To Make L&D Effective, Ditch Traditional Programs in Favor of Adaptive Digital Offerings

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There’s no question that in today’s business landscape—where it’s more difficult than ever to recruit and retain top talent—learning and development opportunities should no longer be limited to corner-office executives. 

Gallup recently estimated that turnover among millennials alone costs the US economy more than $30 billion per year, and SHRM reports that replacing an employee can cost six to nine months or more of that employee’s salary. That means, if they’re savvy, companies across the country are searching diligently for ways to retain and nurture their youngest talent, holding onto them, growing their careers, and developing them into the company’s next executives.

In response to this growing need, opportunities in the learning and development sphere have grown exponentially in recent years, with countless training programs, corporate universities, open-source classes, and tech-driven platforms cropping up to help organizations nurture and engage their key players.

And yet…

The proliferation of options hasn’t solved the problem. According to Harvard Business Review, “Several large-scale industry studies, along with our own in-depth interviews with clients, indicate that more than 50% of senior leaders believe that their talent development efforts don’t adequately build critical skills and organizational capabilities.”

Why L&D Programs Fall Short

So, if there are more choices than ever on the market, why are so many leaders still dissatisfied with their organizations’ L&D capabilities? The way we see it, there are three key reasons learning and development efforts fall short.

First, traditional programs focus on hard skills—strategy development, market analysis, etc.—while what businesses really need today is soft-skill development, particularly around relationship building and communication. When these programs are designed to achieve the wrong goals, they’re doomed from the start.

Second, L&D leaders know that, while great development opportunities are a strong incentive for loyalty, there’s no guarantee employees will stay with the company that invested so much in their development. So, naturally, there’s a resistance to pour significant resources into employees who may well use their new skills to help another company grow.

Finally, the highly generalized and strictly theoretical nature of so many learning and development programs means it’s often difficult to apply learnings to everyday work. This gap means that—even in the rare case where progress is possible to measure—there’s often very little improvement resulting from training. And without significant ROI, it becomes even more difficult to justify that spend.

How to Close these Gaps and Implement Effective L&D

If learning and development is critical to employee engagement and strong leadership (both from current executives and the leadership pipeline), but traditional approaches aren’t working, it’s time to ditch the standard, classroom-based programs and try something different.

Cloud-based, adaptive learning and development programs like our own AI-based communication analytics platform offer employees customizable training opportunities that make it easy to measure progress and apply learnings to real professional growth.

What does that mean, exactly?

Let’s start with the idea of customizable training opportunities. While traditional programs and classroom-based courses are too generalized to be truly effective for large groups of attendees, adaptive platforms like Quantified’s have the capacity and flexibility to develop unique programs for each user, based on their exact needs. Before any training starts, a truly adaptable program will develop a skills baseline for each user, and then guide them through lessons and exercises designed with that particular baseline in mind. As a result, users aren’t made to sit through material that they’ve already mastered or that isn’t relevant to their goals. Instead, they can feel good about investing their time and energy into their learning, because they know it was designed specifically for them.

According to HBR, “Most organizations are demanding pre- and post measures of the acquisition and application of relevant skills—such as communicative competence and leadership acumen—that traditional programs were never designed to deliver.” But again, these new, more tailored, more data-driven programs can overcome this road block as well, giving users (and administrators) an objective view at exactly how much they’re improving and where they would benefit from further focus. Where, traditionally, ROI has been difficult or impossible to pin down, it’s now clearer than ever.

Finally, these highly tailored programs give users the opportunity to turn their learnings into real professional development, going beyond theory and providing practical, in-depth practice opportunities and application strategies. So not only are users measuring their progress within the program, but they’re seeing it play out in their professional lives every day.

And of course, the digital nature of these programs—delivered online rather than by high-priced executive coaches—makes them much easier for companies to adopt on a large scale, investing in world-class training for every employee without busting the budget.

Once simply “nice to haves,” effective learning and development programs are critical competitive advantages in today’s business landscape. So if the old methods aren’t working, researching and adopting new, innovative approaches will be well worth the effort.