Technical Difficulties

I spent a good part of October on the road, taking part in various conferences and summits focused on technology – the most obvious being HRTech in Chicago. HR technology vendors are making great strides in the areas of mobile delivery and social media. A year ago, many vendors seemed to be almost fumbling around in a dark basement. It now appears as though someone has found the light switch and the path forward has become a bit clearer, although, it may still seem to be a pretty long stair climb out of the basement for many organizations.

Being bombarded by all of this technology in such a concentrated stream got me thinking, what are we trying to solve? Is each and every one of the solutions I saw a magic elixir that will instantly boost productivity and revenue? Probably not. But I think too often companies make technology purchases thinking they have the silver bullet, only to be sadly disappointed months down the road. In Brandon Hall Group’s LMS Trends 2012 Survey, we found that less than half of companies gave their LMS high marks for its overall value. So what’s happening?

I liken the some of the situation to a teenager who wants to be a rock star (raise your hand, don’t be shy). After spending months in his room with the beat-up second hand guitar, he finally spends all the money he has saved on the top of the line guitar and amplifier – the one with all the bells and whistles. He gets home, sets up the rig and starts to play. He’s awful. It just sounds terrible. No matter how much money he spends on the latest equipment, none of it will help him actually play well, only louder. Your organization’s learning process works the same way: if the process itself is junk, the most sophisticated system in the world will only serve to expose your junky process faster, to more people and on an iPad.

Before making any kind of HR technology purchase, it’s important to know that the process the technology is supposed to execute needs to be a smart, business related process. Want to by a video interviewing solution? Go ahead, but make sure you have a business need for using it and make sure your interview process is solid. Otherwise, the tool may actually do more harm than good.

There is also another wave of momentum for integrated talent management solutions. We heard a bit about this several years ago, but there is renewed interest both from clients and vendors. The thing is, the same rules apply. If your talent management processes are not already connected (regardless of technology) and there is no business reason to integrate, and an integrated solution may be almost useless. Let’s go back to our hapless guitar playing teen. He’s in his twenties now, and is really quite good. He’s joined up with several other accomplished musicians, and they want to record a song, so the book time in the expensive, state-of-the-art studio in the city. But when they group listens to the recording, it’s a terrible cacophony of noise. None of the musicians had ever played together and they are pretty sure the drummer was playing a completely different song. This lack of a plan and direction showed up loud and clear on a recording, and the lack of a cohesive vision will produce the same poor results for your learning solutions.

Of course, an effective technology solution makes it infinitely easier to identify and leverage connections, but the connections need to inherently exist. Your business needs to have a reason to combine performance management with learning. If there isn’t already some sort of process designed to have recruitment feed into workforce planning, an integrated solution won’t help.

What it comes down to is relationships. At Brandon Hall Group, we are in the process of finishing up our study on Relationship Centered Learning. In this study we’re taking a look at how different organizations approach learning, and what different types of strategies and policies exist. Here are some key characteristics of relationship centered organizations:

  • Proactive orientation – Employees take responsibility for their development and seek out learning with little or no push from leadership.
  • Development Opportunities – Each and every employee is presented opportunities for development based on personal strengths, weaknesses, job role, or interest from a source other than their immediate leader.
  •  Automated processes – Technology is used to present employees with opportunities to connect to informal knowledge sources throughout the organization.

As you can see, technology is a piece of the equation, but even good technology doesn’t solve bad processes and bad connections. Take a hard look at your organization and its actual approach to learning and technology and figure out what you really need to make your learning function better in the future.

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