Speed Kills (in a good way)

Learning organizations must get faster on three key dimensions.

Today’s business world is moving faster than ever. Speed has long been a challenge for Learning & Development organizations. With companies changing strategies, modifying business models and releasing new products designed to improve customer value at a rapid pace, the speed with which L&D must operate is increasingly challenged. In Running Training Like a Business, opportunities to increase the speed of the organization’s response was addressed in two ways: the implementation of the Relationship Manager was designed to place L&D closer to the business thereby shortening the communication cycle. The book also highlighted the need or process improvement to deliver increase efficiencies and reduction of cycle time.

I Feel The Need.  The Need For…

Both of these make a L&D organization faster but this is no longer enough. Because execution, not ideas, are the competitive advantage for early-stage companies, startups look at three dimensions of speed. First, there is speed to product. This is the amount of time it takes from the identification of need to the release of a solution. Second, there is speed to user. How quickly can your product reach the audience that needs it. Third, there is speed to value. This represents how quickly a user receives value from the product. In order to keep pace with today’s businesses, Learning & Development must focus on and continually improve on all three. In future blog posts we will discuss in more detail the techniques that L&D organizations can use to increase speed across all dimensions. For the purposes of this post, we will attempt to define what is slowing us down and keeping us from “running training at the speed of business.”

The two main components of “speed to product” are needs identification and product development. Needs identification is too frequently the result of an inbound request. In best cases this is discovered through weekly, but more likely monthly, meetings between a relationship manager and their business counterpart. In most cases this is still an “order taking” process with little discussion. The announcement of a new product or the reaction to certain business metrics can be drivers of this new need. This information, often known much earlier by the business leader, makes the window for product development even narrower.

Much of product development in L&D still thinks in terms of “course” and follows the traditional linear instructional design process methodology This places a huge requirement on upfront needs assessment, translation of business objectives to learning objectives and learner definition, things startups call “knowns”. Getting to the known takes time and it is time that most businesses no longer have.

Startups drive to increase “speed to user”. How can they get more people to experience the product? The mind-set of training 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 the learning is solving for a real problem, getting users to recognize and “buy” the solution quickly is critical. Running Training Like a Business means L&D must become marketers and packagers of a truly performance-inducing product. Like Gatorade for corporate athletes.

The last dimension of speed is “speed to value”. While this dimension is greatly impacted by the other two, by keeping it front of mind, it can also help to inform both product and user positioning. Startups, specifically apps, frequently focus on what they call onboarding. In the startup world this means getting a user up and running. Similarly, learning can think of this as getting a user up and running with the new skills. Why is this critical? The average app loses 77% of its active users within the first 3 days post install. This attrition can be mitigated by delivering value quickly to users. The same is true for L&D.

In part due to L&D’s “course” mentality, value is often determined at a macro level rather than a micro level. This delays user perceived value and often causes attrition of the new learnings use. A sales program that promises a higher close-ratio in an industry with a longer sales cycle may push the value out too far to drive stickiness of the new skill. Combined with the ever-shrinking half-life of skills speed to value is an important dimension.

Speed touches every part of business and L&D is no exception. What are you doing to drive speed in your organization?