Learning as a Performance Enabler

January 10, 2019

The start of a new year is the perfect time for learning teams to look ahead and explore new ideas and technologies. Throughout January we will be exploring ideas that will help shape the way the L&D function can enable and support learning. We start with thinking about learning as an enabler of performance.

In our research into the current L&D landscape1, learning professionals revealed that the number one factor forcing the function to change is the need to better impact business outcomes. The profession sees its role evolving in four ways in order to do this. The dominant approaches are connecting people processes and skills and enabling change. Then comes facilitating performance and driving productivity.

Supporting performance is now on the radar for learning professionals, which is a positive step as increasing productivity is a priority for business managers2. The focus on performance and productivity is important because it takes learning away from its traditional role of knowledge and capability building.

Performance is focused on doing, rather than simply knowing. Supporting employees to do their jobs better is a very different proposition for L&D.

By looking at performance improvement, L&D has to identify what outcomes need to be improved. And that means identifying tangible business outcomes, rather than learning outcomes. With clear outcome metrics, L&D can start to look at what interventions might be needed to improve an employee’s performance.

And those interventions won’t necessarily be learning interventions. This is about understanding what is needed to help improve an employee’s performance. Understand the performance issue first, then look at the interventions. This process is performance consultancy, diagnosing the performance problem and proposing solutions.

It may well be that a learning intervention is what’s needed, but it might not be. It might be a motivational problem, a technical challenge or it might be a capability issue. The key here is that L&D will be focused on a performance-improving solution which may or may not be training.

This is a big shift for L&D teams that are focused on knowledge and capability building. But don’t panic, we are not talking about throwing the baby out with the bath water. Employees need to develop knowledge and understanding and will continue to need to do so.  But supporting performance needs a new set of L&D skills, which L&D thought-leader Charles Jennings expands on here. These skills will help L&D proactively identify performance challenges and suggest ways of solving them.

This approach puts L&D in a more proactive position within the business. Rather than being reactive order takers of training, L&D becomes the proactive performance detective, working with the business to understand what’s limiting performance and identifying the most effective solutions.

L&D teams talk about alignment with the business, talking the language of the business and putting the learner at the centre of learning design. All of this can be achieved by focusing on performance.

What’s more, the perennial problem of measuring impact will be solved as the performance metric identified as a part of the problem will be measured against the impact of the solution.  That’s how L&D can better impact business outcomes.



1 How to solve a problem like L&D

2 L&D: Agents of productivity

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