“Learning performance reflects positively on business innovation”
By Simon Vuillaume the 9 October 2017
Laura Overton founded Towards Maturity, a non-profit, British organization dedicated to supporting businesses, helping them optimize their performance and capturing 100% of their potential by publishing their studies on innovation in learning.
Every year Towards Maturity undertakes the Towards Maturity Benchmark, an international and independent study that allows it to make an absolutely free, comparative and detailed analysis of current learning and development practices (L&D). The study involves more than 5500 heads of L&D and 35 thousand staff members around the world.
Laura Overton has also authored over 40 major studies and over 200 articles, and she is currently a part of the consultative committee of the Learning and Performance Institute, Online Educa Berlin and Learning Technologies UK. She was the first woman to receive LPI’s Colin Corder Award and the first to receive the Elearning Age Award. She is widely viewed as the most influential person in e-learning in the United Kingdom, second in Europe and third in the world.
She will be in Portugal to speak at the Business Transformation Summit and she shared with Link To Leaders the trends, challenges and stages that must be overcome with regard to corporate training in order to add value and generate an impact on business.
How does Towards Maturity as an independent, non-profit organization help professionals improve their performance by learning through innovation?
What we have done over the past 13 years is research what works and what does not work when we are dealing with learning and innovating. As such, we have research programs involving leaders from all over the world and we have asked them what their objectives are and whether they have successfully attained them. As a non-profit, non-government organization (NGO), we are dedicated to such research and we focus particularly on innovation and technology, as well as on discovering new forms of learning, with a particular focus on discovering the relationship between learning and results in terms of the business that companies need. Our research looks into this. Another thing we do is communication. As an NGO, we share all our conclusions, so that any leader can learn with his or her peers through our research.
Which cases have you learned from most until know?
When I think about innovating in learning, what I get most excited about is organizations that are changing the way in which they think about learning. It is not a matter of knowing whether they are using more technology along the way, but how their entire organization learns. We measure the maturity of their learning and usually a high-performance level in the learning of an organization coincides with those organizations that are obtaining better results with respect to business innovation.
Citibank is a good example of this, a bank that is present all over the world. They wanted to be known for their innovation, even though they have been around for 200 years. Accordingly, they introduced a totally new way of thinking into the company, one that encouraged everyone to be innovative, involving a campaign that led people to think about how they learn, with whom they relate and how they share what they know. This is a very strong example of learning how to innovate, because people are learning and are aware of how they do it and how they share it; this allows the organization to have a quicker response to change, especially when everyone does these things. They are making videos that they share on social networks and they are learning, but it all boils down to how the organization can be more than it currently is.
Towards Maturity also conducts research involving trainees in their place of work, helping learning and development teams (L&D) to understand how they can optimize their work. What should L&D leaders know about the company’s learning and execution?
Good question. In our research with all the teams and the administrative body of the companies we discovered that they are looking for things outside that particular environment that will help them. This way, one of the things I think that the corporate development team can learn is that their team is probably more aware, more equipped and more apt to use technology to discover what they need for their work. In fact, 66% of the people that make up the teams in charge of corporate training and development believe that staff are unable to manage their own learning. However, when we approach them, we discover that they are very proactive in discovering what they need, but they do not always go to the learning and development team to get what they need.
What are the main problems that you have encountered during the teams’ learning process?
One of the challenges faced by the teams and which we detected during our research is time, especially when dealing with online learning. We developed a program called Learning Landscape that focuses on the team’s perspective. We found that they typically found ways of getting around this problem of time, often using their smartphones, studying outside their work hours and at night when we are dealing with situations in which they really need to learn. Therefore, time is a major obstacle, but they are more proactive in finding ways to get around it when the need to do so is strong enough. A second question pertaining to learning involves the fact that the learning content that is made available by the company is not very inspiring, which is an obstacle to learning.
When we talk to the learning and development (L&D) team what they mention as the greatest obstacle is the resistance shown by the teams with regard to learning to use new technologies, which shows that there is a gap between the L&D team and the trainees with respect to the point of view that each has regarding what works and does not work in their businesses.
And what about the way of resolving such problems? How can we leverage the teams’ learning process?
The first thing we saw at our high-performance organizations was that first they listen to their team in order to identify the business problem that needs to be resolved before they can start designing a solution. We reached the conclusion that this is a very strong tactic that consistently leads to better results. As such, one of the things that they can do is to study the problem before recommending a solution, identifying the context in which the team needs to improve these capacities. You must first try to find out more about what is really necessary and only later do you define which tools, technologies and methods are the most appropriate for responding to these problems.
Other techniques that they have discovered is the manner in which they are working as part of the company as a whole. It is not only a matter of bringing people to the training sessions, but also supporting training through their managers, their experiences and the tasks that are attributed to them. This involves expanding the manner of thinking regarding how we support learning throughout the company, instead of regarding how we design the training.
What are the main characteristics of the best 10% of each department with respect to learning?
- We have already spoken a bit about them, but there are six that are more crucial:
- They discover and define the company’s needs;
- They understand the trainees, their team, what motivates them, what is important to them with regard to choices;
- They are also characterized by the way in which they contextualize their work, bringing the production team into contact with the organizational culture team, so that culture management can take place, as well as being characterized by the philosophies that they follow, understanding that these are all characteristics of teams that perform better;
- They are capable of developing new capacities within their teams, such as the way in which they learn, support, and facilitate learning;
- They are strong and committed and communicate regularly;
- They define the value that learning adds to the business and they show this through great stories.
© Towards Maturity
These six premises characterize their behaviour. Another strong characteristic that they usually exhibit is better results than their peers in these six areas.
Long-distance training or face-to-face training? Which is more efficient?
This is a trick question because I can say that they are both efficient or neither of them is efficient. This is because we can have a fantastic eLearning program that understands the trainees’ requirements and needs, which is very important and will make them very strong. Or we can have an eLearning program that consists only of a set of PowerPoint slides which is not relevant to the company or to the person undergoing training. The same is true for the classroom. We can have the right program, but the challenge of time limitation dictates that the company cannot send all of its staff to be trained simultaneously in a classroom. The strongest in-person programs are those in which people only have to be present for a short period of time and they work on problems actively. In this way they can derive knowledge from the program. The ideal situation is to bring together the best part of eLearning and of the classroom in a manner which meets the specific need that was identified in the business. This the best possible combination.
What do you believe will be the evolution of learning and development over the next decade?
I have been working in eLearning and development for 30 years. The trends I have seen over the course of my career tell me that there will be two trends in the next decade. There will be a group of instructors that will continue doing what they have always done up until now, but who will become frustrated because the world around them has changed and they have not. There will be another group of high-performance organizations that will see that their role is changing, their work is changing and that the business itself is changing and that we are changing along with it. The first group, the one that remains the same, will be known for merely transmitting knowledge, essentially acting as a call centre, while the second group will be known for delivering value and shall be continually challenged to be bring more and more value and to be a part of most of the business. I think there will be two sides and companies must decide which side they are on.
You will be a speaker at Business Transformation Summit Portugal. What main messages will you be delivering?
We will speak a lot about transformation in learning and about the changes in the way the world functions. We will speak about that second group of people that I mentioned earlier, what they are changing, what they are doing, how they are getting there because there are people who are changing at this precise moment and they have lessons to teach us. This is what I am most excited about. We will be speaking about what high-performance organizations teach us about the future, what trainees teach us about the future, what we can do differently today. We will also discuss the skills that we need in order to develop ourselves as teaching professionals. If we are going to help people we have to first help ourselves, be flexible and change in this world of work that is constantly changing. These will be the key points of our sessions.
What are your expectations for the Business Transformation Summit?
I hope we are able to learn together. I will bring to Portugal the research I have conducted all over the world and discover how we will combine that knowledge with the experience of those that are present, so that each person present can have his or her own plan of action that will spur them on to take the next step toward the future. Those are my expectations.
Find out more on the Business Transformation Summit here