Anyone who’s been involved in the planning, selection and implementation of a learning management system knows the feeling. They know the feeling of one day waking up and realizing that the LMS hasn’t delivered the anticipated returns that had been touted to justify the investment. They realize that the LMS has streamlined administration and cut costs, but it has not delivered the strategic value to the organization that had been promised.
But what exactly is the reason for this? Does the blame lie with flawed products, weak feature/functionality, overzealous sales reps or a faulty ROI calculation?
These are minor compared with other barriers to success surrounding the implementation and use of an LMS.
LMS Usage Today
There’s a clear trend toward the adoption of enterprise LMSs. According to Bersin & Associates research, 35 percent of large companies (those with more than 25,000 employees) have an enterprise LMS in place today, and more than 45 percent of large organizations are either planning or involved in a move to an enterprise-wide LMS.
Despite this trend toward enterprise LMS adoption, most organizations fail to seize the opportunity to deploy the enterprise LMS as a transformative technology. Unlike most enterprise applications, an LMS has the capability of acting purely as a transactional, administrative tool as well as the capability to serve as a nucleus for organizational transformation. Most applications fall into either one camp or the other.
This dual purpose of the LMS and the infinite variations of deployment complicate the strategy around the LMS. Without a clear plan to leverage both the administrative and the strategic capabilities of the LMS, most organizations fail to move beyond the automation of enrollment, course administration and e-learning to the higher-value functions of the LMS.
At its most fundamental level, an LMS serves three purposes:
- Compliance: Mitigate risk and meet regulatory reporting requirements.
- Cost savings: Reduce the cost burden of learning and development activities.
- Value creation: Grow critical knowledge, skills and capabilities to increase top-line value of the business and adapt workforce capabilities to meet changing business needs.
Based on the needs hierarchy of business, most organizations implement the most tactical functionality first, leaving the most strategic for last or, more commonly, never at all. (See Figure 1).
The true value of an LMS lies not with the reduction of administration and associated costs, but with better, more targeted deployment of knowledge across the enterprise. So how do you ensure that your organization doesn’t get mired in the tactical aspects and fail to realize the strategic benefits of the LMS?
What Kind of Value Can an LMS Create?
It’s important to understand what is meant by “value.” What kind of value can you hope to create with your LMS?
Deliver measurable business results: Impact operational measures with targeted learning (e.g., customer care metrics, manufacturing throughput or same store sales) and deliver measurable financial results (e.g., new product sales, revenue).
Deliver the “right” training: Leverage technology to help identify learning needs at the learner and organizational level and reduce learning waste and information overload by minimizing “nice-to-know” knowledge transfer.
Enable better decisions/increase productivity: Improve the effectiveness of knowledge workers by equipping them with the knowledge they need to operate at peak performance levels.
Just-in-time, just what’s needed: Arm learners with targeted, granular learning objects, just what they need to know—not more, not less—at the point of demand.
Actionable talent management: Position learning as an agent for change, as an organizational lever to adapt the supply of talent (the workforce) to changing talent demand.
Whether you are live on an LMS today or in the planning phase, there are areas that you can focus on to help your organization drive greater value from its LMS.
The most effective LMS implementations include rigorous attention to LMS process design prior to the configuration of the application. Without a foundation of consistency and control across the enterprise, the value of the information you put in and get out of the LMS is limited.
The adoption of standardized processes across the span of control of the LMS also is essential. Without a consistent set of standards, moving forward with some of the higher-value functions is impossible. Think of standards as the foundation on which the entire value of the LMS is built. You must:
Adhere to best practices: Don’t assume that your way is the right way. Most LMSs are built based on industry best practices. Leverage the delivered business processes and functionality whenever possible.
Establish standard naming conventions: All objects in the LMS (programs, curricula, activities, classes, sessions, rooms, organizations, domains, etc.) should adhere to a strict set of naming conventions. When you’re ready to begin reusing learning objects, mapping courses to skills and competencies and prescribing learning activities based on organizational events, you’ll need a tight and clean set of standards to work with.
Also critical is a thoroughly planned reporting strategy to ensure that your organization will get the information out of the LMS that it needs. If you’re only able to manage and track training with your LMS and not effectively report on it, the LMS will be relegated to the ranks of an “administrative” application. As obvious as it sounds, reporting is one of the most common areas on which organizations fail to deliver. You should:
Develop a multi-tiered reporting strategy that supports corporate and divisional training administrators, instructors, program managers, line managers and executives.
Report on-demand via self-service: Provide power users (corporate and divisional training administrators with the right skill sets) the ability to develop and run their own reports, and enable managers to run canned reports on demand.
LMS Governance: How to Manage the LMS Effectively
How organizations govern their LMS is a critical yet often overlooked factor that separates those that derive higher levels of value from the LMS from those that don’t. Governance refers to the organizational structure, processes and role definition that surround the LMS.
Despite the trend to implement an enterprise LMS, many organizations still struggle to bring the totality of training across the enterprise onto the LMS. The consolidation of learning across the enterprise is often a multi-year initiative. As such, organizations are sometimes derailed in their efforts. Be sure to build a concrete plan and business case to bring all training onto the enterprise LMS, and continue to socialize the importance of centralization on an on-going basis. Without insight and control into the totality of learning across the enterprise, higher-value functions such as reporting and measurement and integration with other talent management processes cannot be effective.
Most organizations have some type of a centralized corporate training function as well as multiple divisional or departmental training groups. Most LMSs enable a combination of centralized and distributed administration. You should:
Give careful thought to how you define your centralized and distributed training administrator roles. Organizations that provide distributed administrators with appropriate security rights to manage and report on their division’s learning have higher LMS adoption rates and tend to use more of the delivered functionality.
Augment a distributed administration model with centralized LMS services and standardized processes to ensure quality and consistency.
A gulf of understanding, knowledge and communication surrounding the LMS often exists between IT and learning and development. Learning and development tends to believe that the LMS, an enterprise application, is the responsibility of HR technology, HRIS IT. However, IT lacks the understanding of learning-business processes to drive decisions around the implementation, design and use of the LMS. The consequences of this misalignment in LMS governance can be great:
Under-use of delivered functionality: When learning and development lacks a deep knowledge of the delivered LMS functionality, it is unable to identify opportunities to leverage higher-value functionality.
Unnecessary customizations or frustration on the part of learning and development: Without adequate knowledge of the LMS, instructional designers and program managers often design curriculum in ways that can’t be supported by the LMS. This leads to one of two problems: customizations that could have been avoided had the design taken into the account the LMS capabilities or frustration by designers that the LMS can’t meet their needs.
Unmet reporting needs: Without the ability to develop ad-hoc reports and sometimes even run canned reports, learning and development typically cannot respond to the business at the service level that is expected.
Some of the ways you can address a misaligned IT and learning and development governance model include:
- Consider having some IT resources report to learning and development.
- Establish clear service-level agreements.
- Have IT and learning and development representation involved in all project planning decisions.
- Provide deep product training to key learning and development resources.
You also must pay close attention to the manager’s and employees’ roles. Many higher-value LMS functions require a more proactive role in learning and development by both the manager and the employee. Most LMSs today offer deep manager and employee self-service to proactively manage development. However, taking advantage of these capabilities often requires a significant cultural shift. Be sure to include cultural change when you develop your LMS strategy and plan.
If there’s so much value to be gained through LMS functionality, why do so few organizations implement it? Most LMS implementations use less than 60 percent of the functionality provided by solution vendors. Limited knowledge of unused technology features, limited implementation at the outset of the LMS’s use and the overall complexity of LMS strategy and implementation force most organizations into a position of implementing only the nuts and bolts—the most tactical functionality of the LMS.
Organizations that implement higher-value functionality typically have a clearly articulated LMS strategy and plan that lays out a roadmap for both tactical and higher-value functionality. They will often include some higher value functionality in the first phase of their implementation in order to demonstrate strategic value to the organization from the outset.
Some of the LMS and related learning technology functionalities that can create value within your organization include:
- Team learning plans: Empower managers with the ability to assign learning to their teams to meet changing business imperatives and address performance issues.
- Ad hoc learning: Enable employees to track learning activities that are outside of the learning catalog (e.g., seminars, conferences, classes through local colleges, etc.). This enables a comprehensive view of an individual’s overall learning.
- Prescriptive learning: Configure the LMS to automatically prescribe learning activities based upon an employee’s skill or competency gap.
- Event-based learning: Configure the LMS to automatically assign learning activities based on an organizational event (hire, transfer, promotion, work assignment or performance measure). Some LMSs today are built with the ability to receive incoming triggers from other enterprise applications (e.g., call center, CRM, HRMS, a data warehouse, etc.) based on an event in that system that would indicate a training need.
- Learning portals: Develop a portal where employees go for all of their learning needs: for example, to find formal learning, to access unstructured knowledge, to find subject-matter experts and to share knowledge and experience with others.
Integration With Other Talent Management Processes
Although an LMS can deliver powerful, business-enabling results on its own, when deployed as part of an integrated talent management solution, its power can be significantly greater. When a new employee is brought on-board, a performance review is conducted, a succession plan built or a new talent demand is identified, learning should be triggered to make the talent event actionable rather than static. Vendors are responding to this need by building out integrated talent management suites (learning, performance, talent acquisition, succession, competency and career management).
Until the market matures and integrated suites become the industry standard, organizations should assess the value of building custom integration between point solutions.
As organizations roll out their LMSs, many of them fail to effectively educate and motivate their learners to use the new system. Studies show that 92 percent of new software projects are classified as failures. They also report the number-one reason that software implementations fail is due to internal resistance and a lack of education and communication about the use and benefits.
This oversight has wasted millions of dollars in new LMS deployments. Even well-run LMS implementations often fail to deliver their anticipated value due to a lack of internal marketing and communication, training and behavioral change. Even the tactical functions of employee-direct-access enrollment require significant change-management effort to ensure user adoption and acceptance.
Higher-value functions such as team learning plans, competency-based learning, collaboration tools and learning portals require a greater change-management effort to ensure that learners and managers understand and embrace the new capabilities. Things to keep in mind when rolling out your LMS:
- Develop a “people” message. Avoid promoting LMS as “just another system.”
- Clearly articulate the value of the LMS to every employee.
- Establish an LMS brand.
- Leverage executive sponsorship in your communication plan.
- Use simple, memorable and concise messages.
- Consistently deliver messages via multiple tools.
Heidi Spirgi is president and co-founder of Knowledge Infusion and has worked in learning, development and HCM solutions and strategies for more than 10 years. She can be reached at email@example.com.