Should we make our learning programs mandatory? It’s not surprising that this one single question tends to dominate when organizations are considering formal learning for their workforce.
Let’s face it – formal learning can be expensive and time consuming so organizations expect certain assurances that if they spend the time and money to deliver a learning program, they are going to get a good outcome.
Mandating a learning program is certainly part of the discussion. Making participation voluntary can, in many instances, lead to slow uptake. On the other hand, mandatory participation can place a huge burden on participants, especially when lumped on top of regular duties.
However, far too many organizations spend way too much time worrying about whether to make the program mandatory. So much so, that they never get down to the hard work of actually building the L&D program itself.
For L&D programs to be successful, they must make substantial, measurable contributions to their organization’s business strategy. In other words, the learning must connect to the current challenges facing the business. This may seem like a fairly obvious point, but far too many organizations launch L&D programs without connecting them to current business challenges.
Before getting around to the issue of whether to make learning mandatory, there are other questions that must be asked. First and foremost, ‘What’s driving the need for more learning?’
You need to create purpose to paycheck awareness and support the participation of the managers of the participants so that everyone understands that learning is a critical part of everyone’s job.
Where to start? There are several important steps that need to be taken to create that awareness and ensure that any L&D initiative is directly connected to business strategy.
- Investigate, validate, and document it. Although it may be hard to believe, many organizations unleash a learning program without identifying the reasons why a program is needed and what the scope of the program will be. Is the audience geographically dispersed? How many participants will be telecommuters and need a virtual solution? What is the generational audience like and appetite for the use of technology? How will learning be embedded and sustained in the organization? These are your key drivers and they must be identified up front.
- Map it. What is the current state of learning among your employee population, and where would you like them to end up? Many organizations forget to clearly identify the starting point. As a result, it becomes difficult to tell just how effective an L&D program has been. It’s a bit like using MapQuest; a properly designed learning program includes directions on how to get from here (current state) to there (the end state).
- Promote it. At this stage, leadership has to show its support for learning. It’s not enough just to offer a program. Regardless of whether the learning is mandated or not, your people will want to know not only why they are doing it, but that it is a priority at the highest levels of the organization. Engage senior leaders in the preparation and on-going support of the initiative. This will help establish expectations, engagement, and accountability and drive many of your people into the learning program.
- Develop and implement it. Congratulations – you’ve finally arrived at the point where you can knowledgeably discuss issues like mandating. You know whom you want to train, and what you want them to learn. Now, you can investigate implementation concerns. How much time will each employee need to complete the training? How will work be shared while people are on course? Are mid-level managers supporting those who are occupied with learning? Anticipating and defusing these practical concerns will help ensure a good outcome.
- Derail the ‘Derailers.’ This is where you can address the “What’s-in-it-for-me?” dynamic. Every learning program, whether mandated or not, has a “derailer” constituency – people who resent having to take time for learning, and disrupt the L&D program for others. These folks clearly do not realize that the things most employees value – opportunities for advancement, more responsibility, better pay and benefits – are accessible through L&D. Make participants fully accountable for their participation, and tell them in direct terms how important the L&D is to the organization’s business plan and their future. Derailers will find much less support in the room.
- Document it. It’s not enough for people to complete an L&D program. You need to take some time at the end to ensure the knowledge you wanted to impart actually ended up in the desired location. Remember your road map? This last stage is where you learn what you did right, what went wrong, and what you need to do next time to keep the learning ball rolling.
It’s not necessary to dwell on the issue of whether to mandate learning programs if you follow these logical steps. Learning should energize your people, not be a burden in any sense of the word.
Fortunately, a properly conceived, mapped, promoted, implemented, and documented L&D program will draw plenty of interest from your workforce. In essence, it will market itself.
If you have addressed all six components above you will be well on the way to cultivating a positive and consistent learning culture.
Not only that, you will be in a position to discuss the issue of mandating with the comfort of knowing you have an effective program to deliver.