"My Training Budget Was Cut!" And You Deserved It!
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Why You Probably Deserved It When Your Training Budget Was Cut

This may be difficult for learning practitioners to grasp, but it appears that learning expectations and business thinking are starting to align. Believe it or not, your business leaders are embracing the need for more employee development. You’re probably saying “well, that’s funny, because my training budget was cut!". I hate to say, but you probably deserved it; because the reason they would do this is if learning didn't address business needs.

Now you’re saying “that’s an awful thing to say!”. It is and it isn’t. The reality is that they cut your budget only because you didn’t deliver relevant value. Now you’re screaming “but they told us to develop training and we did! It’s not our fault that it didn’t take?”. Regretfully, it's your fault.

Rather, the questions you should be asking are “why didn’t we address business needs?” and “how do we add value and to become relevant?”. The answer to these questions is both simple and complex. Let's see how to deliver and derive business value from your learning efforts.

1. Get To Know Your Business's Business!

Lets address the simple answer first. Every organization has something leaders refer to as a value chain. A value chain illustrates the value a company creates and captures from sourcing resources (e.g. raw materials) to completing the end product or service less the cost to produce; this is the organization’s profit margin. The more value an organization creates, the more profitable it is becomes. Leading Harvard Strategist, Michael Porter, first introduced this concept in his influential 1985 book "Competitive Advantage”.

Now you’re saying “thanks for the business lesson, but so what? What does this have to do with learning?”. The answer is everything if you don’t want to see another budget cut.

First, study your organization’s value chain and identify the primary business activities that add value. Your objective is to target the skills that relate to these value-chain activities. Then, your proposed learning efforts must improve upon them (this may be through efficiencies, profitability, or growth).

2. Time To Cut The Fat From Learning

The more complex answer to your questions is to make learning lean. “Lean” has grown in popularity with trends like lean production, lean analytics, and lean start-up. Most people within cost-center functions, like Learning and Development, shudder when business leaders say ‘lean’. Why? Because lean often equates to cost reductions and budget cuts. This is a natural reaction as it originates form asking a butcher to 'trim the fat' (another common business phrase).

Experienced Lean practitioners, however, never use Lean as a cost cutting approach. Rather, it's an opportunity to reallocate and make more effective use of scarce resources. Toyota, for example (the company that initiated lean manufacturing principles), eliminates waste by reallocating their resources to activities that create the most value. Furthermore, they leverage Lean to capture precise, not all, learning opportunities.

Learning is not an after-thought for Toyota. It's integrative within and throughout the production and delivery processes. This gives Toyota plentiful opportunities to develop more innovative, quality-driven offerings.

3. Lean... Not Just For Manufacturing Anymore!

Many associate Lean to manufacturing environments. This is not the case. Lean applies to any business process that drives integrative learning. Think about the leading organizations around the world. Chances are they lead in their market results form applying Lean principles while effectively leveraging their knowledge capital.

These organizations don't whine about losing resources. They make best use of what's available to achieve the business need. Do you actually believe that Toyota's learning group ask, “why are they cutting my budget?” No they don't. They probably ask themselves, “how do we create more learning value with available resources?” and “what are we doing that doesn’t add value to the learning process/function?”

It's obvious how learning departments within these organizations act proactively rather than reactively. Business leaders expect Lean learning thinking. This flips the learning paradigm getting employees to ‘pull’ learning into their responsibilities rather than having to 'push' learning on to them.

"It'll Never Work Here!"

You may now be saying “good for these companies, but that will never work here”. You may be right. To do this requires a cultural shift. It begins with business leaders recognizing how knowledge contributes to increasing business value. But it's a two-way street. Learning practitioners must also demonstrate that learning can actually add value to get them to change perspective. You can sit back hoping business leaders have a change of heart or, you be proactive like your Toyota colleagues.

Keep things simple. Identify your organization’s primary value creation activities. Then, target areas requiring precise learning interventions (working closely with business unit stakeholders). Finally, develop Lean learning interactions that minimize work disruptions and maximizes available resources.

These first steps you take will gain your business leader's attention and lead you toward becoming a lean learning practitioner. One thing for certain, you won't ever have to ask “why are they cutting my budget?”.

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