5 Ways to Make Training a Competitive Advantage
Feature Story – By Steve Boller
What differentiates your organization in the marketplace? Is it an industry-leading treatment, a broad portfolio of treatments in different categories, a strong acquisition strategy or perhaps a combination of these?
No matter what assets or strategies set an organization apart, its potential rests in its people. And for people to do their best work and execute business strategy, well-designed, strategically aligned training and performance support is essential. In Deloitte’s 2019 Global Human Capital Trends survey, which polled nearly 10,000 respondents in 119 countries, 86 percent of respondents said they need to reinvent the way people in their organization learn. This was the No. 1 response category.
As globalization, automation, artificial intelligence and other market forces accelerate, the ability to learn and upskill rapidly will become an even more desirable competitive advantage. As a learning professional, I’m sure you’re on board. But what about the rest of your organization? In that same Deloitte survey, only 46 percent said their organizations were ready and positioned to make the necessary changes.
Far too often, the following things happen at life sciences organizations:
- Quarterly results come back lower than expected, so stakeholders cut the budget in half for the next national sales meeting or plan-of-action meeting. Instead of seeing the training component of national meeting as an opportunity to drive new value, training is viewed as another line item on the budget. It is not perceived as an activity that will drive a real return on investment.
- Compliance and regulatory training are treated like a “check the box” exercise. This leads to solutions that meet the bare minimum requirement but don’t help employees do their jobs better.
- Trainers who create offerings for customers, healthcare providers and patients do not truly know their target audience’s needs and preferences. Assumptions prove to be inaccurate, and the training fails to hit the mark.
These challenges are not unique to any one organization, and they are certainly not insurmountable. In fact, many training leaders (including many members of LTEN) have made learner-focused, results-driven training offerings one of their organizations’ competitive advantages.
Whether you are seeking to establish a performance-focused learning culture at your organization or simply give it a refresh, consider the following ideas:
1. Identify Value Creation Opportunities
It would be a mistake to attribute a business outcome like increased sales to training alone. Too many other business activities contribute. But that doesn’t mean training leaders can’t partner with the business to align their activities with key objectives. Training interventions should be driven by a business need, even if training alone can’t fix the issue. Here are a few examples:
- A key drug is losing market share.
- It is expensive and complicated to fly employees in for live training events.
- Customers are placing too many calls to the support center after their new lab equipment is installed.
- A series of new product launches are planned that an existing sales force must support.
Far too many training interventions are planned without consulting the target learners.
2. Ask ‘Why?’ and Look for Problems Training Can (and Cannot) Solve
Training and performance support are obviously just a small piece of a much bigger puzzle. But that does not mean they cannot make a meaningful impact on the bottom line. Take any value creation opportunities you have identified and look for aspects of them that could be impacted by your training strategy:
- A key drug is losing market share, because it is now in the P2 position (training cannot impact) and physicians do not understand its novel method of action compared to other treatments in the category (training can impact).
- Live training events are expensive, and some add a lot of value when held in person (this expense stays) but others would be much more effective as online learning courses (training can impact).
- Your support center call volume is too high, because customers were not properly trained and supported (training can impact).
- Sales reps struggle to prioritize new products because they do not understand how doing so will positively impact patients, their customers, and themselves and they do not have the prerequisite knowledge (training can definitely impact this!).
3. Talk to your target learners
Far too many training interventions are planned without consulting the target learners they are designed for. Just as marketing and product development professionals obsess over “voice of the customer,” learning professionals must focus on “voice of the learner.” Designing thinking tools such as empathy maps, journey maps, and learner personas make this easier to do. Surveys, focus groups, and interviews are often critical information-gathering tools as well.
4. Use evidence-based adult learning principles as a foundation
Once you’ve identified value creation opportunities where training can make an impact and let your learners (not your stakeholders) guide what the right solution will look and feel like, it’s time to create the solution itself.
Your subject matter efforts will find it tempting to focus on everything they want to tell people. It’s your role to focus on what people need to do differently after completing the training, then ensure the solution is designed using sound user experience design (UXD) and adult learning principles as a guide. Your external partners, and organizations such as LTEN and the Association for Talent Development (ATD), are a fantastic resource if you are new to the learning space.
5. Create a measurement strategy and continuously improve
A well-crafted measurement strategy is essential to building the business case for future training interventions and identifying opportunities for future improvement.
Many training professionals are familiar with the Kirkpatrick-Katzell model and its
four levels for evaluating the effectiveness of learning interventions. A newer model, Dr. Will Thalheimer’s Learning-Transfer Evaluation Model, builds on the Kirkpatrick-Katzell framework with a focus on learners’ task competence and decision-making competence. After training is complete, you should be able to identify how effectively sales reps can make X decision or how well customers can perform Y task.
Your learning transfer metrics should show a strong correlation to the effects of learning transfer, i.e. the business outcomes. While other non-training activities obviously play a role, a measurement strategy that goes beyond whether or not learners liked the training can help tell a more compelling, accurate story.
Steve Boller is a senior solutions consultant Bottom-Line Performance, powered by TiER1 Performance. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org