Who needs learning?
This is a complex question to answer.
If you respond “everyone in the organization” that means you haven’t thought about the question. If you respond “not sure” that
means you’re on to discovering who your learners are.
Unless you know for sure who is a learner, you will never be able to deliver an exquisite L&D program for your organization.
There will never be one straight answer because L&D is a moving organism that moves parallel to the (PEST) political, social,
technological and environmental surroundings of the organization.
But nevertheless, some stability at one moment will give you a good place to start. With tight budgets, L&D has to be extremely intentional about their programs and target learners.
Who should be a learner?
The Venn diagram below shows the sweet spot of target learners. Real life bunch of learners will not always fit exactly in this spot like a glove but the structure gives you a good place to start from the most pertinent ones.
1- Boss- appointed learner.
Someone suggested by a boss as weak in x skill or could use extra knowledge.
This is when a manager (boss of x employee) notices an employee performing considerably poor and suggests that this person should undertake training.
On the surface this is good because obviously the boss has a keen eye on the weak spots of the team and is a better judge than you the L&D practitioner, of who should learn more because they are the ones in the field, working with employees. However, there are few exceptions to this.
Firstly, it might be that the part of training the boss recommends is actually the job of the boss him/herself and they just don’t want to do it. Many offices have KTM, Knowledge Transfer Managers who specifically work to deliver on-the job trainings to new team members. If despite such provisions, the boss wants the employee to take training separately, you must dig deeper.
Secondly, it might be the case that the boss is a jerk and the team member/s is/are unhappy. In such a case people just do the bare
minimum and leave. While the manager may think that the reason for low performance is lack of skill, it could just be lack of
motivation to perform better.
2- Self-appointed learner.
Someone who puts her/his name forward recognising they can use learning to improve performance.
This is a great indicator of the employees’ motivation and interest in their career progression. Usually when someone comes forward
and asks for learning it’s a great sign that the work culture is encouraging people to take accountability of their learning and
development. There are a few things to consider though.
Start by recognising their need; what they say they want to learn- would it be beneficial to their role and to the company. Sometimes it may not be directly related but it would bring intangible benefits eg; a day in the wild.
Check if you have the budget to support their learning. If there are many learners and a limited budget, there might have to be some
sort of pick and chose or competition for the seats.
When you finally do allow these self appointed learners check if they actually go through the learning process and use it in anyway. For eg, the completion rate of online courses is very low because people get excited to learn and sign up for more courses than they can
handle assuming they will just skim and learn. They never do. See if your resources are used wisely and cut wastes for future.
3- Review- appointed learner
Someone who is a top performer in the company performance review.
Performance reviews tell us constantly about the creme performers of the company. It’s a good practice invest in the development
of those who bring extra results in order to optimise their performance and enable them to perform even better. Some companies
specifically send their few top performers to take special courses or bring in instructors for them.
Before you assume that this is a no brainer category, please hold your horses because there are a few more things to consider.
Firstly, consider whether the learning is welcome by the learner and not taken as a burden. Most common complains on Glassdoor
reviews from former employees are when the top performers are turned into ‘beasts of burden’. Yes, some people outperform others
but this doesn’t mean we must automatically lower down our expectations from the low performers and skyrocket our expectations
from the top ones.
Yes, you want them to break their own records and constantly go higher but make sure there is a balance in their lives or you’re
heading towards a severe burnout. Having coffee machines and vibrant offices doesn’t mean much when you’re spending 24/7 of your time working.
Secondly, align their expensive learning with direct business objectives. Trainings for top performers often come with heavy price tags. Spend considerable time planning and aligning the purpose of the training with the business goals and objectives.
So, this venn diagram shows you the sweet spot of your learners. Technically we would like all employees in the organisation to be
learners and improve their performances. But as L&D designers and strategists, it’s always good to start small and take it from there.
There’s a limited budget you can spend and make sure you spend it wisely on those who can make good use of learning that translates into tangible and non tangible but valuable results.
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