April 5, 2017
4 Ways to Kickstart Your Learning & Development Program

Let’s face it, Learning and Development (L&D) can feel like “the arts” program of your current organization—underfunded and undervalued. However, the return on investment (ROI) for that “fluff” might be greater than you think. 87% of millennials say development is important in a job and deem it one of the top three factors when it comes to retention. Large and small companies are turning an eye to programs that focus on engaging their employees. According to the 2017 Workplace Learning Report, 80% of L&D professionals agree that developing employees is top-of-mind for the executive team.

Why? Because your people care if you take a genuine interest in their futures.

Learning is in the DNA of smart, successful people and they will expect it as part of their job. The good news is that despite team size or budget, creating a learning culture and providing opportunities for employees to grow can be easier than you think. 

Here are four things any L&D professional can start doing today to gain momentum.

Shift the mindset from “company cost” to “company investment.”

Be clear on the value your programs bring to the organization. Learning and Development programs are a tough sell even when you are on the inside. When budgets are tight, L&D can seem like a nice-to-have vs. a value-add. It’s important for you to find ways to measure your contributions and get comfortable with data. Ask yourself: “how do I quantify sharper skills, better attitudes, and increased performance?” Find a way to map some monetary value to your contributions.

Be sure to analyze your programs incrementally. Surveys are important, both before and after a program launches. Make them brief to increase participation and stay consistent to create comparable data. Decide what metrics senior leadership is focused on and tailor your questions to collect data. For starters, they’ll want to know who’s involved so attendance and participation matter. Second, they’ll want to know how this affects organizational changes, so track promotion and attrition rates to build your case. Lastly, of course, always highlight any way you’ve managed to reduce costs. Even if it’s saving a few hundred dollars at your next company happy hour. Cheap beer is still beer, right?

Find your conduits into the business.

Internal allies are essential. I cannot express how critical it is to thread yourself into all areas of the business and build a robust network. For one, it gives you a clearer picture of what teams need, and it helps gain momentum about what you’re delivering.

For example, every person on the sales team may benefit from a workshop on negotiations, but will they prioritize it? Your network can help. Pinpoint people who can act as a champion for your programs. Have them talk about why your program is important. Ask them to deliver a pitch at the next department meeting or allow you to have the floor for a few minutes. Just getting on the agenda speaks volumes and does a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to getting employees excited to participate.

When I want something to really show up on everyone’s radar, I get a senior leadership bought in. If you don’t have direct access to the C-suite, work your way up the chain until your message reaches the right person and they take interest.

Ignite a brand.

Everyone recognizes the power of shiny things. My advice is to make Learning and Development shiny through creative marketing. For starters, use consistent logos, icons, and color schemes to help employees recognize who you are and what you offer. Then, draw them in with fun, provocative, titles for your sessions and be specific about what employees can gain from attending. Let’s be real, no one wants to attend another “seminar” but creative naming conventions work! We once renamed a women’s event to “The Cigar Room” and hit capacity. Beyond the title, do what you can to spice up descriptions. You’ll hook people who are looking for tangible results.

If you are struggling with attendance, consider branded gear and giveaways as rewards for participation. If you’re up against zero budget for “employee swag,” you’ve got to be resourceful—how about lunch with the CEO?

Decide how you’ll get people talking about all the fun going on in L&D and what they’re missing out if they don’t get involved.  

Something is better than nothing.

I would advise starting small and not over-orchestrating L&D. Having regular offerings throughout the year is more important than having one perfect session. You will learn more about what employees want from delivering more. Making sure you have consistent offerings and sharing those through regular communication will help you stay top-of-mind and keep people engaged.

Consistent offerings don’t have to come with a hefty price tag. Low-cost options can be less work and appeal to a broader group. Encourage employees to get involved by hosting Lunch & Learns or joining an internal panel. Create a centralized place to post what networking events are happening in your region each month. Even if it’s outside your company, this will help fill out your calendar with rich content without making it too costly or time consuming on your end.

When it’s time to invest in a larger program, think about a test run with a pilot program. Pilots take some of the pressure off getting it right the first time and increase your chances for success when you roll it out to a wider audience. It also protects you from putting all your eggs into one basket if things don’t pan out the way you thought. The people business can be hard to predict. 

L&D doesn’t have to be overwhelming or costly. A little can go a long way and your employees will appreciate it. Try implementing a couple of these steps today and see where it takes you.

Ashley Laurie is a Program Manager, Talent Development at Carbon Black, Inc.

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