November 2012
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TD Magazine

Pillars of Critical Learning Capability

Thursday, November 8, 2012

High-impact learning organizations excel at culture, measurement, and content.


Why are some organizations better at learning and development than others? Bersin & Associates conducts regular studies to determine how high-impact learning organizations distinguish themselves by efficiently providing effective learning solutions that are fully aligned to business objectives.

The most recent of these reports, The High-Impact Learning Organization—Key Findings and Maturity Model, uncovered these findings:

  • Although learning never has been more important to organizational success, few businesses perceive their learning and development organizations as strategic.
  • High-impact learning organizations are getting better at alignment overall, but the pressure for transformation has caused widespread confusion about where to focus internal improvement efforts.
  • Organization structure, governance, and leadership are important foundational distinctions between high- and low-impact learning organizations, but core capabilities such as performance consulting, competency management, and a learning architecture are the true differentiators.
  • A high-impact learning culture, learning measurement capability, and learning content capability are the three most critical pillars of high-impact learning organizations.

According to David Mallon, vice president of research at Bersin, to determine what your learning organization needs to do to have a significant impact and be valuable to the company, examine the strength of these pillars: Is learning successful (measurement), are you thinking beyond training investment to how learning is valued (culture), and can you compete in content and knowledge forums?
"If you have those three capabilities, our data would say you are light years ahead of the rest of the organizations and far more likely to be impactful to the business and seen as a strategic partner," Mallon says.

Accompanying the study's findings, Bersin's High-Impact Learning Organization Maturity Model depicts how organizations increasingly implement these differentiating capabilities as they evolve in learning and development. "By its nature, this model describes not just the maturity of the L&D department, but the maturity of chartered learning within the organization when it's intentionally enabled," Mallon says.


Mallon explains how the model's four levels tell a story of increasing learning sophistication and specialization. Organizations at Level 1 practice incidental, unintentional training. Although they may have a training professional on staff, learning and development is not a chartered function.

Level 2 represents training and development excellence—organizations that have created a training department and are working to master instructional design. Often organizations at this level become so focused on the business of training that their alignment with the business of the overall company suffers.

When these organizations evolve to a systems-thinking training approach and begin to understand talent management and performance improvement, they've moved to Level 3. Finally, Level 4, organizational capability development, is the pinnacle where few organizations operate. At this highest level, the business understands the value of connecting learning and talent in a big picture sense, and the learning function has a fundamental effect on how the C-suite makes decisions.

About the Author

Community of Practice Manager, ATD  Ann Parker is senior manager of the Human Capital Community of Practice and the Senior Leaders & Executives Community of Practice at ATD. Prior to this position, she worked at ATD for five years in an editorial capacity, primarily for TD magazine, and most recently as a senior writer and editor. In this role, Ann had the privilege to talk to many training and development practitioners, hear from a variety of prominent industry thought leaders, and develop a rich understanding of the profession's content.

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