An old adage about advertising says: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” Many organisations look at learning and development the same way as some look at traditional advertising. They are often not sure whether money spent is delivering measurable returns. When organisations start tightening budgets or changing their spending priorities, learning and development is commonly a target and made to operate with fewer resources. Despite the evidence we’ve learned on the importance of learning and development and its positive impact across many facets of an organization, including the bottom line, learning and development continues to be a cost cutting target.
One of the key reasons this happens is the lack of strategic linkage. Strategic linkage is lacking in a couple of primary ways. There is often not a strong representative of learning and development in the executive management team and even less so on a board. The second and somewhat related issue is the lack of demonstrable alignment between the strategic objectives of the organization and the learning and development strategy. The latter issue is often a perceptual problem in the executive team and one not shared by the learning and development team.
In a perfect world these two issues would not exist and in our client community I can happily report that these issues are becoming less common. I know from speaking to many learning and development professionals and senior organizational leaders the gap between the two is sometimes quite wide on a couple of fronts. The first is the lack of communication both up and down. This lack of communication is both interpersonal as well as the l & d team not having the tools to provide senior executives the data that would contribute to better decision making.
The second gap is one of return on investment. I am seeing more emphasis from senior executives on compliance and often at the exclusion of other measurable benefits that learning and development can deliver to an organization. One of the most obvious ones is resource planning. In an environment wrought with skills shortages and often a lack of quality candidates in the market, learning and development can deliver improved succession planning, improved productivity and overall risk reduction.
So how do we work to improve the situation? I will look at some ideas in our next posting.