A few days ago Ron Wilkins referenced a report released from the  Corporate Leadership Council (CLC) asking CEOs which areas in their organizations would suffer the most in response to the current economic crisis.   Learning and Development was tagged as the #1 target for cutbacks at 38% of respondents.  Recruiting was second and IT was third.   Commenting on the same post, Harold Jarche said the demise of the Learning and Development function might not be such a be a bad thing.

So what’s a learning function to do?
In spite of “employees are our greatest asset” lip service, it looks like the crunch has hit again.  If you work in training it’s a cycle you are probably familiar with.  With budgets going south, it’s unlikely you’ll be introducing any new programs in the foreseeable future.  Here are 5 things you can do during the downturn to get leaner and improve your value to the organization.

1.  Expand your solutions: Break out of the training box
The training function really has a small piece of the total development action taking place in an organization.  And that’s the way it should be.  While training is one of the ways of developing people it’s usually not the most effective. Take this time to build skills in how to reduce the separation between learning and working with solutions that recognize workplace as the primary learning setting (not the classroom or the e-learning screen).  Surround employees with the resources they need to learn.  Performance aids, feedback on the results of work, collaborative work tools, clear missions and expectations, tools for creating and sharing knowledge.  Help work teams create their own learning tools.

2.  Improve your business processes
Many training functions are mired in old ways of doing things, focused more on delivering programs than on improving business performance.  All learning functions (even the one person shop) need to have processes in place to identify needs (proactively and reactively), develop solutions, implement solutions, manage operations, evaluate success, and research and incorporate innovations.   How are you meeting these missions now?  How can you change your practices to improve your impact and reduce your costs?  Are your current roles aligned with process needs?  Get your team together and get busy improving your processes.

3. Consolidate your programs
Most training functions have had years to build up a “catalog” of programs, many of them a legacy of the “more training is better training” era.  You already know some of them are ineffective, redundant or just old dogs.  Do an effectiveness audit on your existing programs.  Weed out programs that aren’t working or are not aligned to clear business objectives.  And don’t be quick to replace the programs you drop.  Keep the catalog lean and start to introduce new approaches to developing employees.

4.  Introduce (or improve) performance consulting
The truth is that better partnering with your internal clients to get to the bottom of performance issues will go a long way to reducing the volume and improving the effectiveness of your programs.  Performance consulting is more than a methodology.  It requires an understanding of the many influences on human performance and building solutions to improve it.  Consider making a real transition to a Performance Consulting unit.  Bold maybe, but there’s no time like an economic downturn to sneak in some change.

5. Develop a technology plan
Technology can help with all of the above. Use this time to find the right technology and tools to support your renewed approaches and processes.  Don’t wait for it to find you or you might land on learning technologies that will only institutionalize traditional ways of managing and delivering learning.  The right Web 2.0 (learning 2.0), learning management system, learning content management system, and performance support tools will all have something to offer.  Decide first how you want to expand your solutions beyond training, and then redesign your processes to support your new goals.  Finally choose the right mix of technology to meet those needs.

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This blog contains perspectives on the issues that matter most in workplace learning and performance improvement.  It’s written by Tom Gram.

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