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Boost your business’ bottom line through a culture of learning

As businesses focus on growing out of the recession, it’s essential that they do all they can to make the most of their existing talent.

Making talent development part of your DNA is essential to this, and organisations are increasingly implementing learning platforms in order to support this objective. A learning management system adds value across the talent management spectrum by replacing outdated, isolated and fragmented learning programmes with a methodical means of tracking, assessing, and ultimately raising the competency of employees and performance levels throughout the organisation.

Learning works best when it is aligned with the goals and objectives of both the employee and the organisation. As such, integrated learning programmes are essential to gaining a competitive advantage. Integrated learning programmes enable businesses to align goals between workers and the company as a whole, or, alternatively, to cascade objectives down to each individual contributor. This can be best achieved by integrating learning initiatives with onboarding processes and performance management tools, and putting learning and development at the heart of everything from inducting new hires through to setting development goals.

Most companies understand the importance of training and development, but few realise how creating a culture of employee learning, training and development can add value to the organisation's bottom line. Research by Bersin Associates found that organisations with a strong learning culture are 46% more likely to be strong innovators in their markets; 34% more likely to get to market before their competitors; and 33% are more likely to report higher customer satisfaction levels.

Formalised learning plans tied to business objectives and job roles can help to achieve competitive advantage. A learning plan should include information on the individual and organisation, a summary of the initial assessment where needs are identified, details of the agreed programme delivery and a summary of arrangements for supporting the learner. This approach allows organisations to address individual skill gaps, increase the knowledge base, and develop a pipeline of future leaders. It can also help enable employees to gain relevant skills in-house, rather than having to invest time and money in finding those skills outside the company.

Collaborative and social learning enables companies to leverage the expertise within their organisation and allows employees to easily share and access content. Developments in social media mean that there are more channels than ever for knowledge sharing, including discussion and chat forums, comments and ratings tools, social profiles, and other communication channels. Social media also allows remote team members to be better connected no matter what time zone they are in or where they are located.

The ideal learning program pushes training out to employees by assigning it to them and enables employees to pull learning by finding and registering for desired courses. Push learning is necessary for mandatory training and certification, while pull learning allows self-driven employees to build out their skill sets at their own pace. Offering employees both options will help them to increase their skills and will also help to improve morale, allowing staff to perform to the best of their abilities.

A training programme should combine a mix of instructor led training, web-based training, and social learning with user generated content and discussions. This approach will ensure that all different types of learners in an organisation will be satisfied and that the relevant training programmes are always available to those who want and need them. Learning management systems should be designed to easily integrate custom and off-the-shelf courses.

Finally, it is essential that organisations monitor and assess their training programmes to ensure that they are being used and are benefiting staff and the business. Assessments should verify acquisition of new skills, track assessment results to identify skills gaps, and develop surveys to gauge learner perception of training events and instructors. Skills gaps can then be measured and managed at organisational, departmental and individual levels.

Some businesses may prefer to develop their own content or leverage existing professionally developed content to reduce costs. Learning programmes can even help boost company profits as expertise, content, and intellectual property can be sold on to partners, customers, or other groups outside the organisation. Branded learning portals and sub-portals can encourage higher levels of adoption, brand awareness, and revenue. However, developing content in-house cannot be a way for companies to cut corners, and they must be able to demonstrate to regulatory agencies that their workforce has received the required training with an electronic audit trail. Learning management systems need to be SCORM and AICC compliant to satisfy the standards and specifications for computer-based training, web-based training, and related training technologies.

A learning management system is a necessary investment for organisations that want to develop the skills, competencies, and knowledge of their workforce with a view to improving productivity, retention, and engagement. Furthermore, organisations that invest more time and money per employee may produce more revenue than those who invest less. This is because when learning is implemented as a strategy that's aligned with business goals, employees accrue the skills and experience necessary to execute those goals - and they drive more revenue. Learning is a key enabler of Talent Intelligence, and the insight that companies need in order to unlock the power of their most critical asset - their people.

By aligning learning with business goals, pushing the right content to internal and external audiences, and tracking their progress, an organisation will be positioned to improve time-to-market, become a market leader, ensure customer satisfaction, and ultimately increase profits.

Chris Phillips (pictured), VP EMEA marketing at Taleo