5 key considerations for designing and developing effective customised learning

Leading into the new financial year, Australian organisations are planning how they will achieve better results.  Lifting people’s performance is always high on the agenda and a customised learning solution is one way of stimulating the changes in mindset and behaviours required to achieve improved business outcomes.

Even the biggest organisations rarely have enough internal resources and expertise to build a large-scale customised learning program, so an expert partner is usually needed.

A common approach to finding the right partner is to work through an objective Request for Proposal (RFP) process; select a short list based on written submissions, track records and existing relationships, then have each potential partner present their pitch. Sometimes there is a clear winner, sometimes it is not the one anticipated. Offerings and approaches can appear similar so it may come down to an emotional decision about the people and organisation the client’s decision makers feel most comfortable working with. The one that has done their homework, demonstrated understanding and seems to be the best fit for the culture.

Having been through this extensive and time consuming selection process clients are often behind schedule and keen to get the project implemented quickly. Where things can fall down is insufficient investment in the initial phases of analysis, design and development. Beyond the necessary technical skills, there are five key considerations for designing and developing an effective customised learning solution that will achieve more for your people, your customers and your organisation:

1.       Choose a partner and a team that you’re willing to invest in over the long term. Remember how long it took you and your colleagues to come up to speed with the industry, the organisation, the customers, the key leaders, the politics, the structure, the language, the stories and so on. It doesn’t happen overnight for employees and it certainly doesn’t happen immediately for your partner.  If you’ve decided that you don’t want an off-the-shelf program, be generous with your ‘on boarding’ time and transfer of knowledge to your partner. Recognise the significant upfront investment required in the ‘getting to know you’ business familiarisation and needs analysis phase for both parties and make sure your partner is inducted well.

If budget is your concern, chances are there will be at least twice as much time spent behind the scenes that you’re not charged for. There is almost always a positive correlation between upfront time and effort with return on investment, long term. And if the partnership works well, this initial investment will pay dividends when other learning opportunities arise that you need assistance to address.

2.       Make sure you have a pilot and maybe even a ‘dress rehearsal’ for key components, especially face-to-face workshops. And a pilot is just that – an opportunity to test content, style, flow, timing, language, scenarios and so on. Position the session appropriately. Make sure all participants know that it’s a pilot and that they’re there to provide constructive feedback on the overall experience as it will contribute to their performance and delivery of the desired, articulated outcomes.

The bigger the potential impact on the business the bigger the effort should be in getting it right at this point in the process. Best results come from the combination of internal and external expertise and experience – work collaboratively as one team. If the pilot doesn’t quite hit the spot, make changes and have a dress rehearsal which still allows for final tweaks before roll out.

3.       Seed your pilot with the right people - those who are the target audience for the development. Don’t overload it with leaders (unless it is leadership development!), HR people, L&D people, various interested observers – some of whom may have hidden agendas or strong views on how it must be done. Be aware that there can sometimes be a disconnect with ‘head office’ views and those from the front line.

Don’t let the loudest voices dictate the feedback (good or bad), make sure you collect and analyse the qualitative feedback from those who are quieter and more reflective, most importantly from those actually in the role/s you’re designing for.

4.       Always keep the big picture in mind and be clear on the learning outcomes and their link to the desired business outcomes. Ensure that all key stakeholders are engaged, have had their input and have signed off. It is better to agree on 3-5 specific and measurable performance related outcomes that need to be achieved than 10. More often than not pilot sessions have too much content based on too many desired outcomes, so sometimes after a pilot you need to rethink your priorities, consider alternative delivery methods or allocate more time for face-to-face learning. This is a good thing as it’s better to challenge the thinking at this early stage than after roll out begins.

5.       Formal group learning is only a small piece of the puzzle. As well as some workshop components, an effective design will also include an internal communications plan, structured program of pre-work, and post-work that could incorporate, research, e-learning, YouTube clips, customer interviews, webinars, games and so on, as well as ongoing coaching, and on-the-job projects to embed and sustain the learning.

The added value an expert partner and customised program provides is in the subtle nuances of the content as it applies to your people and organisation, how the pieces fit together, the flow and the practical frameworks and tools to take away. It’s in the relevant stories and examples, the opportunities to share insights and experiences, the discussion each component is designed to provoke, the application of real life scenarios and the supportive real-play and experiential activities that build confidence and competence. It’s the right combination of all these individual factors and components, that did not formerly exist as a whole, that creates the magic in a well-crafted program.

Your investment of time, effort and money in this most important upfront design and development phase will set you up for successful delivery – whether that’s utilising technology, internal people, your external partner or a combination of all three - and ultimately improved results.

Please contact me at linley@peakperformance.com.au if you’d like to discuss customised learning options.




Posted: Wednesday 29 April 2015

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