Learning as a Competitive Advantage
Learning: Taleo, Via Elearning!, 9/26/11
Most organizations understand that investing in training and development is important. However, many organizations might be surprised to learn that a strong investment in employee learning, training, and development also adds value to the organization’s bottom line. Research from Bersin & Associates in June 2010 found that organizations 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;
• 18% more likely to currently be a market-share leader in one or more of their markets;
• 33% more likely to report higher customer satisfaction than other organizations;
• 39% more likely to report success implementing customer suggestions; and
• 58% more likely to be successful at developing the skills needed for meeting future customer demand.1
Learning not only develops the skills needed for an organization to achieve goals and increase its competitive position within an industry, but it also develops the leadership skills required to sustain competitiveness. At a high level, learning drives performance, which in turn drives a competitive advantage. At a more detailed level, learning directly impacts speed to market, market share, and customer satisfaction.
Learning works best when it is aligned to the goals and objectives of both the employee and the organization. As such, integrated learning programs are essential to achieving a competitive advantage. Integrated learning programs enable you to align goals between workers and the company as a whole—or, alternatively, cascade objectives down to each individual contributor. In addition, integrated learning programs can tie learning content to those goals and objectives, so the right audiences always receive the right learning at the right times. This kind of focus requires specifi c technology that not only accounts for strategic goal alignment but also tracks whether or not training is completed and effective. At the same time, the technology needs to be flexible enough to accommodate adjustments in learning and development programs as business objectives change.
This paper will discuss how organizations can best position learning in the organization, which areas can reap the greatest benefits from learning—and how the right technology can help you achieve the highest return from your integrated learning systems.
II. Positioning Learning within the Organization
While most organizations think of learning as training, training is often considered a cost center. Learning, on the other hand, is really an opportunity to drive strategic advantage and, ultimately, revenue. That’s why integrated learning should be tied to the very core of the business in order to successfully build a competitive edge. Furthermore, all learning should be centralized and directly aligned to organizational goals.
Cytec Focuses on Learning and Development as a Business Strategy:
Cytec, a leading specialty chemicals and materials company with over 4,500 employees worldwide, decided to centralize its training and education using a learning management system (LMS). With regional offices in 27 countries and more than 25 separate learning tracking and cataloging systems in place, Cytec needed a way to unify its paper-based systems, spreadsheets, and homegrown databases. The company selected an LMS that could re-focus its learning management process with a more strategic approach. The results were impressive, showcasing a move that was more about business needs and the speed of learning, and less about dollars and cents. For example, whereas the company’s old systems only tracked the 2,100 salaried employees—each averaging 2 to 3 voluntary courses per year—the new unifi ed system now manages the entire workforce. In addition, employees now have an average of 20 to 30 required training events per person, per year, since training events can be assigned to the individual’s goals. Cytec’s business case for the new LMS was clearly strategic, tying directly to the company vision, mission, and key business directives.2
Turning learning into a strategy not only reduces costs but it also generates revenue both indirectly and immediately in these areas:
The level of performance is important to your overall competitiveness, but equally important is the “what” of performance. What are your employees focused on? What are they driving toward? This is why it is critical to tie learning to business goals.
• Revenue Per Employee
Organizations that invest in more training days and dollars per employee may produce greater revenue per employee than those that invest less.3 When learning is implemented as a strategy that’s aligned with business goals, employees accrue the skills and experience to execute on those goals—and they drive more revenue.
If your organization can package content or expertise, you can sell you can sell training externally. This transforms training from an overhead cost to a profit center.
III. Areas of Focus for Learning
Once learning is positioned as a strategy that affects the bottom line, the next step is to focus on the functional areas that will have the greatest impact on competitiveness:
Your sales organization is the front line in battling the competition, but what happens when your sales team lacks necessary training on newly launched products or services? An opportunity is created for your competition. Companies who go to market first are the first to secure new customers.
In a lot of companies, product releases are held up because the sales team is not prepared. The process of training or earning certifications can drag on, especially if the company doesn’t have a way to develop content, deliver training, track progress, and ensure certification. With the right LMS, however, an entire global sales force can be trained and ready to begin selling as soon as a new product or service is generally available.
When Weichert Realtors decided to implement an LMS for its sales associates, the focus was on increasing revenue by quickly and effi ciently providing knowledge and skills training to sales associates. This included helping new associates become as productive as possible and ready for the rapid changes that occur within the real estate market. The company’s sales associates can now take advantage of both classroom and online training, while management tracks the understanding associates gain from training, as well as their progress toward achieving required certifications.4
Such sales enablement also extends beyond your enterprise to include indirect sales channels. Partners, resellers, distributors, agents, and many more members of your extended sales teams can be just as prepared for new releases as your direct sales team. By setting up learning portals specific to each sales audience, you ensure everyone is ready to hit revenue targets.
Your customer service or support people need to be ready to handle customer questions. If your team is not ready, this may be another hurdle to jump over prior to launching a new product or service. The quicker you can get this team trained, the faster you can bring your offerings to market.
Most companies today have their customer support agents disparately located around the globe to better serve local markets. This geographic distribution, however, often presents training challenges. Since they are the public face when customers need help, these agents are critical to maintaining and enhancing customer satisfaction. The right LMS technology will help reduce training time for support agents and ensure they all are trained at the same time no matter where they are located in the world.
You need leaders today, and in the future, to drive the innovation and vision that make your company stand out from the crowd. Leadership training and development is therefore critical to giving your executives and managers the skills they need. Learning programs that encompass a leadership focus also enable you to keep coveted fast-trackers from defecting to your competition. If they can accomplish their professional goals with your company, they will stay.
Cricket Uses Learning Management System to Grow New Leaders:
Although currently the nation’s sixth largest wireless provider, Cricket Communications spent its first 12 years without any comprehensive leadership development program. The company’s continued growth convinced executives it was time to expand leadership opportunities to maintain its competitive edge, strategically tying directly to the company vision, mission, and key business directives.
Leveraging its existing Taleo learning management platform, Cricket launched a new leadership home page called Leader U. Offering five levels of leadership profiles, ranging from front-line staff to senior leaders, the site helps employees understand Cricket’s leadership philosophy. Each level features tailored expectations and competencies along with level specific courses and learning activities, so workers know what is expected of them as they climb the leadership ladder. Leader U integrates this knowledge in a centralized location from which employees can then enroll in leadership courses and make use of valuable self-assessment tools, leadership videos, RSS feeds and more. Cricket is well-positioned to raise a new crop of innovators that will support its ongoing success.
Another often-overlooked learning audience is your customers. How easy do you make it for them to get the training they need to be successful with your products and services? With a customized learning portal for client education, your customers will fi nd it easy to acquire knowledge about your offerings and provide valuable feedback to you about your offerings.
This type of customer engagement can often be the deciding factor in purchasing decisions as well as lead to higher customer satisfaction and more loyalty to you after the sale.
VI. Learning as a Competitive Advantage
When revenue is on the line, and a potential customer is measuring your company against your competition, you want to know your organization is prepared. Without training or a strategy for integrating learning into development, you will not be prepared. By aligning learning with business goals, pushing out the right content to internal and external audiences, and tracking progress, your organization will be positioned competitively to speed time-to-market, become a market leader, ensure customer satisfaction, and ultimately increase revenue.
1. High-Impact Learning Culture: The 40 Best Practices for Creating an Empowered Enterprise, Bersin & Associates, June 2010.
2. Centralizing the Learning Management Process: Cytech Industries Case Study, Bersins & Associates, February 2005.
3. The ROI of Employee Training and Development , APQC, 2008.
4. Evolution of a Blended learning Program for Sales Associates: Weichert Realtors Case Study,Bersin & Associates, May 2007.
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