By Heide Abelli
Training is our business. We believe that providing excellent training and development to employees is essential to helping a company create and sustain competitive advantage. And it turns out that research heavily supports this belief. Bersin by Deloitte research from a few years ago still rings true, as it suggests that organizations that are better at skills development are 32% more likely to be first in a market, have 37% greater employee productivity, are 34% more responsive to customer needs, and have a 26% greater ability to develop quality products.
However, we also believe strongly that training that is not consciously connected to and aligned with a company’s strategy is not as effective as it could be in helping the organization win in the marketplace. This disconnect explains why some companies do not see the tangible results from their training investments, and why some CEO’s and CFO’s begin to question the justification and expense associated with all L&D efforts.
Bottom line: training programs need to clearly align to the company’s strategic direction.
What differentiates the best performing organizations from those that struggle? Their employees perform a particular set of differentiating activities and it is how skillfully the employees perform these unique activities that really makes the difference between winners and losers.
While strategy definition might be guided by the top levels of the organization, frankly, execution of the organization’s strategy is driven largely from the middle and lower levels of the organization — levels which require proactive skills training and development to succeed.
Don Sull at MIT’s Sloan School of Management recently sent me study results, which show that a lack of people with the right skills is the single most frequently cited reason (23%) that companies fail to seize upon new strategic opportunities, ahead of lacking a sense of urgency (21%), failure to spot the opportunity quickly enough (13%), a lack of funds (10%) or other reasons.
Linking training to specific skills needs for employees to execute against the strategy is imperative if an organization wants to get the full benefits of its training efforts.
Take, for example, a large healthcare organization that is facing significant cost pressures and has made improving its cost position, along with process improvements in service delivery and improving patient experience, its key strategic priorities. There needs to be a scaled, comprehensive, consistent, and rigorous approach to skilling and training the company’s service workers on topics such as Value Stream Mapping in Lean Business and Customer Service Fundamentals to guarantee this strategy is successfully accomplished at the middle levels and on the front-lines. Steps in a process that can be eliminated to reduce cost are often best-identified by front-line service workers, but they can only be identified if workers know what to look out for and learn how to think in new and different ways about eliminating or modifying steps in a process. Without adequate training, they just aren’t equipped to spot opportunities or connect the dots and the result can be a disconnect between the strategic priority and execution.
I can’t stress enough how important it is that strategic goals and training are in alignment. A blanket approach to training really is not the best way to design an L&D program. You need to match the content to the strategic objectives. Then you will reap the rewards.
Listen to Heide's podcast, "From Top to Bottom: Fueling a Winning Organizations’ Strategic Agenda".
Heide Abelli is Vice President of Leadership and Business Skills at Skillsoft.