Two-fifths of international organizations don’t have a global strategy for learning, according to recent survey of 200 learning and development (L&D) senior decision makers by Open University Business School.
The Challenges of Global L&D survey also revealed that half of L&D decision-makers think learning is not seen as important and 42% lack direction from the top. “L &D is often seen as a ‘token’ activity and that is the underlying philosophy that top managers have about it,” commented Bernd Vogel, director of Henley Centre for Leadership at Henley Business School. Vogel urged senior L&D decision-makers to step up to the plate and outlined reasons why the function wasn’t valued by leadership. “The L&D function needs to be seen as a senior partner. L&D people often lack confidence and clarity about what they contribute to the business and it’s not always about retention and investment. The second issue is there are not enough entrepreneurial individuals in the L&D teams to carry out an agenda. The third reason is that L&D is often treated as just a delivery entity for training.”
If you’re a global organization, then learning and development really has a commercial impact and businesses are demanding much more from their L&D function, remarked Penny Asher, director of executive education at Open University Business School. “Business wants to reduce costs but there is a greater commercial impact if you don’t get L&D right. Organizations then work in silos and the impact on performance is much reduced and you’re failing to realize some of the synergies.”
A strategy for developing workforce skills for organizations that work across economies and sectors is fundamental, argues Laura Harrison, strategy and transformation, director at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. “There is a tactical point about language. If you’re talking about skills then that sits in a silo of L&D so the function needs to talk the language of business. At a more strategic level, the challenge is that it’s easy to cut L&D budgets in less financially benign times but that is a short-term perspective. We would argue that development needs to be about capabilities needed to deliver your business strategy and that is about either acquiring new talent or developing your existing workforce.”
Two thirds of respondents believe organizations with a learning culture will be the most successful over the coming years, and a similar proportion see global learning programs as the future. Indeed, 60% think highly effective learning is ‘critical’ to organizational success, helping companies to adapt quickly to market need and effectively to disruption and uncertainty. Over half of L&D decision-makers stated that there would be a significant commercial impact if their L&D teams collaborated across the world.
Despite the commercial imperative, currently only a fifth of businesses very consistently share learning across the geographies in which they have offices. In nearly half of the organizations surveyed, the learning architecture is ‘decades’ out of date. “The barriers to sharing learning are often practical such as different time zones and people prefer face-to-face to build relationships and there are also barriers around language.”
The report also highlighted that lack of leadership support was a key issue for L&D professionals. Forty-two percent of L&D decision makers voiced concerns that they lack direction from the top and the leadership team does not value learning. Local resistance is an issue affecting two fifths of organizations. Outdated technology is cited as another barrier: in nearly two fifths of companies the L&D team believe they do not have the technology to coordinate learning globally.
Technology has had a tremendous impact on L&D, remarked Ms Asher. “Five years ago, the technology was still developing but now the technology developed in social management systems means that people can curate information and you can access information much more easily. Peer to peer learning enables sharing of information and problem-solving and the linking of expertise.”
On a more positive note, 94% of L&D departments are planning to increase investment in international learning programmes over the next year. The report outlined the workplace trends that are driving this investment in international learning programmes. More than half of L&D professionals see that employees increasingly want access to market-leading learning programmes, and nearly half worry they risk losing talent to competitors because their company does not share learning effectively. Two fifths of businesses are already losing talented employees because they are not constantly being developed. Ms Asher added that L&D was often viewed as a ‘value/cost’ piece. “Learning is looked at as a cost and although there is often an investment in top talent that is not necessarily throughout the organization. These days, employees are demanding continuous learning and an investment in all the employee population rather than just picking up on the top tier of management.”
Ms Asher warned that this was a pivotal time for organizations when it came to L&D. “We are experiencing a fundamental shift that will affect every L&D department. Tighter margins and the increasing expectations of candidates and employees mean there has never been such pressure to get it right; those that do so stand to make great global gains.”