How L&D Can Make the Shift From Learning Value to Business Value - A Conversation With Laura Overton

$7.4 trillion.

That’s how much we’ll be spending globally on technology for digital transformation by 2022 according to the IDC

You might be wondering what this has to do with learning value. 

Lots actually. 


The challenge is we don’t have the skills and aptitude to successfully support these digital transformations. 

In fact, according to The World Economic Forum, ‘more than half (54%) of all employees will require significant re-skilling by 2022’.

It’s little surprise then that according to Accenture, only 22% of companies see a return on their investment in digital transformation projects. 

So it makes sense that up-skilling and developing employees is very high on the agenda of CEOs. 

This screams opportunity for L&D to contribute to business goals around digital transformation. And to demonstrate the value of that contribution to the business. 

To find out more about L&D teams can align with business objectives and demonstrate business value, we reached out to Laura Overton

Laura founded, and was CEO, at Towards Maturity, one of the world’s leading L&D insight and analytics companies. She's an international speaker, author, facilitator and analyst. And since 2004, she’s authored and co-authored over 70 major research reports and has written over 300 articles around the topic of how learning delivers business value. 

Laura recently joined us on a webinar and in this episode 👇 , you’ll hear the recording of that conversation. 

 

Our Favourite Parts of the Conversation 

  • [Laura Overton 6:00]  "It's not just about saving money, but how we impact results, how we do things like reduce the attrition rates, maybe build up skills from the inside of our organisation as well. And I think these are the things that we need to be thinking about in terms of our value and our successes."
  • [Laura Overton 9:00] "I've seen evidence that learning and development can really deliver strong bottom line value, incredible value, back into the organisation. I think one of the challenges is that we feel that rather than being that diamond, that precious gem, often we see ourselves as more of a piece of coal."
  • [Laura Overton 22:00] "Nearly all of us wants to improve performance and all of us want to be able to equip our organisation to be able to respond faster to change, and be able to articulate and analyse learning impact. And yet less than a quarter of us are or really feel that we're being successful at this."
  • [Laura Overton 26:15] "There's this concept of having more of a growth mindset, in terms of thinking about business value. And this is quite tough, because we want to build curiosity. We want to build growth mindsets in our learners and our users. But I believe this is something that we also need to do for ourselves."

 

Links We ❤️

Say hello 👋 to Laura on LinkedIn or Twitter

Check out Tulser, where Laura recently joined as Partner.

 

Transcript 

*There’s a chance this transcript has a few spelling errors. I use a wonderful transcription tool called Otter to transcribe the audio. He's usually super accurate but he does get the odd word wrong. But please don’t hold it against him 😊

[Ray Cairnes] 0:45  

My name is Ray Cairnes, I'm the global director of consulting for Fuse Universal. A little bit of background on me. I've worked in learning and development for the last 20 years leading L&D teams globally. Having lived in Europe and also worked as a consultant for about four years, so I've seen L&D in many shapes and forms across industries and regions. I am also a former Fuse client. And I'd like to introduce to you, Laura Overton. She's an award-winning learning analyst. And Laura, take it away.

[Laura Overton] 1:24  

Thanks, Ray. So, I think when we were preparing this I think between Ray and myself, we've got over 50 years’ worth of experience in learning innovation. I'm Laura Overton and I have been working in the industry for just over 30 years, part working on learning innovation in practice and part actually running an organisation called Towards Maturity which is known particularly into looking at how learning innovation delivers business impacts. So, I was doing that from 2004 through to February of this year. 

So, this actually, we were talking about this a little earlier, this shift from delivering learning value to business values is almost a little experiment. At the moment, it's to say, okay, what needs to change in our industry, because if we're thinking about our 2020 mission, I don't think as an industry we have ever had so much opportunity. Even if we just think about digital transformation in our businesses. We'll see from IDC, that $2 trillion is expected to be spent on business digital transformation by 2020. And yet, we don't have the skills and the aptitude to be able to do it, in fact only 22% of digital transformation projects, according to Accenture actually, even scale or deliver full return on investment. So, we often think about digital transformation in the context of learning and development. But the bigger picture in our businesses in our industry right now is really exciting, as is the skills issue with the World Economic Forum saying that 54% of employees will need significant upskilling. So, change, skills, upskilling, cross skilling; it's something that's so high on the agenda of businesses and CIOs and CEOs at the moment at c-suite, but it gives us a real opportunity for learning and development to be thinking about next year about the value that we can add to our organizations and I love the fact that this is such a globally diverse audience that we've already seen. 

And it would be great, if you could perhaps continue the conversation. I'd love to hand over to you for a moment to say, you know, in terms of the opportunity that we potentially have to build skills and add value back to our businesses, by the end of next year, what do you think you would like to be known for? So, if your business leaders are sitting around talking about  Radic, from Poland, or you know, from Claire, from different places, what would you like your business leaders to be actually talking about the value you add? What would you want them to be saying? So, it will be great if you could use the chat box with again, make sure you click on all panellists and attendees. And just give a moment to think about what you would like to be known for, what value, what successes you would like to be known for, by the end of next year, given the opportunity that we're facing. 

Ray, perhaps whilst the participants are contributing in that, you know, what kind of successes do you think that this new business environment is going to provide for us as learning professionals? Love to have your thoughts as well. Perhaps you can speak to me rather than put it in the chat room.

[Ray Cairnes] 4:58  

Sure, sure. I think just coming from the perspective of having worked with a number of Fuse clients, I think a lot of them would love to say, in 2020, that my business has a very clear understanding of the value that learning and development delivers and how it supports the business goals or direct tie in. I think for the longest time, you know, having worked in L&D, it was about, you know, we just felt, you know, learning was good, right. And we didn't necessarily have to bring those hard metrics and numbers to the table. So, I think it's good, it brings, it helps us step up our game. And it also helps us to, you know, show the direct contribution, and you don't have to fight as hard to, you know, get approval for things and be able to, you know, bring to the organisation, the learning that they need in order to deliver that business value that they're looking for.

[Laura Overton] 6:00  

I think that's so important and it's really, you know, it's not just about saving money, but how we impact results, how we do things like reduce the attrition rates, maybe build up skills from the inside of our organisation as well. And I think these are the things that we need to be thinking about in terms of our value and our successes. And also, it's a difficult situation to be in when we think about what we want to be known for, but then how to actually demonstrate that value and there's a lot of information that's out there at the moment, a lot of data that we can be able to use in terms of demonstrating value but, you know, I think there's some of these ideas are coming through like learner experience and continuing learning in the flow, that continuous learner, and, Jennifer, thank you for sharing that. 

But how would we actually demonstrate that? How would we articulate that back into the organisations that we’re in as well? I think that's one of the tough questions. And I'd love to know, again, your views and thoughts in that. And Scott, thank you. You're also on the same lines as Jennifer in terms of supporting colleagues to learn in that flow of work and removing reliance on central programmes. So, I guess what you're saying there, Scott, is that what will be as successful be when people are actually doing things potentially for themselves as much as actually connecting and engaging with some of the things that we're doing. So, I think the way that we demonstrate our value is one of the most critical things in our sphere of work, and it's one of the toughest. Every conference that I've spoken at around the globe, every case study I've listened to, people then say, but how did you measure that? How did you actually come around and actually think about how we were demonstrating and measuring some of those things? So, you know, Juliana, when you're talking there about you want to demonstrate the return on investment and value of new ways of learning. I think this is a big challenge. And this is where I wanted to kind of maybe look at this today from a different perspective. And I'd love to come back to these ideas. Thank you for keeping the chat going. 

I think from my view of actually, being in charge of the Towards Maturity research up until February of this year, we were always asking the question, you know, what leads to success and what does success look like? And we found that the high performing organisations that used to take part in our research, were articulating success in the sense of what matters to business. So, we were seeing that over the years, that three to 400 organisations were being able to show an improvement on revenue on productivity on speed to rolling out new initiatives, you know, particularly if you think about digital transformation. So, I think that I've seen evidence that learning and development can really deliver strong bottom line value, incredible value, back into the organisation. I think one of the challenges is, is that we feel that rather than being that diamond, that precious gem that says everyone says, I want this, please let me work with you, I am so excited about what you're doing for the business, I think often we see ourselves as less of a diamond with a more of a piece of coal. And that's an important thing as well. It's about feeding the organisation. It's about heating.

[Laura Overton] 9:39  

That organisation it's a commodity and it's been essential, but potentially, there is still room we can be thrown out for maybe new fuels that are coming through. But what we want to do doing is how do we build that business value back into the organisation? And one of the things I've been thinking about when I'm thinking, okay, well, what do we need to do differently for 2020 that we haven't been doing before? And I think that's about how we talk about the value we bring back to the organisation. And, you know, I think traditionally, so far, we've been talking very much about our activity, things like, you know, our completion rates, or our open rates, our attendance, our test results, you know, how many people have been involved with programmes. We've also, I think, been quite successful and I've seen this when I've been working on judging a number of different awards around the globe. It's successful in talking about how efficiently we can be, how we can bring more training to a few more, you know, more people, but for less cost, less time, less resources. That seems to be something we're very comfortable in talking about as well. And also, the process of engagement. How do we get people using? Have we been successful in getting people to own their learning more in terms of their satisfaction, in terms of their contribution and their collaboration? You know, things like the ratings and the share systems that we see in these amazing new experience platforms. And I think this is something that we've really been very strong at being able to achieve. But equally in terms of talking about overall value, I think there are other things that we're starting to bubble up as well. Things like, have somethings been useful when somebody has recommend us based on their experience, our NPS scores, are people actually saying that they're intending to apply new ways of learning that's useful that they're planning to transfer that learning? And then ultimately moving into things like performance, speed to competency, speed to adoption, rollouts of new systems, potentially even moving into a culture whereby our organisation is much more innovative, much more agile, much more able to build its own leadership, keep its staff, its talent, retaining the right people to allow us to become who we need to be in the future. So, one of the things that I've been thinking about is the fact that

[Laura Overton] 12:12  

that we have both learning value that we're able to articulate, but also business value that we're able to articulate. And the more we're able to talk about the core business value that we're bringing to the organisation, we've been useful in digital transformation, we've been preparing you so that you don't need to recruit those new people in that programme. We've been upscaling so that we are actually ready for the future, the more that we're able to talk and articulate business value, the more value that others will see in us as an organisation. So, I think one of the things that we need to be doing is how do we make that shift from talking about purely learning value into business value? 

Now, what I won't go into is repeating the day Cayden, decades of discussion and the models and the ideas that have come about to allow us to become more valuable to business. You know, there are incredible models that have been around for a long while on how to diagnose, how to do performance consulting, says Nigel Harrison, who actually I met maybe 15 years ago, when he was talking about really shifting our work into contracting with the business and understanding the gap rather than just delivering a course, or asking questions like, what's the cost of not doing anything? And then there are other amazing thinkers and Kathy Moore, and many of you will know, is one of them is starting to say, okay, well, how do we design differently? How do we think about supporting the business goals through the work that we do in terms of helping people reach that goal designing for practice, designing for learning transfer? And of course, there's people amazing people like Charles Jennings, who I know works very closely with Fuse, saying it's not just about diagnosing for performance, designing for performance, but disrupting our core business models for performance as well. Focusing on learning as a business paradigm and really thinking about the roles that we have around performance detectives, architects, master builders, trackers, game changers, to really shift the way that we deliver performance in an organisation. And of course, there are lots of models and tactics and strategies for measuring performance improvement as well. Through from the Kirkpatrick Four-Level models, Robert Brinkerhoff, looking at case study methodologies to identify what's working well and repeating that. Jack Phillips is actually taking it one step further into return on investment, looking at the Learning-Transfer Evaluation Model, where we're talking about new messages for learning and how do we track that transfer that leads to return on investment. 

And I think what all of these strategies or models, things that we know, they all recommend that, you know, that we start well, that we begin with the end in mind that we work with stakeholders, that we continue to work through the learning process together with our stakeholders, keeping on monitoring, keeping on track, and then working with people to actually share results as well. And you know, this is starting to work. So, if we're talking about learning value, there's going to be nothing new as such in terms of tactics for next year, because it actually is starting to work right now. And Ray, I know that you've got some really good examples of how this type of thinking has come into process that Fuse does and I was wondering whether you might be able to share some of that with us?

[Ray Cairnes] 15:48  

Absolutely. I think if we kind of take a look at what I consider to be part of the Fuse philosophy here. So, you know, we know this Kirkpatrick model all too well, right. Like I can remember, you know, working as an instructional designer. Oh, we've got to get to the top of that pyramid. You know, and I think this speaks to L&D teams, being these order takers where, you know, a business partner would come by and say, you know, I need an eLearning, I need a quick reference card and a side of fries. Right? So, kind of getting away from that and start to think about being a partner to the business, being a consultant to the business from an L&D perspective, because we do bring that expertise to the table. So, I think if we kind of look at, you know, building it out in a different way. So, in looking at the Fuse piece of it, so the new way of thinking is basically to take that Kirkpatrick model and flip it on its head, right? And start with the results the top of the Kirkpatrick model in mind. So, we know that Kirkpatrick is about evaluating our learning solution. Whereas what we're proposing here on the Fuse performance pyramid is how do we design so that we're thinking with that top level of that pyramid in mind? So, starting with the business outcome that we're looking to seek, so do we want to increase sales by 10%? Do we want to lower attrition? Do we want to, you know, go to market more quickly? So, none of those things are really talking about, you know, did you like the training? You know, so it's important, of course, and I think if it's aligned to the business and delivers on what people need in order to perform their work, they're going to inherently like it. And then thinking, going down the pyramid around looking at measurements and KPIs and the behaviours and skills we're trying to implement as a result of that. So, it's really a shift in the dynamic. I think we get a bigger seat at the table from a performance consulting perspective, and then you know, being able to prove the worth. 

So just taking a look at this slide. These are some of the solutions that Fuse, for example, delivers. And I think there are three buckets here. The first one being learning, the second one being communications, and the third one around knowledge management. So, you see some of the examples of companies that we've worked with. So, I'll just hit on a few of them here. Hilty, for example, is a global manufacturer of construction products. What they did was to increase their time to pay back for their onboarding programme for their sales team from 18 months to three months. So that's the business impact of what they did. And the way they did that was by shifting from training courses, you know, typical sort of offering to social learning, using mobile, delivered at the time of need in the flow of work, so you know all the catchphrases that are flying right now. And then using that content featuring experts in the field. So, I always found it weird that we as L&D would go and interview a subject matter expert within the business, and then take that story back and rewrite it and maybe tell it in a better way, and then distribute that out to our end learners, right? Where if we can just help the subject matter expert to tell a good story, we can connect them directly to our learners. So, I think that that's a different approach. So, and also, I think another way we were able to, you know, deliver a lot of value there was being able to use our universal language capabilities, and ultimately, they were able to deliver content in 35 different languages. So that kind of business impact as well. 

A second example was a Daniel Wellington who's an international retailer, they wanted to increase their sales. By providing product knowledge to engage employees, so they again took a mobile first product focused content strategy that was relevant to the demographic of the learners. And they also needed to stay current on the product information, keep that top of mind so they could sell. They also put into their strategy a competition. And ultimately, they want to see who could change a watch strap the fastest and generate excitement and interest among their employees to learn more about their product. So, you know, they not only increased product knowledge, they engaged learners on their platform 70% but you know, the business impact was a 200% increase in sales of watch straps over the previous year. So that's the story really want to be able to tell back to the business and by the way, the winner change the watch strap in 9.8 seconds which is amazingly fast. 

Lastly, I'd say Carpetright, who’s a floor covering and bedding retailer, they wanted to increase revenue and employee satisfaction score. So, they went from an outdated LMS, sort of classroom-based model, to bite size video-based learning that would be consumed by learners in their own time, in their own way. So, you know, really help people learn outside of work, bringing that to the workplace. And their learning solution included, you know, products and services training, to better serve their customers performance coaching to help people get better, and the business result they saw was an increase in revenue by 13%. Their internal NPS increased by 10%, so employees are satisfied and they felt supported and ultimately led to a culture of employee development and they were able to perform better and felt better supported in their approach. So just a few pieces there and, you know, definitely drawing out the learning value but also the business value as well.

[Laura Overton] 22:00  

Yeah, that's great. Thank you so much for that. Because I think one of the things that I've found by working in the industry for a while is that the sorts of things you've been talking about looking at delivering holistic experiences like the watch, I love that watch strap example, in the workplace, looking at the outcomes. First, these are things that we found in research, the evidence base, backs this up. And we've just looked here at just a few of the research programmes over the last 15 years with Towards Maturity. But I know that certainly the work that's been done with Josh Burson in the States and around the globe, use this alignment to business outcome, looking at performance as a priority, looking at learning at the point of need, really delivers bottom line value, and yet at the same time, as learning professionals we often get stuck in really articulating and being comfortable with demonstrating this. And this is just a little bit of research that was done at the end of beginning of this year, you know. Nearly all of us wants to improve performance and all of us want to be able to equip our organisation to be able to respond faster to change, and be able to articulate and analyse learning impact. And yet less than a quarter of us are or really feel that we're being successful at this. So, this is the kind of crux of the matter. 

I'd love to hear your views coming back into the chat room for a moment as to why do you think articulating and demonstrating the kind of business value that Ray's just been explaining is difficult for so many people? Now, you guys, you're in the chat room, now you, you might find things very, very easy, but you might be observing what's going on in the rest of the industry. I'd love to get your views on this because this is one of the things I've really been grappling with for the last 15 years and it would be great to get your thoughts on why you think we are still getting stuck in being able to demonstrate and articulate the value that we bring to business before we go on to maybe a few ideas of how we might want to break that impasse? I mean, Ray, from your side, what do you see as being some of the common challenges in working with your customers? Or even that you've experienced yourself in the past? Come on, be honest with me, be real.

[Ray Cairnes] 24:25  

Yeah, absolutely. I would say from my personal experience, you know, the remit of L&D was to deliver training, right? So, you know, that was like, alright, that's what we do. Right? And you didn't really question that and it was just, you know, the business, the business knows best. And so, we'll do what they say. And I think a lot of and as we evolve towards, you know, performance consultant and a partner to the business, I think it's important to, you know, again, going back to that pyramid, like what are the outcomes you're looking to see, so that we can be able to talk about that but a lot of times we didn't have access to the data. So having access to, if we're talking about sales, for example, of course, we can say, who's completed what within our learning platform, you know, how are people engaging within the platform to be able to tell that learning value side, but we have to make it really clear that as a business partner, we also need access to the sales data. So, what's coming out of the CRM, right? And to understand, you know, what sort of changes we're seeing any deltas in the data as we roll out these learning solutions? So, I think that goes back to the business partnership, right to make sure that, you know, they trusted us and they know that, you know, we're going to use that data appropriately.

[Laura Overton] 25:42  

And I think this is really being reflected in the chat room as well, Ray, because both Sue's, Juliana, and Scott have all said pretty much the same that what the business expects of us, isn't necessarily business value that they are interested in was just delivering courses and delivering training. Like your stakeholders were as well. And I think Juliana also mentions about the fact that is sometimes we find it really difficult to isolate what's really been delivered through our learning interventions, whether they're training programmes or experiences, or just, you know, the little example of the watch strap, what's been caused? And what's an effect of that? 

So, I think, you know, Sherry, I really like your view as well about, there's just too many things to measure on what's the right way of measuring impacts. And I think we are reflecting here some of the really significant challenges. And that's really what was behind my mind when I was thinking about putting this session together because, you know, is it about the way that we measure impact, or is it about the way that we talk about impact? Because we're thinking here about this kind of concept of shifting from learning value, to business value, it's kind of a leap. It's not just leap, you know, as you guys have said, for our business leaders, but potentially it's a leap for us. And it's risky. It's almost like jumping across the chasm because you think, oh my goodness, what if I can't isolate? What if somebody questions me if I start to stray into a territory that doesn't necessarily belong to me? And yet we've seen, certainly in the research and the experience, for example, that Ray’s shared as well is that, you know, when we are able to move along that continuum that really makes a difference. And I think a shift in delivering learning value through to business value probably has to start with our mindset and what we believe and about learning value and what we believe about business value. And this is something that I think is a little bit different. I don't think that the other models, look at Because if we don't believe that we can contribute back into business, it's gonna be very difficult. Despite all of the models that we have, or if we haven't got permission to contribute back to business, it's gonna be very difficult for us to actually make that shift. 

And I love some of the work that Will's doing on this, I really recommend that you download his paper on Learning-Transfer Model, because he's talking about the messages that enable effective learning trouble, how are we talking about what we're doing? And that's gonna lead me to really think about the different things that we talk about very much to be on a continuum. You know, when we talk about activity, and we're talking about those things about learning rates, etc. When we talk about efficiency, engagement, usefulness, you know, activity versus culture change are very different. But actually, this is a continuum because when we talk about efficiency, and we talk about engagement, that's powerful. We've got more people learning more, people collaborating, more people contributing. That's a real shift, isn't it? One leads to another, where more people are engaged. And we talk about that. And we can start to say, okay, well, what do you engage with? And how are you connecting? What are you doing? What are you sharing, you are the watchtower, you're sharing that collaboratively? And other people are then finding it useful. And that leads on into improved sales, improved performance, you know, and ultimately, for example, the case study with Hilty, talking about agility and talent. But I think how we talk about our success is really important, how we think about what we can contribute. And I believe very strongly that learning innovation can contribute to business value. I have seen it; the evidence is there. And if you want to kind of think about how you can articulate learning and business value, use external evidence, when you're talking to other people to maybe challenge some of that view. 

So how safe do we feel along this learning value continuum talking about learning? I think we feel quite safe and familiar with talking about usage and about engagement. Because we know what's happening there and to, you know, Sherry and Julianne’s point, you know, this is actually something that we're in control of, we can work hard and we can deliver against that. And I think that's very, very powerful. But business value, it's much more risky, it is out of our control, we cannot isolate our individual causes and our individual contributions back into business value, so many other factors are affecting. And that's why Nigel Harrison and Kathy Moore and Charles Jennings models and all that they represent in our industry, they're not the only thinkers in this space, but there's actually we got to get out there. We work with other people in order to try and address some of these bigger problems, but it is more frightening and it is more scary for us to be able to do that. 

And so therefore, I think one of the big things that we need to work on 2020 is really, ultimately kind of a mindset shift. How do we start thinking differently about the way that we articulate our views and about learning value. I think and this might be a little radical, please tell me if I am, please respond to this. But you know, when we're looking at learning value, we're saying look, I'm worth it. You've given me money. And I've shown you that I'm working. You know, your spend has been validated, something that I'm comfortable with. And it's something that I know I can stick to this. I know this, I’m familiar with it, I’m comfortable. My platforms helped me articulate it. This is my space. But I think those were the business value mindset. Thinking about measurement and business value in a different way. I was listening to an audio track of Kevin M. Yates, working with Facebook now. And he was challenging, what if our classroom courses show that they've made no difference? And you say, well, that's great. That's great because it was made no different than we know that we've got something that we can improve on. It's not working yet. There's this concept of having more of a growth mindset, in terms of thinking about business value. And this is quite tough, because we want to build curiosity. We want to build growth mindsets in our learners and our users. But I believe this is something that we also need to do for ourselves. If we're going to be able to start talking about you in the way that's going to make a difference for 2020. And I think there are behaviours that we can perhaps concentrate on. The questions that we asked, what do we ask what language do we use? If we are using language, even in our own teams of we're not sure. Maybe we won't be able to isolate, maybe we should just focus in on what we can measure, then it's going to be very difficult for us to have that performance conversation with that stakeholders as well. But if we are thought to ask questions that say, Okay, well, why are we doing that? How will we know? How are you measuring this? That what we say is going to be really important? And I think we can shift a little bit of that the conversations we have about value, it will start to help us be able to work out where we can add more business value. 

But also, it's not just about what we say but how we respond to what we find out. Are we responding to maybe a bad score or a tough conversation as my business don't understand me? Or are we responding to a tough conversation with business by saying, this is an opportunity for me to find out more about what's important to you? Let me ask more questions. Let me work on what I found out in order to be able to improve the way that we work together. And I think one of the things I've been thinking about very much with this is that when we put a learner engagement process under pressure, then we get an opportunity to really start to think about business value. And I think the pressure question is for us, for our activity, our scores, our efficiency, our engagement, is that so what? If a business leader came to us and say, well, I don't care if 50,000 people have got more hours? I don't care what? What's the point of that? How are we able to respond? And I think that learner engaged learner value. Learning value, can be really powerful. If we see it as a stepping stone. The data that we get around learning can help us act as early warning signal. If we're improving engagement and really getting collaboration and ownership. Share of contributing going thing that generates energy? How do we leverage that to address some of the really big skills issues or digital transformation issues in our organisation? How do we respond when early success signals have been identified? And I think these are really important things for us to be thinking about. Learning itself. Learning value itself is actually

[Laura Overton] 35:24  

if we only stop engagement, if we only stop at efficiency, then basically we're feeding our businesses perception of us as a cost centre. And I think we really need to be thinking very carefully about that pressure question.

[Laura Overton] 35:43  

Using engagement strategies, and I just wondered how that then translated on that continuum into really powerful business value.

[Ray Cairnes] 35:55  

Yeah, so, I'll tell this story because it was my story as a client. So, I should be able to tell it pretty well. Right? So, you know, I headed up L&D for an agency within a large media company. And what we wanted to solve for was low employee engagement. So, we started by implementing a platform for Fuse that enabled us to quantify that engagement. So, across the top here, you see different sort of social collaborative activities that users could take within the platform. So, if they liked something, we gave them one point. If they asked question or commented on a piece of learning content, we gave them five points. If they uploaded a piece of content, you know, there was 10 points. So, as the higher the effort level of the action, the more points a learner would receive. And then we tracked all of that on a leader board, and we were able to report out engagement. So, you know, we saw some pretty astonishing results, you know, there were 40% engagement quarter over quarter in the first year. Also, one third of our content was being generated by our end users. So that that's a huge deal simply because it gives you a very clear understanding that you are implementing a learning culture that people are willing to share. You've got that engagement piece out of it, right? And, you know, it also speaks to the kind of the, the number one thing that workers are looking for within an organisation today is a sense of learning, growth, you know, a sense of accomplishment. 

So, you know, we provide all those things so, you know, so to answer Laura's question around the so what right they're amazing it's amazing story to tell. But what's the so what behind that? What's the business impact beyond the engagement, so you have to take it a step further. And it's really about looking at, you know, our internal MPs. So, you know, making sure we get an increase on those, thus lowering attrition, so people are happy, they feel like they're growing, therefore they don't leave, and then just a quicker time to market. So, breaking down the silos of L&D, is probably one of the biggest challenges I see. You know, both with the team that I lead and with clients that I work with today, it's letting go of that control. Yeah, letting people learn the way they do in their day to day lives, you know, liking, commenting, uploading, sharing, you know, all of those things that, you know, they're very familiar with, for the most part, and bringing that to workplace you know, in a single learning experience, like Fuse, to be able to do that. So, it's a tell that learning story, because I think like, as you called it out earlier, it's something we're comfortable with, but really to be able to tell the business story behind it. And I think that is what I'm seeing is sort of an evolution, now we're getting more and more comfortable with business speak, so to speak, and to be able to, you know, talk that talk and help to tell the story and the value that we're delivering to an organisation. I loved Scott's comment from earlier around businesses are aren't always interested in understanding the business impact, just deliver my training, right?

[Ray Cairnes] 39:40  

And that’s where you have to bring this respectfully challenging, which is one of our values at Fuse, respectfully challenging of why, you know. And it becomes a litmus test for L&D teams to say, if we're not directly, if we don't know the business value that we're delivering and we're not able to show that in the end, then it's probably not in the best interest to take that on as a business. And, you know, that can get into some uncomfortable conversations, right? Because people may be at different levels above you and all that kind of thing. But ultimately, you know, I think if you carry that conversation, and it's what I had to do, to bring the whole concept of Fuse and a new way of learning to my organisation is to go around and have conversations with each of the C Suite members and say, what is it that you're looking to get out of this? And the one that always really stuck with me was the conversation with the CFO, the Chief Financial Officer, right? Because you could come in and you could tell him, oh, yeah, we got great engagement, we did 1000 hours in training last month, and the follow up question was, and what did we get from that as a business? And oftentimes, I couldn't really answer that question. And I think we all want to feel like we're able to answer those questions to show that impact that we're bringing from an L&D perspective.

[Laura Overton] 41:05  

And I think you're right there, because that's why everything that we know, in our models, whichever model you choose to use, it says, start with the end in mind and have the conversation up front with those business stakeholders, because you know, everything I've seen really backs up what you've just said, Ray, there is that we need to get so many different people on board. Now, that's not hard work if we approach it from the perspective of what do they need? Where are they at right now? Asking the right questions. I mean, in terms of you think about need to get on what you mentioned about the CEO, the CFO, we also think about our learners themselves, workers, rather don't like to use the word learners, even our business partners that we're working with, as well as, you know, our platform providers, our content providers, as subject matter experts. You know, there's a lot of people potentially that are on the same journey as us when we say okay, how do we influence business? There are a lot of other people, the head of sales wants to influence sales, the head of marketing wants to influence customer satisfaction scores. Lots of people when you start a business KPIs have got the same goals, the same objectives. When we look at pure learning goals and credibility, because they don't get us. If we say, okay, we're all working on the same goal. I think that's going to be massively important. 

And this question I've talked about going in the chat box, but equally, if you have questions about what we're saying, as we as we start to wrap up here, please add those in the chat box as well. But this is something for us to map out because if we know who’s going to influence the business, ultimately that business goal, then we know the questions people need to ask, the questions. 

And I think in terms of shifting our mindset, to learning value to business value, it's about the questions we asked. We've already covered that. It's about moving, using what we've learned in one phase of learning value to be leveraged, and kind of leapfrog into business value, we've looked at that. But this concept of shifting from me to we, it's not what I do for the business it’s what we do together. This is not a lone performance and we're hoping someone puts a penny in the hat and pats us on the back and says, look, you've done well, you've contributed, but the fact that we are playing a unique learning role in the orchestra, that is business value. And I think this is a mindset thing that we need to be able to get into. And that means that we sometimes have to leave our learning and development ego at the door. Was it my course that did this for you? Was it my platform that did it for you? Or was it, how do we work together to solve a business problem? Business cooperation and that conversation, what we say about business value is about what do we share. 

I just want to kind of share a little bit of research that I loved, it was back in 2014, where the Economist Intelligence Unit went out to CEOs and say which business outcomes do you think, justifies a substantial investment in training, workforce development? Gave them all kinds of different choices, including return on investment. And yet the things that people, the business leaders said was that it wasn't necessarily a positive ROI, they were twice as likely to say, you know, if you can talk to me about how together we can increase productivity, increase our responsiveness to change, increase our employee engagement and profitability; those are more important conversations to me than are you able to prove that you have contributed? And I think evidence sometimes helps us to make smarter decisions about the conversations that we have, and I'm sharing this with you to build confidence. Maybe your business leaders don't want to have a conversation about ROI, but they do want you to say, how can we improve productivity together? 

And his comment over every role that he's taken is, there's one question that we really need to be able to ask in order to raise our credibility in the industry. And it's not, do you think I've given you a return on investment, but how can I help you deliver what's really important to the business? So, to your CFO, you know, what's important to you? Let's have that conversation. And I think this is the most powerful thing that we can do. And the research backs it up, actually, back in 2017 only a third of learning and development leaders actually have that conversation. This was based on a sample of 600 learning leaders around the globe, mainly because of some of the things you've already mentioned that people don't want to have this conversation. But when we do, it makes such a difference. And what we found was that when people ask those questions, that 31%, they are twice as likely to find that the business works with them, they're willing to, okay, well, this is how I see my metrics shifting, this is information I'm willing to give you as line manager, this is an information that I'm willing to give you as users to say whether I've applied something. So, when we ask the question, what are we trying to shift together, then all of us are twice as likely to want to be able to work towards that. And we're also twice as likely to be able to communicate and talk about that business value. And I think that's where we come into the mindset shift. Mindsets actually influence what we say. And if we start to talk about business value, how can we work together to do this, then actually, we'll get much or support from the business in being able to achieve some of those goals and methodologies that we've been looking at. 

So, really just to close off, this is really simple. I think if we're going to make an impact in 2020, we know all of the processes and models. The key thing for us is asking the right questions and being known for asking the right questions rather than having all of the answers. And I think our reputation for business value will leave as we are more willing to ask more questions of how can we work together? And what are we working on together? And then that allows us to use this continuum to really start to add value. 

So, in summary, really changing mindsets are hard. So, let's look at behaviours instead. Is there an opportunity in the world of work that you're working on, or all the different examples you gave me at the beginning, where we can say okay, this is not about me, this is about us? Maybe I need a new conversation? Is there a new language that we need to be using, as Ray was demonstrating earlier, talking about what this means to attrition rates in sales and revenue, productivity rather than in user rates and open rates and engagement rates? Are we willing to ask tough questions, even if it makes us ourselves look stupid, because actually, our credibility will really rise up when we start to say, how can we do this together? Are we willing to actually test new ideas? And rather than prove that something's worked to actually say, I wonder if it's work? Let me explore this, and not to be so frightened of the data that comes back in that methodology of evaluation. Are we open to welcome feedback? If it says it's rubbish, then what can we do differently? How can we learn? How can we grow? How can we ask not yet? 

So, I think in terms of a shifting from purely looking at learning value to being online, and I'm hoping that this is kind of giving you some evidence and to say that you know what asking that question will work. So, I would like to kind of leave it there and just say, Ray, thank you so much for contributing all of your different ideas and experiences in this. And I know that both of us would be very open in the last few minutes to get your thoughts and reflections on this, it's not the models that we use, but the mindsets that we bring to business value that will make a difference.

[Ray Cairnes] 49:25  

Yeah, no, well, thank you for the conversation, for sure, and for everyone that has attended. You know, and I think as I as I'm going out, and you know, I drank the Kool Aid now I'm serving the Kool Aid, so to speak. I, you know, the types of conversations I'm having, it's like, well, what does that look like to align to the business, right? And so, I was like, maybe I should just like, a four-step process, right? So, what we did in my former team was to understand like, what are the business goals for the coming year or for the, you know, next quarter or whatever cadence that it's set down within your organisation, and then working across the L&D team to understand, alright, so how do we, as an L&D team support the accomplishment of those goals? What sort of activities, projects, initiatives are we going to take on that are going to support the delivery of that? And I think that's the scary part, right? Where it's like, okay, if I'm working with a sales team, and they're trying to increase sales by 10%, am I going to be held accountable or responsible for that? It's really about you are supporting that, right? So making sure that you're having the types of conversations that are very pointed, and I think, when you talk about the questions, the right questions to ask, right? So obviously, it would come from a place of being informed around what that part of the business does. But I find that if you just ask why, right? I think it's, you ask why five times, the five why's, get gets you to the root cause of why we're even having the conversation to begin with, you know. Well, I need you to create an eLearning? Why? Because they don't have the skill or why are they missing that? You know, because we didn't have a great onboarding experience, you know. So you're getting to the root cause of the problem. And I think drilling down onto that ultimately gives you some direction, and helps you to have the conversation in a more informed way. I think, you know, the learning value, obviously valuable, right? Because it's in the name, but it's sort of cost of entry these days, right? You really, we all should be doing that, obviously. But then it's like, alright, so then let's evolve that conversation. I think that's where we are now. We're sort of in between the two, right? We're doing what has felt safe for a long time. And now it's about, now let's really dig in a little deeper and you know, get to the root cause of things to start really focusing, more hyper focused, because things change so quickly. We have to be much more agile and delivering on that. So, getting to the root of the conversation, I really think it helps move it along.

[Laura Overton] 52:07  

And I think if we talk about conversations rather than processes, then that actually is less scary. It's less risky for us to actually say, look, rather than how can I help you? How can we do this together? Yeah, what can I do for you? But what can we do together? I think there's a slight subtle shift from learning value mindset to business value mindset is that we're on a team when it comes down to business management. And we're not frightened of actually saying, look, that sales initiative is your problem, Mr. Sales Manager, I'm here to help you with your problem. I'm an expert in the areas I'm an expert in, let's work together and see if we can get to a solution faster. And I think that change in mindset will really make a difference to us in 2020. And I just wanted to present some evidence today will give people the courage and the confidence say, you know what? It's worth the risk. I'm going to start having some of those conversations. 

Again, I'd love to know anyone's thoughts. We've got five more minutes. And has this felt relevant to you? And if you can just give us one last comment in the panel chat room at the end, then that would be great.

[Ray Cairnes] 53:23  

Yeah, or any, any sort of obstacles you see, helping you get to accomplish this type of thing. We'd love to kind of see people's input on that.

[Laura Overton] 53:36  

And maybe a few more than we had earlier.

[Ray Cairnes] 53:39  

Exactly. 

[Laura Overton] 53:40

Hey, Scott. Thank you. Yeah.

[Laura Overton] 53:48  

Yeah, I think that, Scott, you’ve just given us a great question there, about when we can put the effort in we're more in control but when it comes down to getting business partners on the projects, how do we get people to contribute? And I think if we let go of the concept, Scott, that we have to prove and isolate causation of learning and development and say actually, how can we just help you achieve your goals faster, then that should open up a different type of conversation. I have certainly used in the UK and Europe, the Towards Maturity research with organisations and we've seen that learning leaders have been able to go to business leaders and say, look, here are some of the business KPIs that learning innovation can make a difference to. Is it worth you and I having a different conversation about what you expect from me? And when they say things like increases of revenue, 11% or 14% on productivity, and you say, look, even if we work together differently and capture just a fraction of that, will that make a difference? So, I think it's, you know, using evidence that's already out there can help to nudge people out of their preconceived ideas. And therefore, to partner on different projects as well. I'm very happy to take that one offline as well, Scott, if you'd like to have that. 

Which KPIs are most important to your business right now. I've seen amazing examples of people who are trying to recruit internally, because they want to save on their costs of recruitment. And so, their succession plans and the number of internal promotions have been really important aspects of their leadership programmes. Sales is always a great place to start if you've got that because it's a little bit more black and white. 

Any others from you, Ray, just before we close off?

[Ray Cairnes] 55:57  

I mean—

[Laura Overton] 55:59  

Low hanging fruit on business KPIs.

[Ray Cairnes] 56:01  

Anytime you can tie money to it, it’s, you know, an attention getter for sure. But you know, that's not always the case. A lot of times it may be about, you know, just efficiency and being able to distribute information so that people can then, you know, get back into the work. One of the reasons I brought in Fuse, for example, is just to say, you know, I'm less impressed. I'm no longer impressed by the number of hours we spent in training. I'm more impressed by did I get the information to the learner in the time of need, answer it quickly, and then allow them to get back into the work and deliver the business impact that was important to them? Right? So, I think you know, anytime you can have that type of conversation was really helpful.

[Laura Overton] 56:46  

Absolutely. I'm very aware that we've probably come to the end of our time. I know that this conversation is going to be continuing. I'm certainly working, futilely working on a white paper so do keep in touch if you want to contact me privately about any questions or anything that you think might need to be covered in changing our mindset to a business value mindset. Very lovely to hear from anyone.

Nihal Salah
Jul 28 2020

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