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Learning strategies that bring business success

This post first appeared on the LINE blog on 16th December 2011.

Kaffia Clouden, Marketing Assistant, attended a recent LINE Lunch Forum in Zurich, which explored learning strategies for leadership development.

Urs Hofmann, founder of the Credit Suisse Business School, hosted the event. Urs opened the lunch by discussing his role and the business challenge facing Credit Suisse in light of the recession.

Urs was initially tasked with developing the principles for the Business School in alignment with the overall strategy of Credit Suisse. The objective behind this investment in learning was that both business and company performance could be improved.

To evaluate the impact of these principles in meeting the objective, Urs aimed to measure how the learning strategy impacted the business. With the right measures in place, Credit Suisse was able to monitor and improve the impact learning had on the business.

Learning strategies for leadership development

Ellie Hallam, People Consultant for British Airways’ Leadership Development team, delivered the first of the day’s presentations.

After the events of September 2001, British Airways concentrated their training efforts in areas regarding legality, safety and compliance. As a result, their leadership framework was not well communicated, was perceived to be overly complex and changed on a regular basis.

Since then, British Airways has embarked on a three-year initiative to embed high performance leadership into their business strategy. The strategy defines three leadership capabilities and creates a common leadership language.

Within this strategy focus turned to ‘Front Line Leaders’ (those who come into contact with customers). By working on the leadership capabilities, this employee group were empowered to focus on their customers, re-engage their staff and ultimately improve the brand reputation. This focus is now a fundamental part of their people strategy.

In an effort to drive this new leadership development initiative, the company has created a seven-week blended learning programme accredited by Ofqual. The programme incorporates online elements of prerequisite skills and scenarios, followed by a workshop and then further online post workshop challenges delivered using Moodle.

Learning strategy and business success

Next to present was Piers Lea, CEO of LINE.

Piers highlighted a recent independent opinion research survey of 100 CEO’s in the top 500 companies (by turnover) in the UK which showed that only 18% of respondents feel L&D strategy is completely aligned with the company’s operational strategy. However, looking at the results of the Towards Maturity 2011 benchmarking survey, 77% of respondents believe that learning technologies will make them more agile as a business.

Organisations, particularly those operating globally, are realising that they have to make a more strategic use of technology in their businesses. Yet, still only 50% of UK Plc’s have L&D on their broad agenda.

Piers urged those present to become more mature in their learning technology strategies, pointing out that faster responses and a changes in the business conditions are needed.

Social media in learning

One key theme emerged from the lunch discussion – the role of social media in learning.

The ways in which people are learning is changing; it is no longer practical to teach using solely PowerPoint or standing in front of a class. In response to these changes, organisations need to change the way they teach in an effort to keep their learners engaged.

One way in which organisations can engage learners is through informal learning. Social networking platforms and online communities play an important role in learning; providing a forum, in which users are able to exchange knowledge and learn, interact and communicate with their colleagues. When presented with an issue where individuals may be unsure who to turn to for the answer, the presence of an online community can help facilitate the speedy transfer of information.

Social media provides an efficient and effective tool to educate workers, especially in larger organisations where knowledge can be shared between a greater number of people.

IBM, the well-known multinational technology and consulting organisation, incorporated topic specialists into their organisation. When employees wanted to search and find out about a particular topic, the topic specialist would be their first port of call for the answers. IBM collected statistics showing the number of times each topic specialist had been consulted; in the event that the specialist had not been referred to enough times, they would be removed from the topic specialist list.

Through this tool, IBM was able to identify learning champions throughout the organisation; employees who were competent in particular areas and could answer questions around certain topics.

Despite the reported benefits, many organisations still have social media platforms blocked from being used over the company networks, despite the existence of groups where employees are already discussing issues.

Ade Derbyshire-Moore, General Manager of LINE Central Europe, noted that it is becoming increasingly hard for companies to attract and retain the best people in their organisations, especially Generation Y employees who are tech savvy and rely on technology to perform their jobs better. Those companies that fail to connect their global workforce through social media, it was concluded, will find it harder to maintain their talent in the years to come.

During the group discussions a case study was put forward where a company reported that their high staff turnover was down to the lack of technology present in their day-to-day learning. Social media networks were suggested as a solution that could help.