Extreme Makeover: Learning Edition

By Marina Theodotou

In “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” William Shakespeare wrote, “Though she be but little, she is fierce.” The same could go for any company’s learning department — as long as it secures its role in the business.

One of the key challenges that learning organizations face today is getting a seat at the decision table. The learning and development challenge is to demonstrate impact on business performance, and transformation is one of the 10 global human capital trends in 2015, according to Deloitte.

But a successful L&D transformation often requires a move to business performance partner from training order-taker.

This is exactly what financial technology solutions and services company Connecticut Online Computer Center did between 2010 and 2015. In 2009 as the organization began to look more closely at overall business results, it recognized that learning and development could be a key differentiator in business performance.

Until then, the company’s learning organization — made of two employees — lacked a learning strategy, specific goals and metrics. It implemented several one-off training classes but was unable to quantify business impact.

“The feedback we received from the ‘Best Place to Work’ surveys showed that we were falling short of expectations,” said Steve Guglietta, learning and development manager. “We took a hard look at the organization and realized our challenge was to answer three key questions: One, what are we doing to improve business performance? Two, how do we build a strong L&D strategy? Three, how do we execute on that strategy?”

First, the company conducted an assessment to identify key L&D needs: a customer service excellence focus, multigenerational communication and leadership. Then, the company prioritized the most important areas to support business operations and proposed an L&D program strategy for technical and soft-skills training.

Next, the learning team built a business case for the necessary budget, sought a champion and secured organizational commitment to execute. Based on the needs assessment results and armed with a budget and the CEO’s support, Guglietta worked with the American Management Association, a global learning and development organization to facilitate the transformation and gain a necessary outside perspective.

The partnership resulted in more than 40 customized, multisession learning programs focusing on customer service excellence, leadership and management, interpersonal effectiveness and communication skills. During the past five years, more than 400 employees have participated in the company’s learning programs, including the CEO.

One of the programs, “What it Takes to Lead at COCC,” incorporates the company’s vision, mission and core values in a unique leadership program where managers and employees jointly defined communication and implementation for their respective responsibilities. Key learning and development metrics include participant training hours, business performance and customer satisfaction. Participants have been receptive to the interactive, hands-on learning options and confirm they are better equipped to do their jobs.

For organizations looking to execute a similar transformation, COCC has several learning lessons other organizations can adopt, no matter how small the L&D departments:

1. Forge a trusted partnership with the right organization to get expertise, guidance and support.

2. Use a baseline needs assessment to pinpoint where the organization is and where it wants go. Draft an L&D strategy and budget to get there.

3. Secure a C-suite champion and organizational commitment.

4. Set metrics and track impact on business performance.

COCC also has merged its L&D and recruitment functions. “This was a calculated move to increase our reach and affect prospect employees before they even walk through our doors,” Guglietta said.

Via an online newsletter, COCC communicates learning initiatives, employee survey results and tips and tools for continuous learning across the organization. The newsletter also lists accolades earned. Every year since 2011, COCC has been recognized as a “Top Work Place” by the Hartford Courant and FoxCT. In addition, COCC was named “A Best Place to Work” in Connecticut in 2013, 2014 and 2015 by The Hartford Business Journal.

This is proof positive that even small L&D teams can transform into business partners with the right vision, action and results.

Reprinted from Chief Learning Officer

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