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How high-impact learning dramatically improves profit growth

How high-impact learning dramatically improves profit growth

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Companies that focused on high-impact learning delivered profit growth three times greater than their competitors. A powerful statement made in a recent research paper by Bersin. And what made that growth possible? Organisations with employees who are equipped to adapt to a fast-paced environment, ultimately perform better than organisations that have outdated learning programmes.

So, what is high-impact learning?

According to Bersin, when it comes to learning, impact is made up of three specific elements:

  • Efficiency. The ability to effectively use the resources available.
  • Effectiveness. The impact that learning and development is making.
  • Alignment. The ability to quickly align work effort with prioritised business objectives.

Put plainly, using what you already have to ensure that employees are equipped with the skills that have the highest probability of delivering on the important goals.

Learning Maturity

Bersin divides companies into four levels of maturity according to their Learning and Development (L&D) function. Briefly, these levels are defined as follows:

Level 1 – Incidental Training: this is the ‘how to do your job’ training that most employees receive when they start. It’s informal and unstructured but important. Most often it doesn’t involve an L&D team.

Level 2 – Training and Development Excellence: this is formal training with a structure, standardised across the organisation. It usually involves an L&D team (varying sizes).

Level 3 – Talent and Performance Improvement: this is where an organisation defines training by role and career development, and creates specialised learning driven by functional performance and talent. It can involve L&D teams dedicated to specific departments.

Level 4 – Capability Development: this is where an organisation assesses its entire operation and develops training that improves company-wide performance. It involves understanding the roles of each employee to develop various types of learning designed to improve overall performance, based on specific business goals.

Companies that perform consistently across industries are usually on the fourth level.

Focused Learning

Companies that focused on high-impact learning delivered profit growth three times greater than their competitors.

Moving a business from level one to level four involves more than just creating an L&D department, or moving away from traditional methodologies. While it may involve the implementation (or adaption) of various technologies, techniques, programmes and methodologies, at the core, it’s about changing the approach to learning, entirely. It’s about weaving learning into the culture of an organisation and leveraging it to achieve goals. It’s the move from reactive learning to proactive learning.

To achieve this, an organisation has to be assessed as an entity with interdependent parts, rather than trying to silo training to individuals. Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, calls it a ‘Zero to One’ jump. It’s looking at reworking the model, rather than just improving segments.

In his book, ‘Zero to One’, he mentions the difference between improving keys on a typewriter and inventing in a word processor. The latter is a zero to one jump.

Data Management and Alignment

Unfortunately, this step forward in learning demands more data than the usual attendance and completion rates. When one takes an honest look at what attendance and completion actually tells us, one sees that it has very little to do with effectiveness, efficiency or alignment.

Focusing on completion and attendance can be likened to launching a boat out to see without a destination. One can measure the speed of the boat, or even how well it handles waves, but ultimately it lacks an inherent purpose. Who cares how fast the boat is going or how well it manages to deal with storms if it has nowhere to go?

This is where alignment comes in. According to the same Bersin research paper, only 14% of L&D departments felt that they were fully aligned with the top business executives. Think about that for a second. 86% of companies surveyed were giving their employees training that was partially – in some cases fully – misaligned with the direction of the business.

The problem? Measurement. And it’s not necessarily the lack of measurement. It’s measuring the right things. This means measuring what the employees did with the training they received and ensuring that the change – whatever it is – is aligned with business objectives.

The beauty of this kind of data means that you can make informed decisions about how the company operates. This is in stark contrast to measuring whether an employee attended a course or not.

Feedback Loops

Another fundamental element of high-impact learning is improving the learning itself. This is achieved with feedback loops. Although there are many types of feedback loops, and various applications, at the core, feedback loops are about optimisation.

Feedback loops are effective because they are used to actively direct informed changes in a system. Once an initial strategy is developed and implemented, the results are then assessed and used to improve the initial strategy as well as its implementation – highlighting the importance of accurate data collection once more.

The modern world is progressing at a blistering rate. This inherently increases the need for learning in general. It also increases the need for learning to adapt and improve. Organisations that have identified that need and have begun changing their approach to learning in order to meet it, are the organisations that are more likely to improve profit growth. Profit is the ticket to existing.
This is a learning revolution. Evolution takes too long.


Measuring What Matters – Webinar
Measuring What Matters – Blog
Best-Practices of a High-Impact Learning Organization

Author: Kyle Hauptfleisch

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