The report of our current economic condition is not news. We've
suffered a body blow to our old way of life - many of our hard-held
beliefs are in doubt and we have been forced, by necessity, to
adapt and change. The current financial tsunami has swept across
all spectrums, from municipal employees and private businesses, to
the Fortune 500, 250, and even Fortune 20 corporations. Americans
have lost billions in net worth, more than 7 million jobs, and a
sense of security.
People across the business landscape have been asked to do more
with less money, less support, and less employees. This shifting
environment has made LEAN more than an acronym and efficiency the
flavor of the decade. In a recent study, 40 percent of learning
leaders reported budgets cuts, with a third expecting further
Though we see hints of improvement, wide-open training budgets will
not be returning anytime soon. So with this reality, stark and
limiting as it is, learning must still happen - perhaps more than
ever. That transition from training to performance or from human
resources to talent management must move forward; the new LMS must
still be implemented, and you must keep your seat at the table.
There is no doubt that, to one degree or another, learning
professionals are still being held accountable. And perhaps the
greatest argument for continued learning is that during these
difficult times, few organizations can move forward without some
sort of transformation and change. And if that is true, change
doesn't happen without training and learning as a critical
component of the process.
We must resist the temptation to view ourselves as Sisyphus rolling
the stone up the hill only to have it come crashing down on the
other side. If Apple Corporation can re-emerge as THE innovation
company, Ford Motor Company can be seen as a safer quality bet than
Toyota, and airline stocks can move consistently north as they
currently are, then each of us cannot only survive on less but can
also prosper. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
People are still the key. No matter the industry, the product, or
service provided, employees are the lifeblood, the conduit, and the
elixir. Carly Fiornia writes in Tough Choices about the value of
employees in organizations, stating plainly that "People are the
producers of products and profit." Great products, ideas, and
outcomes materialize due to the efforts of your people. If we want
to emerge from the financial malaise that many businesses are
experiencing now, it will only be done with, through, and upon the
backs of those we employ. And while the temptation is to bear down
and keenly focus on the operation, we can't do so at the expense of
The economy is affecting entire communities and families, and
therefore your employees. If they are taking cuts BUT working
harder and longer, and if they are under more stress at home AND at
the job, their engagement is at risk. Gallup estimates this cost to
the bottom line of American businesses to be more than $300 billion
in lost productivity alone. The timing couldn't be worse to have
The Container Store has as its number one tenet to "put employees
first, even before the customer." They typically have less than 10
percent turnover and have not laid off a single employee, though
retail has been hit especially hard during this recession. They
serve as a reminder that it is our employees who drive our
businesses and teams in good times and in bad.
Goals and priorities must be clear. This key point is still more
about your people than the specific goals. During these lean times,
worry and insecurity are natural and running rampant. By
re-codifying goals (and giving employees some input into the
matter), you provide a sense of continuity and constancy to your
team in a world that is far from either.
Doing more with less does not leave time for employees to spend
valuable minutes or even hours wondering what the priorities are.
By clearly articulating, and re-articulating if need be, what
employees need to focus on, you create a momentum and team synergy
that drives efficiency, accomplishment, and performance.
This goal clarity need not reach the levels of a Shakespearian
monologue either. Work on the goal reminders and priority
discussions both during one-onone meetings with employees or during
team meetings - that way you allow everyone to hear the same
message but allow for individual perspectives and questions to be
responded to as well. "Consistency in management is something
people are expecting in difficult times," says Carlos Ghosn, CEO of
There is time to innovate. Jack Welch wrote that you have to
"innovate to improve cost, quality, and service." While this was a
macro approach to overall business strategy, it applies perfectly
to our current situation as well. We can't do things as we did even
two or three years ago.
For most, the resources just aren't there. And if that's true, our
only choice to meet our objectives is to innovate, do things
differently, and develop a new means to the same ends.
Most learning leaders have at least dabbled by now with online
learning, whether it's a robust, sophisticated LMS or a more
rudimentary approach. Either way, there are economies of scale in
online learning, especially for scenario-based learning or basic
testing, or when you need to reach large numbers of learners.
If it's time to double-down on e-learning, then it's time to
triple-down on using the talent and experience of internal
resources. Sadly, each organization has unused talent that is going
to waste - operational expertise or talented managers who can
mentor, coach, or act as subject matter experts in a learning or
performance improving capacity. Develop a coaching or mentoring
program and assign internal experts to partner with the learning
team in the design, development, or delivery aspects of learning.
"Teaching is not some ancillary, nice-to-do activity that is left
to human resources. Teaching is the central activity of winning
organizations," writes leadership expert Noel Tichy.
Think about cognitive science. It is also time to focus on adult
learning and cognitive science. We learn best while doing. Each of
us, with all of our certificates and MBAs, became experts in our
field because of the actual work we performed in the field, not
through our academic pursuits. "People develop expertise through
experience," writes Marty Rosenheck in CLO magazine. "They learn by
working through real problems, getting feedback on what they do,
and reflecting on it."
We can reduce time to proficiency, and therefore costs, by applying
the basic concepts of what we know to be true. By designing
training that is integrated in the operation and responds at
critical decision points, learners are motivated and learn quicker.
This dovetails directly with the requirement that coaches and
mentors are prepared to respond immediately during crucial
Finally, we can also learn about doing more with less from what we
know about - of all things - community gardening. Multiple people
will tend the garden and during harvest, fill baskets with their
produce. Rather than carry heavy baskets from one area to another,
they will place the baskets in central locations, collectively
filling each of the baskets. Learning leaders need to adopt this
same approach to reach success by doing more with less. By sharing
expertise, knowledge, and talents - not engaging in more solitary
heavy lifting - we can all prosper during lean times and fill our
baskets for the benefit of our learners and organizations.
5 Questions for Donald Sandel
Donald Sandel is the senior vice president of training and
professional development at IPC. He can be reached at
dsandel@ipcinternational. com. IPC is the leader in operational,
training, and technology-related security programs specifically
created to address the unique requirements of the shopping center
industry. IPC is an international security provider serving more
than 450 properties in North America and in the United Kingdom as
Learning Executives Briefing: How has an uncertain
economy affected your learning organization?
Donald Sandel: At the risk of being redundant,
we've had to do more with less and been forced to innovate. Rather
than having a team of specialists, we've become more of a team of
generalists, with each person, including myself, wearing multiple
hats, exercising versatility, and getting back to our industry
roots. In fact, I taught a course the other day and it was great to
get back into the "classroom."
LXB: How is the learning agenda set? Has that
process changed in recent months?
Sandel: The process has changed but [that change
happened] 12 to 14 months ago. Due to a smaller budget and smaller
team, we have had to make our priorities stridently clear. There
are no pet projects but a real team focus on the operation. This
year, I worked very carefully with our executive team to formulate
our annual corporate goals. Just about everything that we do leads
back up to those goals. If it doesn't relate directly, we don't do
LXB: If the economy were to recover 100 percent in
the next few months, how would that affect your learning agenda?
Sandel: If that were to occur, most immediately,
we'd have to respond to the influx of new employees hired. But
beyond that, I would take some time to analyze the new workplace
context. What are the new learning realities now that the suffering
is over and we are recovering? What have we learned during the lean
times that are still applicable and how do we keep that alive? And
on a very practical level, what are the learning priorities and how
are they affected by an improved budget situation? If we could
still be efficient and innovative, but have more spend, we would
become indispensable to the efforts of driving the business
LXB: What is the top learning need in your company
today? Is that different from two years ago?
Sandel: IPC International is a leader in the
security field. And in security, you must innovate, and always stay
a step ahead. Despite these difficult times, IPC has continued to
do that, especially with technology. I suppose you could say it's
innovate or perish. We have introduced a new portfoliowide
emergency management system and significantly upgraded our learning
management system; with both, we can reach people instantaneously.
The more people that we can reach with upgraded learning
opportunities, the more this learning organization can adapt and
respond to our ever-changing environments.
LXB: What organizations, leaders, or people
inspire you in your job?
Sandel: This one is going to come off a bit corny
but I am inspired by the people I work with every day. Our
practitioners in the field continue to keep people safe and my team
of learning professionals has displayed an indomitable spirit
during difficult times. I'm reminded how powerful the human spirit
is, especially when faced with challenges.