The Performance Learning Culture To-Do List

For the modern enterprise, the lines between learning and performance management grow increasingly blurred and rightfully so. The two are linked by one very important factor: an increasingly relevant need for dedicated, highly skilled employees who can ad

For the modern enterprise, the lines between learning and performance management grow increasingly blurred and rightfully so. The two are linked by one very important factor: an increasingly relevant need for dedicated, highly skilled employees who can adapt to the rapidly changing business marketplace and contribute immediately through their individual roles to help an organization distinguish itself from its competitors.

Organization such as ADP, a leader in payroll and benefits administration, have embarked on the shift from learning to performance learning, integrating development with talent management by focusing on several key components, including measurement, real-time reporting, learning expectations and senior management support.

According to Anthony Rutigliano, vice president and chief learning officer of ADP, first on the “performance learning culture” to-do list is to have measurable business outcomes that people are expected to produce against.

“You have to measure such things as change in behavior and change in attitude,” he said. “You have to have learning measurement that you can link to those things because measurement by itself is not important — it’s what you do with those measurements. Measurements can lead to a lot of discoveries about which learning is working, and when you measure something, it gives you the means by which to improve it. Measurement has to be there.”

The second item on the list is frequent reporting on learning and performance management activities that is as close to real time as possible.

“What we’re doing with our learning management system is allowing people to request the manager measure or evaluate their behavior immediately, so there’s not that usual lag in such things as multi-rater assessments,” he said. “We’re trying to link learning events as closely as possible to some kind of change in behavior. We have people self-assess before an event, and sometimes, depending on the learning event, manager assessments before that course begins and then immediately after at intervals. That interval will vary according to the course and the level of the individual. We want to show that while this led to an immediate bump in my perception of that person’s behavior, it also led to a long-term result in terms of that person’s behavior. That feedback is fundamentally important.”

Third on the list is to set expectations around learning and provide learning performance support tools to help close skill gaps.

“We’re evolving in that area,” Rutigliano said. “At first we said we want every associate to have roughly a week of training a year, 40 hours of learning per year. We put some parameters around what that learning had to look like, what counted as an hour of learning and what didn’t count. That’s something that managers are measured on, and there’s a bonus component to it that fits into an overall employer-of-choice part of their bonus plan in a balanced scorecard. We think that’s a noble way to get learning more and more on managers’ radar screen, but we want to slowly faze that out as we move to a more tightly linked competency management system.”

The new performance/competency management system links learning to competencies and makes learning more about closing competency gaps and less about hours.

“We want to put emphasis on the notion of increasing organizational capacity, not some artificial number,” Rutigliano said. “We’d rather be saying that we’re closing our competency gaps, or we’re closing the ones that we’ve shown are the most important to the success of a given population or individual or perhaps the whole organization. I think it’s important that there is some kind of accountability.”

Last on the short version of the “performance learning culture” to-do list is the need for a great deal of management and senior management learning support. This support might come in the form of increased communication, or it might be action-based, where senior leaders are teaching and actively involved in the development and design of curriculum etc., Rutigliano said.

“There’s this classic Dilbert cartoon, and in it Dogbert the evil HR director is in Wally’s office. He’s that short character with the glasses, and he says, ‘Wally, I have some good news for you. We hired a temp so you can get 40 hours of learning.’ This was published in 1996, I believe. Wally says ‘Oh, that’s great. When did he start?’ Dogbert says ‘Yesterday. He’s already completed eight hours of your training.’ Managers were putting that emphasis on completing the 40 hours, almost regardless of what it is, or whether or not it benefits the associates,” Rutigliano said. “My global learning team felt that we were not emphasizing the right thing. For you 10 hours might be the right number, and for me it’s 80. We want training not to be seen as a duty, where you can punch the card and check the box when you hit 40, but something that a manager is really thinking about saying, ‘Is it the right 40?’ And also give them the capacity to identify a competency gap not only for an individual but for a cohort. We might notice that there’s a customer service team that’s lacking in some essential skill, and suddenly that intervention becomes different than if we notice that only one individual is lacking in that skill.”

The importance of being able to identify competency and skill gaps is the reason Rutigliano rates measurement as No. 1 on his list of items to consider when building a performance learning culture.

“The more data, the better,” he said. “You can’t have improvement without measurement. We want to drive the idea that we’re looking ahead and not looking backward when we think about learning and performance. So many people say, ‘Let’s talk about what you did in 2005’ and not, ‘What you’re going to do in 2006?’ and we tend to divorce the development discussion from the performance discussion. We’re trying to drive human capital management, a much more forward-looking discussion. We’re tired of the rearview mirror around here — we want performance management to be much more forward-thinking, and that will have great implications for the development of people.”