Understanding the Impact of eLearning & Distance Learning on Your Net Operating Profit
When a learning professional is "STRATactical," it implies that he or she fully understands the strategy needed to be successful as they tactically engage in behaviors to achieve success in the development and delivery of all learning services and products, with a keen understanding of the importance that eLearning and Distance Learning have on the financial success of an organization, while at the same time, building a learning legacy more influential than when they arrived at the organization.
Although learning professionals operate within a business structure, we have not been traditionally seen as business savvy or having much business acumen. However, if we can "walk the talk" of business operations -- acquire sufficient business acumen -- we will both portray and impact our organization’s financial growth and lend legitimacy to the administrative and operational functions learning brings to an organization.
As an example, when I retired from the FBI to begin my career in business, I was unprepared for the "language of business" to meet the challenges posed to me by CEOs, COOs and CFOs. I fully understood the goals aligned to the business strategy, however, I lacked an understanding of the business acumen and how to align a learning function with a business operations foundation. The road ahead meant I needed to embark on learning how a business functions and what the drivers are behind those functions. My road led me to complete three years of courses in a Doctoral studies program in Business Administration. I needed to align learning and development (L&D) to the organization’s strategy and provide tactics to impact the business through L&D initiatives and programs. Fortunately, the learning technologies and tools were advancing as rapidly as my understanding of business operations, resulting in my passion for and belief in eLearning and distance learning as the key discriminators to affect the net operating profit of a business. These tools simultaneously provide learning opportunities that are on-demand, just-in-time, ready-to-learn, while they personally and professionally grow an audience of employees.
Not only are industries changing and disappearing, internal management functions are changing and some are disappearing as well. For the organization’s learning professional(s) to succeed, they must engage in an understanding of the functions within the business organization that are the heartbeat of business operations. A professional colleague, Wally Adamchik, President of Be A Firestarter, recently advised me, "You may offer effort, but you are judged on results."
Simply offering courses, whether they are instructor-led or eLearning, web-based or utilize distance learning, is not enough, learning professionals must clearly provide training to the business operations functions and they must do so with an eye on the business impact they can influence in learning outcomes and financial savings and revenue generation. In short, learning professionals must not consider themselves as an administrative function, rather as an operational function to support their business.
Another professional colleague, Kevin Cope, President and CEO of Acumen Learning recently advised me, "If you can contribute to your company’s cash and cash flow, you’ll be valued as an employee who practices business acumen -- and you’ll help fuel the success of your business. Further, how much more effective would you be as leaders and decision makers by first knowing the key measures and then what the trend or change is of those numbers, the ‘why’ behind the changes and then identify how they can impact the number(s) within your individual role?"
Dick Davies, President of Sales Lab DC, advised me "….how quickly an attitude and behavioral change can trigger a significant performance improvement…[and] finding and implementing a skill or practice that improves performance is an important behavior…" As reinforcement, Scott Eblin, author of The Next Level, has stated, "…we must abandon the behaviors that made us successful previously, and embrace new behaviors where different results are expected.
I trust I have outlined a solid foundation to my belief that learning professionals must provide business impact to an organization through the development and delivery of learning services and products. So, where do you begin?
With an eye on the business impact, first look at developing a training needs analysis and decision matrix culminating in an enterprise training initiative aligned to business operation functions. Ask yourself and ask business function leaders within your organization, "Which functions have the greatest impact on our business success? Prioritize those functions and choose the top three. Start with the most important function and determine the roles within that function that are the wheels behind driving that function. There may be two, three, maybe ten or more, but establish the priority of those roles too.
In discussing with the functional leader, determine:
1) who within that role is a subject matter expert (SME),
2) what is the voluntary turnover/resignation rate of employees within that role, and
3) what does that cost the business in dollars – which may include lost direct revenue, recruitment monies spent to find a replacement, time to train the new employee, etc.
Determine with the SME what courses related to that role are currently offered within the organization or through a vendor. Continue the discussion with the SME by asking if those are the courses needed to function within that role within the organization. There may be courses that are missing – it is now you are performing a training gap analysis. With the SME make a list of the requisite courses to function within that role – and identify them as basic, intermediate and advanced. Contact former employees within that role, those that voluntarily resigned, and ask them if this new list of courses, if offered, would have made a difference in their decision to leave the organization. Now, with the SME and concurrence of the functional leader, prioritize the courses within that role that are required and develop those that are missing. It is now you need to determine if an instructor-led (ILT) or eLearning (eL), web-based (WBT) or distance learning (DL) course is the correct way forward in closing the gap on training within that functional role.
To assist in your decision making whether to develop and deliver or purchase and deliver the course(s) as eL, WBT or DL, use the language of business – conduct a financial analysis and employ cost comparison methodology for staffing, development, delivery, production of course materials, costs of classroom space, multi-media, travel and per diem, record keeping, etc. Once completed, now you can return to the training analysis methodology and repeat for each role, within each function and you will have the financial information documented to justify your eLearning and distance learning approach to training within your organization. And, when you proven your eLearning and distance learning approaches have improved bottom-line savings to corporate expenses, it will be time to turn your developed content into a revenue generation model which will improve top-line growth and the learning function will be recognized as a viable business operation within your organization.
Learning professionals who have kept pace with learning technologies and tools know that eLearning and distance learning capabilities deliver similar, if not more powerful, learning impact for the learner; now, armed with a training needs analysis approach and a cost calculation model, the road ahead is clear. Lead by example – exemplify the behavior needed to focus on eLearning and distance learning to impact the net operating profit of your organization.
Alan A. Malinchak is the Chief Learning Officer at Homeland Security Solutions, Inc. (HSSI). Malinchak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact him through LinkedIn.