By Rich Mesch

Is a changing work environment causing you to rethink your learning strategy?  Modern learning strategies should be a flexible roadmap focused on the key metrics that drive your business. In our rapidly changing world, we need strategies that adapt; you don’t change your strategy when you hit roadblocks.  You use your strategy to overcome them. But … how can you do that?

In our recent webinar on Training Industry, I spoke with Rich Baron, Executive Director, Human Pharma Training & Development at Boehringer Ingelheim on how a well-designed learning strategy drives business success. Here’s a sneak peek at what was discussed:

What does a modern learning strategy mean to you?

Rich Baron: The word strategy, by definition, is answering the question of how. You have your objectives of what you’re trying to achieve and then there’s the strategy you put in place which is going to allow you to achieve it. You need to make sure that you’re devising an approach that’s going to allow you to both hopefully align to and meet the company objectives, but, more importantly, drive the development that you’re trying to achieve with your end learners. When I think about a strategy, it tends to be, “Okay, I know what I’m trying to do. Now how are we going to get there?”

What are the components of a learning strategy that helps to make it flexible and adaptable to change?

Rich Mesch: The first one is that the needs of the business come first. This may sound obvious to some people but it’s amazing how frequently this is missed. Ultimately, learning is not an end unto itself. Learning exists to drive the capabilities of the workforce so they can fulfill the goals of the business. And so whenever we put together a learning strategy, the first question we have to answer is, how are we driving the goals of the business? And if we can’t answer that question, you don’t need to go any further down this list. That question needs to get answered first.

Rich Baron: There’s obviously productivity impact, but from a learning perspective, you’re tending to divide up what you do into, am I imparting knowledge to somebody? Am I changing the behavior of somebody? And each of those has a different mechanism for how you’re going to measure, so if I want to impart knowledge to somebody, have them read or go through a learning module, I want to know how much they know about [that specific topic]. I’ll use tests for that, and that’s the best way to measure. There are certain quizzes such as gamification type quizzes and tools that you can use along the way to continue to measure and assess where people are. If you’re measuring behavior change, it’s a lot more challenging. For those who are familiar with the different scales in the learning industry, the Kirkpatrick scales, which historically had been the go-to that everyone refers to, you’re talking about level three and that ultimately level four, which is an impact on the business, which is even harder to do because much like a sales rep, it’s really hard to isolate for just the training itself to determine what the impact is on the business.

What does the Modern Learning strategy toolkit look like?

Rich Mesch: The first is alignment to business goals. How do you get your learning strategy to actually fulfill the business goals that your organization has? The second is involving the right stakeholders. Who are the people who really need to be involved in your process outside your learning team? The third is choosing the right learning modalities. How do you match the right learning approach to the need of your audience? And the fourth is the most challenging of them all, and that’s how do you measure the impact. How do you actually put a strategy in place that gives you a pretty good readout on whether or not you’re making a difference?

Bersin by Deloitte says that a high impact learning and development organization aligns learning initiatives and efforts with strategic goals, partners with the lines of business allocates budgets to the programs with the greatest business impact, and align their efforts with other people practices within the organization, such as partnering with human resources.

What are the types of behaviors you should measure?

Rich Mesch: First, you should set a baseline. Setting a baseline is important because it’s difficult to measure improvement if you don’t know where you started. Is 90% good? I don’t know. If you started at 100%, no. If you started at 10%, yes. So setting a baseline of whatever you’re measuring is an important first step.

The second is focusing on behavior, not just knowledge. And this is where the challenge starts to come in because knowledge is relatively easy to measure.  In a lot of the traditional training courses, we do have to check your knowledge and comprehension exams but, ultimately, as we talked about before, the business doesn’t really run on knowledge. It runs on behavior. So, ultimately, we wanna be able to measure whether or not behavior is changing.

Rich Baron: We tend to look at the selling behaviors, for example, with our sales reps. For example, how well do they ask questions to their customers? Are they the right questions to ask? And we usually use proficiency scales, a four-point scale of good to great to determine where they are. So that’s probably a large portion of what our leaders are looking at when they’re out there with their field coaching reports and what we’re training and teaching them and then looking at afterward.

These are just a few of the questions and answers asked during the webinar. To learn more, you can watch the full webinar below.

Rich Mesch

Rich Mesch has been working in the performance improvement space for over 30 years. An ideator and creator, he works with some of the world’s largest companies to solve business challenges by improving human performance. He is the host of the podcast “Real Impact!”, co-author of the ATD/Wiley book “The Gamification of Learning and Instruction Fieldbook,” and a frequent blogger, conference speaker, and contributor to industry publications. Rich is the VP, Consulting for Performance Development Group.

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