Making the Business Case for a Learning Culture

Credit: US Chamber of Commerce Foundation

Now that we know why and how companies should update their business strategies to meet the learning needs of the modern worker, let’s talk about how to successfully communicate this idea up the management chain to win the executive buy-in you need to achieve change.

To make the business case for learning you must be able to show the positive impact it has on the business’ bottom line. According to Bersin & Associates’ “High-Impact Learning Culture” report, learning-driven organizations tend to be more efficient, create more customer value and market leadership, and report higher customer satisfaction.

Specific challenges within our dynamic, digital economy—rapid workplace transformation, the persistent skills gap, and the tricky balance between being innovative while driving growth—give companies that have adopted a learning culture a distinct advantage over the competition. These companies are agile, continually evolving, keeping pace with change, and sometimes staying ahead of it. Because these economic forces don’t show signs of changing anytime soon, companies can’t afford to downplay the need for learning. If they do, they are signing up for a continuous game of playing catch-up to keep up with their more agile competitors.

If you are having trouble getting the message across, here are three ways to more specifically show the C-suite that an investment in learning will yield real benefits now and in the future.

1. Keep up with workplace transformation.

As my first blog post explained, skills training is more important than ever in today’s fast-moving, ever-changing workplace, where automation and other technologies are transforming the way we do our jobs. In this environment, learning can’t be an interruption that takes employees away from their work for chunks of time.

Rather, it has to be woven into people’s daily routine to help them perform their jobs and drive productivity. Companies that treat learning as a strategic asset understand this and make just-in-time learning resources easily available so people can pick up skills in the moment of need, apply what they’ve learned right away, and keep important projects moving forward.

To achieve this responsiveness in the moment of need, you must have the right vendors and the right resources in place. Encourage your learning and development (L&D) teams to start thinking like a marketer and find the right vendor partners for your organization.

2. Close your own skills gap.

With unemployment at historic lows, companies are struggling to find qualified workers to fill open positions. The 2017 Udemy Skills Gap report confirmed that nearly 80% of Americans believe the skills gap exists, and most feel employers could do a lot more to connect people with suitable training. The Chamber Foundation reports on these statistics as well, and a new report shows a consistency across industries.

The gap between the skills applicants have and the skills employers seek can’t be resolved by sending everyone back to school. Even if you hire for today’s must-have skills, that’s no guarantee you’ll have the right talent for tomorrow’s.

Companies are waking up to this reality too. A recent McKinsey Global Institute report found that “Sixty-two percent of executives believe they will need to retrain or replace more than a quarter of their workforce between now and 2023.”

Upskilling existing talent is far more cost-effective and efficient than continually recruiting and onboarding new hires. Besides, workers genuinely want access to learning opportunities—and they’re willing to leave for new employment when they don’t get it. This is especially true among the newest entrants to the workforce, millennials and Gen Z, i.e., the people you should be grooming for management roles.

3. Fuel innovation.

It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in; your company’s future success depends upon its ability to harness the power of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and data science. To do that, you’ll need humans with the technical know-how for designing, deploying, and maintaining these systems as well as the soft skills for doing what machines can’t.

In a learning culture, where upskilling is encouraged and available, employees are more likely to experiment and innovate. There aren’t any limits on what they can do when relevant training is right at their fingertips.

To bring fresh perspectives and ideas into your organization, try letting workers learn across functions. Cross-pollinating from one part of the business to another can surface opportunities as well as risks the core team hadn’t considered. Beyond cross-functional training, things like job rotations and even simple desk swaps can spark idea-sharing among groups and individuals who might not have connected otherwise. This is also a great way to ensure that a diverse array of people contributes their perspectives and experiences.

Today’s CEOs prize innovation and see it as critical to growth, but according to PwC research, 77% of them “find it difficult to get the creativity and innovation skills they need” and regard the skills gap as a threat to innovation. L&D leaders need to communicate how a learning culture can help close that gap and spur innovation too.

Learning is THE skill for future success.

A love of learning is critical for individuals looking to advance in their careers. It’s also critical that companies attract adaptable learners and develop a growth mindset in their people in order to drive performance as business conditions change.

Forward-thinking companies are adapting the way they operate to remain competitive in a fast-moving, tech-driven modern business environment. It follows that the smartest ones are also rethinking how they prioritize learning and development in this age of continuous reskilling. Far from being a “nice to have” perk, giving employees learning opportunities is a key differentiator that attracts high-value talent and enables their best work, which is something every company executive can get behind.

This article originally appeared on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation blog.