3 Traps Undermining Learning Credibility
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How To Avoid 3 Traps That Undermine Learning Credibility

Right now you're probably exclaiming, "That's not me! I'm never desperate enough to act in a rash manner". Chances are, you probably have acted in desperation without realizing it. Don't feel bad. It's a natural reaction especially when someone asks us to demonstrate validity for something we've done.

The issue is how you respond to the question, 'what has learning done for us lately?'. The go-to response for learning practitioners is the, 'here's what they learned'. Granted, you were hired to get people to learn, but in reality, it's not the result leaders expect from you. It's never about learning. Learning is simply a means to get people to actually DO something and to do it better than they did before.

But how do we do this? In a desperate attempt to superficially prove learning accountability, practitioners attempt to connect to financial outcomes. They believe this is what operational leaders expect to see. Moving in this direction, however, is one trap you've set for yourself and then you willingly walk into.

Instinctively, demonstrating financial accountability for learning sounds good and seems to feel right. Regretfully, confusion and misunderstanding remain about how financial accountability applies to learning and its associated learning investments. There are 'traps' you need to watch for:

First, Your Learning Efforts NEVER Directly Correlate To Financial Results

Unfortunately, 'training ROI' continues to mislead practitioners into believing that financial accountability is the Holy Grail to prove learning delivers value. Well, take it from a CPA, it isn't, however, it continues to undermine credibility with operational leaders.

Learning is an operational support activity, not an investment... a support activity! Rarely is there ever a direct correlation between the support learning offers and operational financial results. This is because all support activities are cost centers. This isn't a bad thing.

A cost center adds value through its allocated budget whereas a profit center is expected to use its budget to produce profits. A cost center, like learning, doesn't directly impact financial results although there may be a causal relationship as defined by financial and accounting rules. Its financial outcomes are not about being profitable, like training ROI makes you believe, but rather, how well you apply available resources to support operational outcomes.

Second, STOP Trying To Be Everything To Everyone

This is another common trap practitioners fall into to gain favor with leaders. Your objective is to focus on the right things, and then do them right. Focusing on the right things requires addressing what's relevant to move the organization toward its objectives. Then appropriately accommodate the learning design to these needs so it doesn't interfere with operations and engages people to want what you offer.

If you don't know where to focus, begin with your organization's mission. It defines exactly why it exists and is the only objective that counts. Deconstructing the mission will lead you to discover the precise operational areas to address.

Once identified, get out of your office, and speak with the operational leaders and employees. Learn about their business and performance expectations. Engage with them and be seen as a proactive operational partner rather than waiting for them to come to you. They may not need you now but when the time comes, you'll be in a position to focus on what's relevant (the right things) for their success.

Third, Recognize What Is A Learning Investment (According To Your Leaders)

Another common pitfall practitioners make is attempting to explain qualitative and financial value for their learning investment. Why is this relevant? Many fail to realize the distinction leaders place between the expense for training and the investment for learning infrastructure.

You may believe you have no role deciding such things but in reality, you have and you do. Consider a time when you came across interesting learning technology believing it would improve your learning efforts. Without thought, you attempt to convince decision-makers to purchase it without consideration about how to acquire the asset and the expected value it will contribute over its useful life. As a result, they rejected your proposal.

Your leaders consider learning infrastructure requirements, like an LMS, eLearning software, Virtual Reality equipment, and even computers/tablets, as capital expenditures (CapEx). For leaders, these capital expenditures are tangible investments and must demonstrate business value over the life of the asset, which is usually for multiple years.

You don't need to know how this is done, however, you must appreciate how decision-makers evaluate your proposed requirements. It begins with a proper business case through a cost-benefit analysis. Your proposal must explain and balance qualitative benefits in relation to the financial requirements. It should show how the tool/technology will deliver future effectiveness for the organization through its use and over time. If you don't know how to do this, then make friends with someone in the finance team to help you out.

Now you're asking yourself, why do I need to know any of this? Well, you don't really need to know any of this and continue to proceed as you've always had. But ask yourself... how successful have you been? Or, think back to a moment when your request received the proverbial eye-roll from decision-makers? Chances are it's because you walked into one of these common traps.

Don't despair; don't act in a rash manner; be rational and respect the business requirement your leaders expect learning to deliver.

Please, share your thoughts and feedback with us. We’d enjoy hearing about your efforts, and who knows? It may be the topic of our next eLearning Industry article. Also, please check out our LinkedIn Learning courses to learn more about developing your business credibility for your learning efforts. And please share your thoughts with me on Twitter. Remember, #alwaysbelearning!

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