L&D Budget Cuts – A Challenge or an Opportunity?

Let’s face it, things are tough right now – both personally and professionally. The Economic climate places challenges on our finances and in the world of learning, it’s no different. Any of us who have been around a while will know that many organisations see ‘the learning budget’ as a nice to have or discretionary spend, and it’s often one of the first to be cut as part of cost saving exercises. While I feel buoyant that L&D has climbed the agenda for many boards in recent times and is now seen as an integral part of business success, I am seeing evidence in some of my client conversations that there is a downturn emerging. L&D pros are having to fight harder to get sign off for their plans, programmes, and strategies.

Now it’s easy to see this as a negative, a challenge, or a ‘here we go again’ moment, but it doesn’t have to be! It can be an opportunity to take your learning culture to the next level within the vacuum that’s left behind after a cut to budgets. Of course, there’s an argument to make that L&D is even more important during these times, not least in relation to our current skills challenges. And any L&D pro under cost pressure will be putting up a strong case to maintain, rather than reduce, but how do we capitalise and go full growth mindset mode if it happens?

Not all of these will be relevant to everyone, some you’ll already be doing, but the list below, if done well and with purpose, can help you to not only navigate an economic challenge, but come the other side with even more impact for your business than you had before.

1.  Prioritise needs: Focus on development that will deliver the greatest impact on business performance. Prioritise learning needs by identifying the critical skills gaps and assessing the potential ROI that relates to the key business metrics. This will create a direct line of sight between the learning and the desired outcome. Getting this right will also add credibility to what we L&D pros do.

2. Amplify technology: Make the most effective use of any learning tech that you have. A huge advance prompted by Covid in digital, virtual and online learning has put many in a great place to capitalise in this space. Where your organisation doesn’t have specific Learning tech, map out what technology you do have and work out how you could use it for learning. Intranets, SharePoint, social collaboration software, etc, can all be used to make learning more accessible to more people, quickly. On top of this, think curation as well as creation of content (yes an oldie but a goodie), there is a world of excellent free and accessible learning content out there and many are still not making the most of it!

3. Think people: Us HR people know (really know) that our greatest asset is our people. And I’ve never seen a learner survey that doesn’t show that people love to learn from each other. By identifying people with the skills, knowledge and behaviours that you’re looking to develop in others, tap into that resource. Create, promote, and nurture learning communities, teach people how to use action learning groups, and promote coaching as a universal skillset. These things are what I call continuous improvement for people. Done well these are the foundation of a healthy, collaborative, and vibrant learning culture.

4. Be intelligent about using external support: When it’s the only option to use an external partner, be strategic in your choice. Of course you want high-quality and low cost, but the latter can often come with risks. Think about choosing a partner who can work with you strategically, who understands you, your culture, and your challenges. Choose one who can not only deliver courses or programmes well, but also help you think holistically, make connections across your people agenda, add more value, maximise impact, and work with you to reduce the cost in a way that doesn’t compromise the quality and benefit of what you’re trying to do.

5. Learning transfer: Something that really ‘gets my L&D goat’ in the world of learning is a tendency to go after the next new shiny thing! I’ve seen so many organisations jump from model to model, spending a fortune along the way and doing very little to embed the learning derived from said shiny new thing. Instead, think about making the most of the courses and programmes you’ve already paid for (equally as important for anything new that you do). Using the 70:20:10 learning model (com) to map out how you’re going to get most value from the knowledge that’s been enhanced during a course. If we’re not doing this, we’re essentially missing out on 90% of the way that people actually learn – through others and on the job. Encourage your learning team or provider, and your people, to create opportunities to maintain the learning from formal methods before, during and after it’s taken place. There’s plenty of evidence out there that proves the benefit and impact is significantly enhanced when this is done well.

6. Learning how to learn: Once again coming back to something us L&D pros have been working with for a while, and links strongly to the 70:20:10 model noted above. Many of us have spent most of our lives thinking that learning is what we did at school. We sit in a classroom or online, with a subject matter expert who imparts their knowledge and wisdom ‘into’ us, allowing us to go on our way and be better than we were before. Well, there’s some truth to that, but we know from the above that this method is only a very small part (around 10% but I’m less concerned about the numbers here). Helping people to learn how they do and can learn unlocks a force multiplier for learning and the impact it has. Help employees to understand that talking about what they’ve learned, coaching each other, applying, and reflecting on their new (or existing) skills during their daily work, makes every minute of every day an opportunity to learn.

7. Measure the impact: The holy grail of L&D I hear you say! Something even more important when we need to do more with less. For me, many have over-complicated ROI for learning, you just need to look at some of the sub-par course feedback forms that only seek to affirm the quality of the learning experience itself, going no further than this in establishing whether it’s had any impact for the learner or the organisation. The starting point for me must be asking ourselves “is it really training we need here?” Most good L&D teams have pivoted away from being order takers, to performance consultants who ask the difficult questions of the business or client to get to the real root cause of the issue – often resulting in the issue being something that training may not solve.

Starting at this point allows us to point directly at the problem, rather than jump too quickly to the solution. If you know the problem, you know the business metric that needs to shift. If you know what needs to shift, you know what needs to be done to fix it. And if you know what needs to be done to fix it, you can easily prove the impact of the training that you deliver. Ok, I know this is an oversimplification, but done well also has the added value of proving the effectiveness of the L&D team and the great work they do. As with point 4 above, if your external partners aren’t helping you to do this as part of the service they provide, perhaps ask yourself why not.

In conclusion, while all the above may seem like an evangelistic lesson in things we’re already doing, or we’ve known about for years, I see only a small number of organisations doing them really well. Where they do, I also see a great example of a learning culture, where business performance and sustainable skills are driven and nurtured by people every day, not just off the back of an expensive training course. The best and most creative L&D pros I’ve ever seen are the ones who have had to find ways of doing more with less, innovating and thinking different, rather than throwing money at a problem. For those organisations and L&D teams who are able to tap into these things, especially during economically challenging times, they can not only survive, but thrive. Coming out of the darker days with sustainable skills that have further reaching benefits than ‘training’ alone could ever provide.

To find out how we can support you to turn a learning challenge into an opportunity, or anything else relating to people development, visit our website or give us a call on 01491 414010.


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