Lessons in leveraging L&D

Attraction and retention of staff is now the major concern of HR professionals. Learning and development programs, writes Melissa Yen, are thus a key tool in ensuring that talented staff remain with the company

Attraction and retention of staff is now the major concern of HR professionals. Learning and development programs, writes Melissa Yen, are thus a key tool in ensuring that talented staff remain with the company

As the battle for skilled workers intensifies, retaining talent has become a major concern for HR departments. “Attracting suitable staff, developing and retaining them, and enhancing their productivity are the highest priorities,” according to Nicole Isaacs, regional director of Hays Human Resources. “There is a constant pressure to retain and develop existing staff in order to avoid the costs incurred by losing staff,” Isaacs says.

“As employers aim to engage employees for the long term, we anticipate a continued move from transactional HR to ‘learning and development focused HR’,” she says. “This has resulted in a real need for those with organisational development, talent management, and leadership development expertise.”

One of the main reasons learning and development programs fail is that HR is unable to communicate with executive management in a clear and effective way, according to Kevin Oakes, California-based chair elect of the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD). “Learning professionals need to synthesise the benefits of learning, whether technology-led or not, and talk about them in terms of tangible business benefits,”he says. “These benefits should always focus on four core items, showing how learning will: (1) increase revenue; (2) help reduce operating expenses; (3) improve customer satisfaction; and (4) shorten time to market.”

One of the major training issues that HR and training professionals face today is return on investment, says Glenn Martin, national president of the Australian Institute of Training and Development. “We find that what HR and training professionals are really concerned about is the broader question of whether training contributes effectively to employee performance and the organisation’s business.”

“Your training budget needs to reflect the needs of the business,” says Ruzika Soldo, L&D manager for advice-based distribution at AMP. “The L&D investment must build the capability required to deliver on the business strategy, rather than following some formula that gives a dollar figure per person. In order to build a budget that will effectively manage the learning needs of your organisation, you need to assess current skill levels, discuss future career needs and prepare sound individualised development plans. It is not unusual that training for high performers is under-estimated, because they are working well and the investment required to get them to the next step can be quite substantial.”

Leadership training, and particularly training around people skills, has become critical – it’s no longer enough merely to pull a leadership course off the shelf and enroll a few managers. In order to obtain the most effective results, managers and their organisation’s working culture need to reflect and support lessons learnt.

Technology has played a pivotal role in many learning and development strategies over the past five years. The advent of e-learning, for example, has demonstrated that cost-effective results can be achieved through computer-based training programs. “Whereas the primary option for training used to be classroom instruction, HR and training professionals now have to decide between that and online learning, coaching, mentoring and blended learning,” says Martin. HR professionals, he adds, must now consider factors such as the set-up and maintenance costs of online learning versus the ongoing costs of classroom sessions. “The choices for delivery of training have expanded enormously, and an understanding of how the whole training-learning-performance system works is essential if HR and training professionals are to do their job well,” he says.

Learning and development can only continue to evolve successfully as a business strategy if HR and training professionals develop the range of skills and knowledge required to be nimble, relevant, imaginative and business-focused. A “systems understanding of behaviour and culture” will ultimately see the success of training and development, Martin says.

At the leading edge of recruitment

In the past, the profession that was on the leading edge of recruiting was baseball, according to Todd Raphael, editor in chief of the US-based Electronic Recruiting Exchange. "Employers (players) were measured in every way imaginable. Scouts scoured the globe for talent. Executives made complex trades to boost their own organisations and make competitors suffer," he says. "Other industries lagged recruiting sophistication - not because talent was less important, but because it was harder to measure and companies were less aware of the difference in value between one employee and the next. Now, however, other industries are becoming more like baseball. They're paying people more based on worth; they're hiring people (especially in the tech field) to hurt competitors; they're scouring the talent for the best available talent."

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