What can our real value be - to the
companies we work for, to our clients, and to the learning
I believe that our real value lies in our relevance. We are
relevant when we serve as a means to achieving a particular
purpose. In most companies, that's spelled out pretty clearly so
you'd think that the path to being relevant as a learning
professional would be easy. But often it's not because we confuse
relevance with having value that can be quantified.
Something that is relevant - that helps
your company achieve its purpose--will be valued. But think about
this for a minute: it might not have a quantifiable value. It might
not fit into a return-on-investment calculation or have a numerical
value on a scorecard.
Even though it might not be a good idea to say this out loud in
some places - all organizations do certain
things for which ROI is not important -
things like developing leaders or managing their talent so that it
matches the goals that matter to the business. If those efforts
support the purpose of the organization, they will be valued.
Your CEO will not ask you to quantify them. I promise. All CEOs
would tell you that developing the next generation of leaders is
important. The purpose is the point.
There are other things - such as social
networking - where organizations are only
beginning to really understand the value -
but have seen its relevance for quite some time.
I am certain that many of you will soon find yourselves involved in
making that connection. You will be the ones figuring out how to
align the use of social tools such as Facebook or Twitter to a
purpose that matters in your organization. This will be a great
opportunity for many of you to increase your relevance.
As we know from our experiences across the years, a lack of
relevance can be our downfall. As learning professionals, you are
consistently evaluated on your ability to remain relevant to any
business - based on what is most important
to that business - more than the
quantifiable numbers we can put in front of our leaders.
What can we do to increase our relevance? I can tell you what we
are doing at Yum Brands. All across the organization - from personnel to HR to talent management
- we are repositioning practices that have
been around for a long time to make them more relevant. For
example, at Yum University, we're reframing the way we think about
leadership development. We're thinking less about programs and more
about practices and experiences that people need to be capable
leaders at Yum.
Instead of putting emerging leaders into courses, or giving them a
series of jobs, we put them into situations where they gain the
right kinds of experience. And we are very explicit about the
purpose of these stretch assignments. People know they are there to
learn. We even go so far as to tell them that the work they do in
these temporary roles is not as important as the learning.
This approach is much more relevant to how we operate than
launching yet another program for emerging leaders. Showing a
program's ROI is not necessarily an indicator of relevance, and I'm
not alone in that point of view.
ASTD and i4cp did some research not long ago that shows that
learning evaluation is generally failing in organizations today.
Fewer than half the respondents agreed that their learning
evaluation techniques were helping meet important goals. And an
analysis of their spending showed that they seemed to be spending
their evaluation money on the wrong things. The type of evaluation
that most companies use - participant
reactions - had the lowest correlation with
Learning organizations that are obsessed with ROI may have a
relevance problem. They may be generating numbers to rationalize
their existence or cover up the fact that there's no business
impact to what they're doing. My point is, you may be spending time
proving the value of your work in numerical terms, when your real
value lies in the relevance of your work to some kind of purpose.
So, how can you demonstrate your relevance at work? First of all,
you have to absolutely understand the businesses you work for or
with so that you can deliver solutions that are relevant.
We've been hearing that advice for decades, through phrases like
"alignment" or "seat at the table" - so it
is surprising that so few learning professionals seem to get it.
But people who do get it have a much easier time being relevant.
Take the common question: Should the learning function be
centralized or decentralized to be more relevant? The answer to
that question is "Yes." It all depends on the organization
- what is does, how it interacts with its
constituents, and how the leaders view the role of learning.
At Yum, we have a very decentralized learning structure. The way
our business operates globally with multiple brands and thousands
of different-size franchisees demands that we operate in this way.
Does it have trade-offs? Sure. Would a centralized organization be
more effective? Maybe. Would moving in that direction increase or
decrease the relevance of learning professionals and learning in
the organization? For us, it would most certainly decrease the
relevance. We wouldn't be seen as tightly connected to the business
as our leaders want us to be.
The value of a company's learning function sometimes depends on how
people view its learning professionals. Some learning leaders can
reshape a learning function that has grown irrelevant. In other
cases, learning professionals might work where learning has value,
but they remain irrelevant because their work is not aligned with
purpose and what is important to the company.
At Yum University, we focus on three pillars: culture, leadership,
and functional excellence. To my CEO, culture is one of the most
important things about the business. The ROI on that could never be
calculated, and I'll never be asked to do it as long as culture is
a cornerstone of what's important. The work my team does remains
relevant without having to quantify the value.
So step back a minute and consider what you're learning in the
light of becoming more relevant back at work. When you encounter
new ideas and new approaches, ask yourself how they might add value
to what you do. How are they relevant to the purpose of your
organization? How can you use them to reach your goals faster? How
will you put them to work?
Rob Lauber is chair of the ASTD Board of
Directors and vice president of Yum! University at YUM!
This article is an excerpt of Lauber's keynote
address at the 2010 ASTD International Conference & Exposition