Hyper-Clarity in Learning

Talent management and learning are a means to an end.

In his book, One Page Talent Management, Marc Effron says companies already have all of the science and tools they need for talent management. The same could be said for learning. Yet persistent gaps remain between what companies know how to do and what they actually do. While conceptual models and business cases continue to improve, execution and results lag far behind.

But there is a solution to closing the gaps: hyper-clarity.

Talent management refers to improving business efficiency and driving results through smart decisions on selecting, developing and resourcing talent. Hyper-clarity means having a laser focus on outcomes, such as what you are trying to solve with learning. Are you solving organizational growing pains, neutralizing threats, eliminating stagnation or promoting globalization or retention of top talent?

For example, of all the drills sold last year in the world, how many people who bought them needed them? The answer is no one needed drills, what they needed were holes. The drill is only a means to an end. Similarly, talent management and learning are only a means to an end. This is a shift in mindset for many learning leaders who are quintessential drill makers.

Following a know-grow-flow framework to achieve hyper-clarity around learning strategies can deliver better results for your organization.

Know what problems you are trying to solve. Become hyper-clear on what and who are required to deliver your business results. Start with the what.

We have a tendency to confuse people with their roles and vice versa. The most important thing we need to know is what critical capabilities employees will need to learn to execute a strategy. Then, know what roles have the biggest impact on delivering those capabilities. Lastly, know who might deliver on those roles. Get hyper-clear on talent; what they can, might and want to deliver. Just as important, get hyper-clear on talent that can’t deliver. Build and deliver learning and development within the broader context of your talent management strategy.

Grow talent to deliver outcomes. “We need to be clear on which behaviors will produce the results we want,” said Hy Pomerance, chief talent officer at New York Life Insurance. Learning leaders should ask what behaviors critical roles and business strategy demand of talent. Then apply energy and constant attention to develop those behaviors. If they are hyper-clear on the business strategy and key talent behaviors, most companies can focus on fewer than five core areas of competence and behavior.

Eliminate what Annmarie Neal, vice president of talent management and development at Cisco Systems, refers to as spray and pray — providing lots of different learning experiences and hoping something sticks. Learning mobility is a key development vehicle, but keep in mind it’s a drill, not a hole. Some say experience is the best classroom, but you need to know what experiences create the best graduates, not the best classroom conditions.

Process flow should be hyper-simple. Are learning processes and systems easily consumable by the organization, and are they aligned to other business processes? Clarify your choices and align multiple initiatives. If they don’t align, don’t do them. First, remove learning data collection as a line responsibility. When you ask the line to do learning management administration, it distracts them from their end game and saps goodwill; you are handing line executives the drill rather than showing them how the holes are going to help them execute their business strategies.

A helpful tip to develop easier flow is to prioritize activities and integrate them into leaders’ calendars to increase their consumability. As Kevin D. Wilde, chief learning officer at General Mills, said, “It is not just the idea; it is the discipline to get the idea done well.”

So, know what problems you want to solve; it takes courage and conviction to boil something down and take action. Grow your talent with fury; don’t mess around with nice-to-haves. And hyper-align and hyper-simplify your learning process flow; if your outcomes need to be X and they’re currently Y, what’s getting in your way?

Some say experience is the best classroom, but what experiences create the best graduates?

Roger Cude is senior vice president of global talent management at Wal-Mart. Joseph Garbus is vice president of organization capability at The New York Times. They can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.