organisations too, not just because of what you learn, but because of the doors it opens to new learning, and because of the skills you acquire for adaptability, to cope with change, and to handle new situations.

Learning and development practitioners could embellish this argument, sharing the belief that learning is beneficial to everyone, and a worthwhile investment for any organisation, but… (There had to be a but coming, didn’t there?)

Learning is ubiquitous: it happens everywhere, planned or not, and we are increasingly aware of informal learning and social learning.  Organisations have limited resources and need to make some tough choices about what to invest in: planned learning is only one of them, as there are many other competing investments that can drive productivity, profitability and success.

And so typically we look to learning and development to cause performance improvement, which should yield measurable business impact.  And the key to successful L&D is to ensure it directly contributes to performance improvement.

As planned learning usually takes place away from the job, or even on-the-job is often protected from exposure to normal risks and costs, this means ensuring that learning transfers to work.  To put it another way, the knowledge, skill and competence people learn in organised L&D activities need to be applied at work.

This is reflected in Donald Kirkpatrick’s evaluation levels, where his second level is about ensuring knowledge and skill have been learnt, and his third level is about ensuring that knowledge and skill are applied to work.

Dr Ed Holton has identified an academic model of 16 learning transfer factors, based on research in the USA, and there are other models. The essential truth is that no L&D initiative is complete unless it has a built-in process to overcome any barriers to learning transfer and ensure learning transfer actually takes place.

Learning and development are important in life, in almost any context, but in organisations their importance lies in how they are embedded in, and contribute to, performance improvement.  The simple paradigm is that learning and development leads to performance improvement, which in turn leads to business results.

L&D practitioners need to pay more attention to performance improvement.

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