The 5 Critical Cs For A Comprehensive L&D Strategy

A Current And Comprehensive Approach To L&D Strategy

The inside of many Training Departments looks like an archive. Their resource rooms resemble old-fashioned libraries, and sadly for those that have LMSs, these are curated in a similar manner. In this instance:

Employees are given a free library card (LMS login account). They are encouraged to take out books (take courses) in order to develop themselves because leadership wants a "learning culture". But, even when employees are incentivized, the time they spend learning does not seem to translate into significant or sustainable performance enhancement. So, how can this be resolved?

A holistic approach to building a comprehensive L&D strategy is required and attention to the 5 critical Cs can aid this process.

1. Clarity

"We must have a learning culture!"

To most employees, this is about as meaningful (and daunting) as the call to action of "Chase the lion!" in the cartoon below. And, leadership groups then fail to understand why their employees are not fully engaged and committed to ongoing learning and personal development. They then may add an incentive, but somehow this does not trigger the desired level of action and commitment.

However, many smart organizations have got it right. So, what is the difference? The difference is that successful organizations give their employees a clear and compelling reason to learn and develop themselves. It is the difference between the old "command and control" mindset represented by a "Chase the lion!" approach and that of a "leading with a purpose" approach, represented by "Save the child!" in the cartoon below.

Clear and compelling Purpose urges people to keep going, even when facing significant challenges. Research would indicate that we are more likely to take action and stick to it when we have a clear and tangible Purpose.

If a leadership group cannot give a clear and compelling reason for its employees to continually learn and develop themselves, the organization will struggle to create and maintain a learning mindset (culture). So, if leadership really want a learning mindset, they must convey a clear and compelling Purpose, "walk the talk" and be visible in making it happen by continuously sharing new knowledge and insights, and, demonstrating the positive impact of such.

Ultimately, the purpose of continuous Learning and Development is to deliver competent and sustainable performance to support the organization's Purpose, through better service to its beneficiaries.

Finally, in terms of Clarity, ask the question "Does the performance gap clearly represent Learning and/or Development need?"

In this regard, provide managers with a systematic approach to understanding sub-par performance and/or opportunities to improve and extend performance, in the teams that they manage. This is a topic on its own. However, the serviette diagram, below, shows how the 5 Cs can be used in this context to promote a holistic, systematic approach to understanding the various factors that contribute to competent performance.

It is a simple flowchart, but it resonates with managers and creates "light bulb" moments, that facilitate rich discussion.

The point is that a "capability gap" is only one possible opportunity to improve performance. Make sure it is a capability gap before recommending a learning intervention, otherwise engaging a learning intervention may be a waste of time, resources and possibly result in frustration and a loss of credibility.

2. Capacity

For the purposes of this article, it is assumed that readers work for organizations that already have an LMS or are considering introducing one. LMSs offer the opportunity to leverage Learning and Development activities significantly.

Most LMSs have good technical and functional capability. And, there are reputable content providers who can supply high integrity, relevant content. In fact, many organizations have their own training programs, which can be converted to run solely as an eLearning program or as part of a blended training approach. Again, there are reputable experts to help organizations do this.

However, the content of many LMSs is curated in the way that old fashioned libraries are curated. "The where to start?", is overwhelming and there seems to be so much irrelevant knowledge to trawl through (frustrating cul-de-sacs) to find the gems that will really make a difference on the job, now and in the future. A blended approach to teaching then becomes supplementing or substituting classroom training and other development activities with a "library card" or, in the case of an LMS, a log-in account. Old pedagogics in a smart new delivery system? And, many cannot resist the temptation of offering a plethora of courses, because the LMS makes it easy to do so. This does not constitute a "rich" LMS. In fact, most often "less is more".

L&D must stay focussed to develop the disciplines that will leverage their LMS to create the capacity to build exciting, relevant, customised learning journeys. The analogy below may serve as a reminder of some of the key aspects.

Make it easy for people to take the learning journey, by providing them with clear "route maps", a choice of routes, a choice of vehicles, and, the opportunity to create a travel schedule that suits them. Make it easy to go straight to a specific destination (a learning gem along the way) that may have immediate and specific relevance to them. It goes without saying that we need to help learners to track their journey, recognize their progress and share the insights of their "journey journal" with their learning community.

3. Capability

To build capable learning systems and interventions requires an understanding of the concept of capability. The scope of this article can only provide a brief overview.

The concept of capability is preferred to that of competency. Capability is a concrete concept (founded on knowledge and skill) that is easily understood and can be taught as a key aspect of developing competent performance. Knowledge is key to people being able to apply their mind to tasks, versus just doing them rote. It is the metacognitive ability of human beings that enables the iteration of better ways of doing things. However, it is commitment (the next C to be discussed) that fuels the capability engine to deliver and iterate competent performance.

From a pragmatic perspective and in the context of organizations, sight cannot be lost of the fact that the aim of learning is to improve performance and/or promote improvement in a desirable behavior. To facilitate understanding, a classification of capability based on the desired performance/ behavioral outcomes of specific capability "sets" is proposed. The following " serviette diagram" sketches a framework for discussion.

Each Capability set is classified in terms of outputs, that is, the desirable performance/behavior that these capabilities deliver. As important, is an understanding of where and how each capability set is learned/evolved.

A very brief overview of the four capability sets, proposed, follows:

Fundamental capabilities are the communication, relational and emotional capabilities that enable us to function as competent decent human beings. It is important not to interpret fundamental capabilities as being basic capabilities because these capabilities can be developed to be advanced (complex) capabilities, which really enhance other capabilities, one’s own well-being and that of those around us. Fundamental capabilities are universally important, that is, they are important in all situations, wherever we are and whoever we are with. They are also fundamental to developing other capabilities into sustainable competent performance.

Leadership capabilities are those that enable one to lead oneself, to lead others and to be lead. The most important aspect of leadership capabilities is that of having a well-developed moral compass, based on universally sound ethics and being prepared to stand for these ethics. The words "if you don't stand for something, you will fall for anything" resonate in this regard. Imagine a workplace where employees would "call each other out" for poor behavior. Perhaps then, phenomena such as exclusion, bullying, harassment and workplace politics would be a thing of the past.

Performance capabilities enable us to take appropriate action as required by the situation. Examples of these are; analysing and making decisions; planning and organising; goal setting and implementing; reflecting and evaluating (soliciting feedback, processing feedback, giving feedback, redirecting, summarising and wrapping up).

Professional and technical capabilities are those that enable one to perform professional (for example, accounting functions) and technical roles (for example, engineering functions), as well as management roles (for example, selection skills and performance management). However, technological development is exponential and it is affecting every aspect and most roles in organizations. Therefore, it is vital that organizations understand, share and develop the opportunities that technical advances bring to their organization, with all employees, on an ongoing basis.

There is much healthy debate around the current world-wide technical and soft skills shortage. What seems to be missing in much of the debate is the question of when, how and who should drive the opportunity to develop these skills. In the proposed classification above, soft skills consist of developing fundamental capabilities and basic leadership capabilities, whilst technical skills consist of developing professional and technical capabilities (both specific and general).

So, when, how and who should drive the opportunities to develop these 2 skill sets?

Soft Skills

My experience is that soft skills, for those who are competent, are fairly well developed by the time people enter the world of work. Astute organizations select firstly for these skills, backing themselves to help people develop and iterate the relevant technical skills. Most people spend 12 or more years in a schooling system. This is when they should be given the opportunity to develop the so-called soft skills that will make the world of work, and indeed the world, a better place. The problem is that education systems are the domains of governments and governments are the domains of politicians. And, politicians are generally the worst possible role models for these skills. Think about the behavior of current American and British politicians. If captains of industry behaved in this way, nobody would be prepared to work for their organizations. My point is that until organizations play a meaningful role in directing the requirement for the development of soft skills through the education system, the world is doomed to a soft skill shortage and workplaces and society that reflect this. In the meantime, soft skill needs will vary from organization to organization. Critical incident analysis can help organizations to focus on the soft skill development requirements that will benefit the various areas in their organizations.

Technical Skills

Schooling and tertiary education can develop specific technical skills, but these are then "founded" and iterated by ongoing Learning and Development in the workplace. Tertiary education institutions are reasonably good about assessing the technical knowledge and skills that they need to deliver. However, it is organizations that must embed these skills and iterate them in order to keep up with the opportunities that technological advances bring. Any competent L&D strategy should have this covered as a key component in supporting the organization's strategic and operational plans.

4. Commitment

Commitment is the fuel that drives the capability engine.

It is costly to train employees. Therefore, it is critical to commit them and to hold them accountable for translating learning into appropriate action. There are various ways to do this, so choose those that resonate within your organization. The serviette diagram below suggests that sustainable, competent performance is a function of capability and commitment.

We all have come across people, with an exceptional talent, who could have become exceptional performers (be it in sport, the arts or a profession) but simply haven't, because they weren't committed. Conversely, most of us have witnessed exceptionally committed people who have had to work hard to develop their relatively average capabilities, in order to become exceptional performers.

Commitment and accountability are critical for everyone to translate learning into competent performance. This is without exception. Sadly, for example, I have witnessed a few captains of industry who have attended EQ development programs and shown little or no resulting benefit. They have been able to demonstrate exceptional emotional capability, in terms of subject knowledge, as well as the required skills in role-play situations, in the Learning and Development environment. However, back in the workplace, they continue to behave badly, just because they can. Simply, they are not committed and nobody dares to hold them accountable. This can destroy L&D credibility. The point here is that leadership needs to be committed to L&D and show it by "walking the talk" and being prepared to be held accountable.

5. Sense Of Community For Learners

Learning and trying new things can be daunting. It requires assessment, with open and honest feedback, which for many can be challenging. Developing a sense of community amongst learners can create a support system in which learners experience emotional security, and, where their fear of failure is minimised. Cooperative and collaborative learning groups, with joint projects and case studies, in which learners openly share their insights (and concerns) can be invaluable, especially if facilitated by a skilled Subject Matter Expert. Teaching is cited as an excellent way to learn. Giving learners the opportunity to take turns at leading aspects of learning, again, with the support of Subject Matter Experts, can greatly enhance their insight. These examples, amongst many others, that an established sense of community amongst learners offers, enhances the opportunity for deep learning, through a genuinely shared and blended approach.

The "take out" point is that the value of building a sense of community amongst groups of learners cannot be under-estimated in supporting your L&D strategy.

In Summary

The scope of this article could only cover a high level, broad discussion on using the 5 Cs to ensure a holistic and balanced approach to developing a comprehensive training and development strategy. Each of the Cs is a concrete concept, with important insights that should not be overlooked, and, each C can be measured and developed independently, as required. Attention to any of the Cs represents an opportunity to enhance any L&D strategy effectiveness.