Speed to Learner

Today’s business world is moving faster than ever. A years ago, some of my former colleagues at The Forum Corporation released a book titled “Strategic Speed”. In the book, authors Boswell, Davis and Frechette highlight the need to focus on people in addition to process efficiency and systems. They went on to highlight what they see as the essential people factors for driving speed; clarity, unity and agility. Startups have adopted a similar strategy to driving increases in speed.

Startups always seek to increase speed to user. How can they get more people to experience the product? What channels and messaging are resulting in new user acquisition? In order to impact this dimension, I believe the mind-set of L&D needs to change from manufacturer to marketer. One look at attendance data will show you that the most attended trainings are frequently mandated, not sold, to their audience. Assuming that learning is solving a real problem, getting users to recognize and “buy” the solution quickly is critical. Running Training Like a Business 2.0 means L&D must become marketers and packagers of a truly performance-inducing product. Like Gatorade™ for employee performance.

When I first starting exploring the idea of Speed to Learner as an important dimension of organizational speed, I explained that L&D needed to shift from manufacturer to marketer. But what does this mean? L&D needs to speak, target users, and think, like a startup. While launching a new learning offering can be nerve racking, imagine the stress entailed with launching your new company. The stakes are high for startups. While building a great product is essential to a startup, your target market must still know about it…and use it.

If you sell anything with any success, you know that people don’t buy drills, which is a product feature, they buy holes, the product’s benefits. So why is the communication and language around learning so feature based. The industry speaks of “sales training” not “close more deals, make more commissions training”. Course objectives are often written, “at the end of this course you will be able to…” when the important part is found by adding “so that…” to the end. L&D should lead with benefits. L&D should know what the benefits are for learners and clearly state them in terms that the learner can recognize. For a startup or L&D, this is where all valuable products begin, with a true need.

Consumer advertising gets a bad name because many assume that sizzle replaces the need for a high quality steak. Many startups feel the same way. You haven’t heard about those startups because they very often fail. Winning solely on the basis of a superior product may feel like the high ground but what is missed is that in an age when we are all bombarded with messages every day, cutting through that noise with the benefits of your solution is also needed.

After adopting a marketer mindset the next step to improving speed to learner is for L&D to understand the road to audience adoption. Startups understand that they can’t get everyone right away. Instead they focus on a part of their addressable market called the early adopters. In his 1991 book “Crossing Chasm”, Geoffrey Moore described an approach of looking at the way new technologies are adopted by a market that is still used today.

In the book, he divided the market, represented by a bell curve, into five parts. From the thin left edge, he began with innovators. Moving right he identified the market parts as; early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards. Each part has its own requirements for the adoption of new technology. Innovators value new over perfect, while the early majority requires proof points, value being delivered in situations that look like theirs, in order to embrace the new technology. “Technology” is from the Greek “tekhnologia” which means the systematic treatment of an art, craft, or technique. Sounds like a learning offering, doesn’t it?

Geoffrey Moore, Crossing the Chasm

When L&D rolls out a new initiative there is often too little thought given to how it should be rolled out. What parts of the desired audience like new but untested and potentially imperfect solutions? Which parts will require proof points or endorsements? A blanket approach rarely works with anything other than compliance training where attendance can be mandated. Understanding more about your audience’s requirements for adoption can make for a much more rapid and successful roll out.

Author: J.

J. Miguez has spent the last 25 years designing Learning & Development organizations and the service offerings that support them. Learning domain explorer.

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