Technology is driving global change, and our methods for learning and development (L&D) need to keep up. L&D needs to be agile and more tailored across distributed, multi-national workforces. According to a 2016 McKinsey study, businesses are aware of this need: More than 60% of top companies plan to increase their L&D spending over the coming three years and 66% will increase the number of learning hours per employee. These companies understand that successful companies put time and energy into developing their people. According to Deloitte, increased L&D has many downstream effects, including greater customer satisfaction, more innovation, reduced costs, and faster growth.
Yet, today our workforce is evolving to be more complex than ever. Companies often have offices in multiple locations, with employees speaking different languages, working across time zones, and working from home. Best practices in L&D are beginning to stretch over an incredibly diverse group of people. Many organizations are rising to meet this challenge in a variety of unique ways.
United States technology firms are leading the way in terms of spending on L&D with their focus on training. According to Todd Tauber, Vice President of Learning and Research at Bersin, the total spending on employee training in that market is $150 billion, with an average of $1,847 spent per year per employee. The average investment in 2013 was $1,200 per learner, which was a 15% increase over 2012. One could argue that technology workers in particular need continuing training, but these companies are investing in all workers’ development in an unprecedented rate. It is not simply enough to have a one-size-fits-all approach to training, so many of these companies are customizing the training they offer for various markets.
There are many different ways to deliver training from formal classroom instruction to short-form mobile videos. The most important best practice around training modality is that a company must consider its workforce and design or select a training program that is customized to their needs. A Fortune 1000 company, Discover Financial, is an example of a company that embraced e-learning to great effect. The company transitioned to 70% digital format. Doing so resulted in a 6% increase in employee satisfaction ratings and a 42% reduction in attrition.
In contrast, Gilead Sciences needed a face-to-face approach because of company’s culture and explosive growth. Employees simply didn’t have time for e-learning and preferred an in-person approach that allowed interaction between offices. To bring people together, they designed an ongoing face-to-face program which included off-site events and facilitated small-group interaction.
The Role of Onboarding
Onboarding is an important L&D moment because it sets the stage for how an employee will achieve success within a company. It’s a prime opportunity to educate on employee on the different parts of an organization and demonstrate how to navigate it inside and out. It’s also a way to build a cohesive culture between offices that may be scattered throughout the world by establishing the company mission and values in the employee’s mind. These values might be delivered in different ways from office to office, but they should be consistent across locations.
Patreon is an example of a vibrant company which recognizes the value of culture and onboarding: They deliver a formal, small-group onboarding program which uses a variety of training of methods and materials to set people up for success. For example, the very first step is a culture deck to get new hires aligned with how people behave at the organization. At Patreon, collaborative teamwork, a respectful culture, and business excellence are paramount and by building strong onboarding programs they’ve seen people embody these values in their work from the moment they set foot in the door. As a result, they have a strong learning culture and an attrition rate ⅓ of the national average. For some companies, like Amazon, they may dedicate up to a month of onboarding to achieve the effects they’re after.
Gilead Sciences has also used a mentorship program for the past six years for talent development at all levels, and are now using new digital technologies to supplement the program and scale it. Richard Morse, the L&D Director at Gilead Sciences, has said, “Getting leaders and specialists to mentor others,” was one of the most powerful things they’d done for employee development overall. At Gilead Sciences, they outsource much of their technical instruction design to expert providers, which allows the company leaders to do mentorship in a very personal way. In 2011, Bersin found that mentoring/coaching was the top talent management practice associated with positive business outcomes.
The management level is the crux of any development initiative, from front line managers through higher levels of leadership. Richard Morse says that no matter how good the onboarding training program may be, if the managers don’t buy in, the training won’t stick. Many companies find their mid-level managers present both the greatest challenge and greatest opportunity in implementing development programs. For example, management development at the Gap continues to be a major focus because it is such a key level for defining culture.
Managers know their reports and immediate environment; therefore, managers need to be involved in the program design process, whether the design is in-house or outsourced. Their input is an essential element to success, especially for offices that are based outside of the US. Managers need to be trained themselves in order to pass along a culture of learning and in be empowered to customize learning materials for their direct reports.