“Success – the accomplishment of an aim or purpose”
“Strategy – a plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim.”
These are the definitions according to Oxford dictionary, but what’s the connection between company’s strategy and its success? There are many answers, but in an ocean of uncertainty there are few conclusions of the past, that may give us a hint of what to do in the future.
In 2007 I made a big career change, going from the number one in telecom to number one in the FMCG industry. They were both corporate multinational companies with very clear goal structure: mission, vision, values and specific goals. And while the first three were different… the specific goals were the same. No matter the industry they belong to, every company has a very clear and specific goal about the money. They have to be plenty and constantly more than the year before. I don’t know what your business is, but isn’t that true for the company that you work for? It is also true for me and my company. At some point we measure our success by the money we get, so at the end of the year we measure the company’s profit.
Interesting fact: these days all companies have filed public statements of 2020’s profit. It’s a sad lecture for most industries, and for sure for learning & development companies. For a training company, 2020 looked a lot like a war room exercise: you are asked to imagine how your company is going to be under competition attack for at least 6 months. Another competitor is trying to take over your customers, your suppliers, your best employees so after 6 months you’ll have to declare bankruptcy or sell the company. What’s the solution of the war room game? For at least 6 months you have to cut costs and keep only the essential business. Unfortunately, in 2020 too many companies had to do the war room exercise and also put it in practice. Thinking about your company what does it mean essential business? And what are the first expendable costs? We, as a training company, got a sad answer: people development is one of the first expendable costs. I know that, because for the entire year during our discussion with HR customers – we got the same line: “we cut the budget, let’s talk about development next year”. Even so, as a training company, we’ve managed to survive last year. It wasn’t a year to thrive, but we survived and we did training. What’s most interesting is that last year – not a single decision of training acquisition was made at HR department level. Every time we sold a contract it was at the highest decisionmaking level – at CEO level. Every single time. Why’s that? Because the companies that invested in training in the previous year (remember the V, W and L Nike scenarios about the financial crisis?) considered people’s development a strategic move. For some companies, learning and development wasn’t just an opportunity, but a strategic movement: the future of the company depended on people’s ability to transform their way of doing things and upskilling.
But… wait. What is the connection between success – commonly defined as profit, company’s strategy, people’s development and the level of decision making?
Culture – is an umbrella term which encompasses the social behavior and norms found in human societies, as well as the knowledge, beliefs, arts, laws, customs, capabilities, and habits of the individuals in these groups.
It is a confusing definition, so let me suggest a different definition: “the way we do things around here, in our company.” As Peter Drucker said “culture eats strategy for breakfast”, it’s already common knowledge that the most successful and profitable companies embed learning and development in their strategy. It means that these companies have a culture of learning and development so they may even define one of their values in words like “development” “learning” “improvement” or “people’s growth”. It means more than painting these words on company’s walls and calling them “our values”, it means that people’s behavior, without being forced upon to, reflects those values as everyday actions. So… is learning and development a constant, common behavior in your company? Here is an example of a company that truly lives this value of learning and development.
There is a company, where once you’re hired, at the very beginning of the year – you will have a discussion with your manager that starts like this: “Here are your objectives for this year. And I can tell you that you cannot accomplish these goals with your current level of knowledge and skills. Here is a list of training and development programs that you can attend in order to improve your performance. Take your time, make a list and decide your program of development for this year. If you need my support, I’m here for you. Good luck!” If this is how a company with a culture of learning and development looks like, there are still two questions we need to answer: is this company real? And if it is real, is it successful / profitable? For both questions I have a single answer: Google. Not google it… the company’s name is Google and this is the way people are doing things in that place.
It’s not an isolated example. All companies that thrive, that are market leaders, that are highly profitable and sustainable have this trait: a culture of learning and development.
In my previous article, we talked how to remove the barriers of training and development and one of the main solutions was to involve the manager in the process. But there were 2 problems that I didn’t considered: time for development and company’s culture. The number one, most common barrier is lack of time. All participants in training say that they don’t find the time to learn the new skills. The second problem is that the company’s culture doesn’t provide actual support for learning and development. So, what’s the solution?
There is a solution – I’m sorry I wasn’t the one to invent it, but … I really love it. It is simple, effective and proven to provide GUARRANTEED results. Just record your thoughts after reading it, will you?
In every job description, there is a line, a responsibility, that sounds like this: “the employee will constantly learn in order to develop himself and improve his performance.” The problem is not that this is the final line in a top of priorities of a job description. The problem is no measurement for this responsibility and there is no allocated amount of time for this activity. What is the solution? The guys from Google find it too: every employee, working in the design engineering department, will allocate 20% of his working time – for developing a personal project and after 6 months they will present their idea. This is how Google Navigator was designed. Now let’s translate this into your job description in three steps: first – imagine that we transform the up mentioned sentence “The employee will constantly learn to develop himself and improve his performance, allocating minimum 4 hour / week.” The second change is that this will be one of the top 3 requirements of your job description. The third step is to establish a moment not so far in the future, maybe 6 months, when you measure the improved performance in skills and knowledge.
Problem solved? No, not entirely… I have to agree that this approach will be a goldmine for training companies, but there are a lot of problems that will arise at the very first minute after implementing such change. We know that not all employees will have brilliant ideas, they will not invent google navigator, not everybody will use this time to learn and develop, and not everybody will want to assume such responsibility. There are going to be tensions, frictions, failures… And that’s ok.
It’s ok, because the kind of problems you have will demonstrate what kind of culture your company has. A company with a people development culture, will attract, hire and promote people with the Google type of behavior and mindset. This company it is not GURRANTEED but is more likely to report higher profit figures every year because of it’s culture and because of it’s development strategy. Because the key message will come top down from the very highest decision making levels: the company will provide the context, but you are responsible for your own development. It’s an important mind shift that leads to change.
Do you remember, that I’ve asked you to record your thoughts after reading about this idea – this solution of removing training barriers? I would appreciate if you want to share them with me and my colleagues in the comments below. Now it is time to move to the next step. What’s next? In the future articles we will look at how to identify a culture of learning and development and how to multiply the effect of the 4 hours dedicated for learning and development, introducing the micro learning moments concept.
Stay tunned & stay connected.
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