Why and how does accountability matter in business learning? Part 1.

Have you thought about how learning progresses through an organization? It occurs in four distinct phases:Examining, learning, applying, and impacting.

First, the organization is examined to determine the need for learning. Second, the student learns the material. Third, the learner applies the material on the job. Finally, the learner’s new skills have (or should have) a positive and measurable impact on the business.

How Accountability Shifts During Learning Phases

The matrix above graphically shows how accountability shifts during those phases. It moves to different roles during each phase of the learning cycle because in each phase there is a distinct role that has a span of control over learning results.

The trainer is most accountable when learning is acquired. This accountability occurs during learning program design and in the classroom where the learning program is taught.

After the classroom, accountability shifts to the student’s manager. This is the stage where learning is applied on the job. The manager is the person most directly in charge of the day-to-day responsibilities of the learner. In that role, the manager must ensure that the learner applies their new knowledge while at work.

The diagram also shows how accountability aligns with evaluations (measurements) that assess learning. These measures show results at different points during learning progression. Collectively, the measures show how learning affected the organization.

Knowing Who Is Accountable Matters

Learning professionals control the design and delivery of learning programs. However, the success of their programs is often judged by changes that occur on the job. (In other words, did the learning transfer? Did the learner apply their new knowledge or skill while on the job? Did that learning have a positive impact on performance?)

Learning professionals feel accountable for learning application even with little control over what a student does back on the job.

Learning professionals are held accountable for the student’s use of the learning, despite having little control over the student’s job environment.

To compound this challenge, most learning professionals don’t know how to tie their learning programs to business unit metrics. They fail to realize that learning must target employee behavior change that will cause the business metric to change. Without this link, the learning program has little opportunity to result in positive transfer to the job or impact to organizational measures.

The Wrong Accountability Focus

Learning professionals realize they are being held accountable for on-the-job results. Knowing this, they attempt to insert control back on the job (despite, as shown above, having little control in that arena). They attempt this with mentoring, action plans, and other reinforcing activities.

On the face of it, these activities are good because they may help the student retain the material or even apply it.

However, more often, learning professionals run into resistance with these activities. Why? Because learning professionals do not supervise or manage the students on the job. They have little influence over the student’s time, tasks, motivation, or job environment. It’s hard for the learning professional to enforce the completion of these activities when they do not manage the employees directly.

It’s not the learning professional who should be accountable at this phase of learning progression. It’s the manager. The manager should understand that the new knowledge and ability may require changes to the job environment or support in order to be applied.

This confusion in accountability causes mixed signals and misplaced expectations. Without partnership in the progression of learning, business unit managers will see learning as ineffective and learning professionals will struggle against that perception.

The solution is to recognize these phases and agree on accountability roles. Learning must be a collaboration between learning professionals and business unit managers. It’s this recognition and working together that will lead to positive change for both the learning professional and the business unit. In part 2 of this series, we’ll give specifics for who is accountable for what and show how to improve collaboration and infuse accountability within your organization.

Do you need to adjust the accountability expectations of your learning programs? Contact us at eParamus. We’d love to help.

Please follow eParamus on LinkedIn and feel free to connect with me, Laura Paramoure, PhD. I’d love to know more about your training challenges.

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