The Value of Becoming a Learning Organization
Many companies face the question of the value of investing in organizational learning.
Consider this: A four-year study by the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) shows that firms that invest $1,500 per employee in training compared to those that spend $125 experience on average 24 percent higher gross profit margins and 218 percent higher income per employee.
While those impressive statistics may occur over a long period, it's also possible to evaluate how learning contributes to the performance of your company in a more immediate manner. Some measures are directly quantifiable, but intangibles can also provide indicators of organizational learning. It's important to recognize and track a variety of measures, from the global down to the specific, the tangible to the intangible.
Meeting Business Goals and Objectives
A recent client wanted greater penetration into key markets, but the sales force lacked the skills. They invested in a new sales analysis system together with direct training in data analysis, presentation and negotiation skills. Their clear measure of success was in hitting financial and business goals.
Measuring Effectiveness of Employees
Metrics include skill testing, competency certification and surveys. The client described above revises and repeats its sales force skills survey annually to determine whether employees have remained up to speed and up to date.
Valuing Speed of Decision Making
Perhaps the best indicator of the continuous progress of organizational learning is continuous reduction in the time it takes to make business decisions.
Sharing Best Practices
The most successful companies track the sharing and implementation of internal and external best practices. This lends itself to both process and business improvement measures when a practice is adopted.
Retaining Future Leaders
Your most talented employees and future leaders want to gain new skills, meet new challenges and earn recognition and rewards. Another clear indicator of [lack of] learning is how many of these talented individuals choose to leave in a given time period.
Recognizing the Cost of Not Learning
Calculate the lost productivity from failing to use best practices known elsewhere in the corporation. Or the cost of delay in everyone recognizing a marketplace shift or delays in bringing a new product or service to the market. If you repeat mistakes, how many customers do you lose? What's the impact to the bottom line? These measures can be more anecdotal than systematic, but they can reveal a pattern.
"If it's worth doing, it's worth measuring." "That which is measured improves." Don't let the breadth and types of potential measures become a barrier to action. People will often use the argument that results are too hard to quantify in order to resist making an investment in learning. Once you make the commitment to be a learning organization, the willingness to measure results will shift. You will find new ways to track the effectiveness of initiatives, allowing you to learn better and faster the next time. The need to prove the business value of learning will also diminish, as people will be involved in their own learning on a daily basis. You will become a learning organization.
What Is a Learning Organization?
David Garvin, Harvard Business School professor, captures the essence of a learning organization in his book, Learning in Action:
An organization skilled at:
- Creating, acquiring, interpreting, transferring and retaining knowledge
- Purposefully modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights
With a culture that ...
- Stimulates, tests and adopts new ideas
- Encourages and rewards skills development
- Recognizes and accepts differences
- Provides timely, accurate feedback
- Encourages appropriate risk-taking and learns from mistakes
- Shares knowledge widely and rewards collaboration
Do you have a learning organization? Ask yourself the following questions:
Do you have a defined learning agenda?
Are you open to unfavorable feedback?
Do you avoid repeating mistakes?
Do you lose critical knowledge when people leave?
Do you act on what you know in a timely fashion?
Do you view learning as vital to growth?
Shannon Lear Martin is a performance consultant with www.TrainUtopia.com, where she helps clients measure and improve organizational performance in support of their business goals and objectives. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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