On the Sofa with Natalie Usher: The Importance of a Learning and Development Strategy and How to Successfully Build One
SHL’s Natalie Usher talks about the key challenges to learning and development strategy and what to consider when building one.
In this second of this series of blogs where we speak with HR Leaders within SHL, we hear from Natalie Usher, Head of Learning and Development on key areas to consider when implementing an L&D strategy and the role of L&D in onboarding and mobility.
Can you tell us a bit about your role as part of SHL’s HR Team?
I head up the Learning and Development team here at SHL. At a high level, that is defining the learning strategy for the business, ensuring it is aligned with the business objectives and supports our strategic goals. More specifically, it includes everything from inductions and onboarding, performance management, employee engagement, and designing and running training and development programs for all employees across all departments and global offices.
Why is learning and development an important function for businesses?
Learning and development is proven to help keep employees engaged and motivated, improve productivity, and enable mobility, benefiting both the individual and the business.
There has been a lot written about the new world of work and how it is changing and for me, that is why L&D is even more important. One of my favorite quotes is “In times of change, learners inherit the earth while the others find themselves equipped to deal with the world that no longer exists.”(Eric Hoffer).
For me, this really sums up the importance of agility and that learning a specific skill might be useful for today, but fostering a learning culture so your talent can naturally adapt to whatever the future holds, and course correct naturally is so much more valuable. Having that learning culture and building those learning habits like asking for feedback, learning from peers, and using your own initiative is going to serve you in the long run.
What are the key areas and challenges to consider when implementing a successful learning and development strategy?
Each organization is different and has different constraints and goals but generally, there are always similar themes and challenges to consider when it comes to implementing L&D strategies or programs.
Understanding and prioritizing business needs
We get all sorts of requests from across the business that stakeholders feel their teams need. However, due to practicality and budget and resource constraints, we must take an organization-wide approach to decision-making, so prioritization is key.
It is important to understand what need it fills and how it is aligned with business goals. We think about the recurring themes that we are hearing, and what can we do for the majority that will have the greatest impact. We also have discussions with business leads and our HR Business Partners to gauge appetite across the whole business to ensure that anything we implement will have a good uptake.
Data makes decision-making so much easier. If you know developmental gaps across teams or individuals, then you can find the right tools or solutions to fit rather than making assumptions about needs and what might be impactful.
SHL tools and solutions can help us see competencies and skills across any segment of our business, allowing us to identify gaps and needs, so we can target the right learning and development in the right areas.
At an individual level, our OPQ assessment can provide individuals and their managers with specific information on their development needs allowing them to create a tailored development plan aligned with their learning goals.
Engage stakeholders and communicate effectively
It is very easy to think we know what is best, but nothing can replicate that involvement or inclusion of the people using the solution.
Our manager communities are key to everything we do in L&D as we need them to champion our programs and initiatives to get their teams engaged and using what is implemented. It is important to explain the reasoning behind decisions, so managers are aware of the benefits to them and their team, and working closely with them helps confirm what we are doing is relevant and impactful.
We always try to involve the end users too as these programs are for them, so it is important to get their feedback. Sometimes we will pilot a program with a smaller group first and then scale it globally, allowing participants to give input before the program is launched.
Putting some effort into how you communicate new programs and initiatives is always worthwhile, it is almost like you are selling internally. The best program can fail if you do not communicate its benefits effectively.
Learning and development are proven to help keep employees engaged and motivated, improve productivity, and enable mobility, benefiting both the individual and the business.
A common pushback everyone in my field hears is ‘I don’t have time for learning’ and learning always tends to be deprioritized when other competing priorities come in. We know teams are busy, but we need to challenge the more traditional view of learning.
We have a 70/20/10 rule in learning where 70% is learning on the job, 20% is learning from peers and 10% is formal training. When people think of L&D, it is very much formal training that comes to mind, so it is about educating them that it is more about how that training is used and applied. Learning is also about trying to get people to think differently—for example asking a question to a colleague about how to do something better.
It is important to change not only the mindset of employees but also managers, so managers can reinforce the importance of learning to their teams. How learning is perceived makes a big difference—it should be enjoyable and beneficial and then that naturally leads to higher attendances and uptake.
As with all projects, it is important to measure the success of what we do to ensure a return on investment.
I like to attend or take part in training myself so I get a feel of how it feels from the employee’s perspective and get direct feedback on how useful it was so we can tweak what we are doing to make it more effective.
At SHL, we have various surveys for new hires to monitor onboarding experiences and after any training session or learning programs. Along with that, there is data-driven reporting from our learning systems which allows us to track usage metrics, attendance, etc., so together we can get an accurate picture of what is working, what can improve, and what engagement is like.
Onboarding and mobility are both important cross-functional efforts–could you tell us how learning & development supports these at SHL?
Onboarding provides an opportunity to give that first impression of what learning and development mean to us as an organization. It is a chance for us to show new employees that we value them and that investing in their development and their careers is important to us.
We also have the advantage of using our own solutions and assessments when hiring so we know the data that is available for candidates. Successful hires are provided reports highlighting lots of useful information such as motivators and demotivators, areas of strength and development, and learning styles. That employee’s line manager also has this information to help onboard that person quickly and personalize the development using the insights that they have.
Mobility is about enabling employees to move around the organization, and we want people to realize there are opportunities laterally as well as upward.
Our close alignment with business strategy gives us a view of whether we are growing or need certain skills in a team so we can run skills audits, identify high potentials, and find talent segments where we can target learning and development. We then work with HR Business Partners to look at the insights and see what L&D interventions could be useful to achieve that more quickly and cost-effectively than hiring externally.
We also have inclusion targets, and that inclusion is not just looking at the general diversity of our employee group versus the market for that country, but also looking at the diversity of the upper levels. Our Inclusion team, in partnership with L&D and representatives from across the business, has created a new future leader program to focus on individuals from underrepresented groups and help us grow diverse talent through the business.
Finally, what are your thoughts on mandatory vs. optional training?
Some mandatory learning is unavoidable for businesses, for example around compliance or legal, but generally, I struggle with making things mandatory as I want people to participate because they want to not because they must.
In addition, I do not see value in making every employee sit through hours of training that might not be relevant to their role or aspirations. Learning must be relevant and done at the right time—there is no point doing Excel training for example, if you are not going to be using Excel for 6 months as it would likely be forgotten by the time it comes to applying it.
Part of my responsibility is to help make that learning appealing and prove it to be beneficial so that they make time to do it and want to do it.
Are you an HR leader looking to create more agility or develop your workforce? Speak with us to find out how our talent management solutions can help get talent insights to identify competencies across your organization, engage employees and mobilize your workforce.