Corporate Learning as Competitive Advantage Enabler

Corporate learning needs to learn how to transform itself from being a knowledge distributor to a competitive advantage enabler. The increasing speed, volume and uncertainness of skill changes that corporates are dealing with today already, demand a business-driven and learner-centric approach that is continuously improved by data insights.

Many speak about it, have great ideas, but don’t know exactly on how to execute. Based on the experience I have gained in the past two years, implementing a social learning marketplace that is business-driven, learner-centric and data-driven, I would recommend the following high-level approach:

  1. The C-Suite identifies and empowers an internal “Mobilizer.”
  2. Develop a vision purely based on business pains, neglect didactics & trends
  3. Launch a minimum viable product in beta within six months
  4. Stay in continuous beta, co-develop based on employee feedback
  5. Develop learning analytics to create transparency
  6. Anchor a learning culture with 4-way accountability
  7. Build management consulting skills in Corporate Learning

The C-Suite identifies and empowers an internal “Mobilizer”

CEB coins the term “Mobilizer” in their book “The Challenger Customer”. It is someone with the internal buy-in to drive disruptive, transformative change. On slide 9 of this presentation, you can learn how to find such a “mobilizer”. Based on my experience, this has to be somebody without a corporate L&D background to have an unbiased view. Entrepreneurship, visionary and a track record of successful execution are some key skills to look for. But most important, it should be a person that has a burning desire to create End-2-End performance improvement.


source: SlideShare/ CEB / LinkedIn Sales Solution

Develop a vision purely based on business pains, neglect didactics & trends

Trends are the hype of the moment that solves a current niche problem. Often not the immediate business pain that your company is dealing with. Didactics, on the other hand, don’t take into account the constraints that your customers give you. Then why should these be considered when developing a new approach to corporate learning? After all, corporate learning should enable your organisation to close its skill gap.

To develop a strong vision, focus on developing new business models and driving business model innovation in corporate learning. This focus alone will boost the business relevance of your corporate learning department by a 10-fold. It is also the level at which you can engage with the C-Suite and co-develop a disruptive model. Through this design process, you create the buy-in needed for execution later.

Launch a minimum viable product in beta within six months

Delivering a “good enough” product demonstrates the capability to deliver on that vision. This is far more important than getting everything right at launch and gives the C-Suite confidence they made the right decision. It also sends another message: we need to learn how you want to learn, teach us! Showing this vulnerability will be a crucial strength for creating a learning culture.

When designing an MVP, use a mix of approaches such as human-centred designuser experience designvalue proposition designlean start-up, and good-old business acumen. Don’t get trapped in doing everything agile: developing a product or solution yes. But even there to a certain point: to drive execution and meet deadlines, it is vital to steer these design processes by business acumen.

Stay in continuous beta, co-develop based on employee feedback

To create a learning culture, your L&D needs to be a shining example of a learning culture. That means making mistakes (some smaller, some bigger), admitting to it and working with the organisation to find solutions. And yes, that means that every product, service and solution goes through the same development process. The delay this causes in launching new services, you gain during the implementation and getting acceptance phase.

See your employees as your customers. And customers are very good at… complaining! That is fantastic news because people who complain are those who care enough to help you move forward. Respond fast, implement improvements quickly, and you will turn your biggest complainers into your biggest advocates.

Develop learning analytics to create transparency

Demonstrating the capability to deliver, getting the buy-in from the organisation through co-development and staying in continuous beta will help you build the foundation for a learning culture. The C-Suite understands Return-on-Investment, is most likely already dreaming of being a data-driven organisation and wants hard facts to confirm their decision. To continuously improve the content, user experience, engagement and business impact, you will need learning analytics as your enabler.

Learning analytics will help you to understand how your employees are learning. This will be a source of inspiration for further developing the learning experience, identify future savings potential and strengthen the relationship with the business. Forget about asking questions like: how many courses do we offer? Or what is the course completion rate? Instead, focus on questions like how much time is spent on which course modules? Or which topics have the most questions?.

Anchor a learning culture with 4-way accountability

Corporate learning will be the first group to drive a learning culture and be an example. The next step is for an organisation to foster a learning culture by embedding this in its corporate culture. Kevin Oakes from i4cp introduced the 4-way accountability to building a learning culture:

  1. At the organisational level
  2. At the learner level
  3. At the manager level
  4. At the leader level

Anchoring a learning culture is a C-Level topic that needs to be jointly developed by leaders, managers and critical learners and validated on an organisational and learner level.

This is further supported by the findings of the 2017 Deloitte report “High-Impact Learning Organization – Maturity Model and Top Findings”.


Deloitte links a mature learning culture and bottom-line business impact:


Build management consulting skills in Corporate Learning

To transform corporate learning towards a competitive advantage enabler, the previous steps are needed to build internal credibility. Generally, “the business” tends to believe that “trainings are costs” because the impact is not directly relatable to business success. Having successfully co-created a new learning experience with the organisation, anchored a learning culture and creating transparency through data analytics, the organisation is now ready for the next step. Transforming corporate learning into a competitive advantage, enabler requires to build management consulting skills in the L&D team.

The high-level process would look like:

  • Identifying business bottleneck
  • Define the business problem
  • Determine root cause
  • Develop training prototypes
  • Prototype and measure impact
  • Scale training solution and measure long-term impact
  • Evaluate effective business impact & review

This approach will offer companies a structured approach to address closing skill gaps in a way that is linked to business impact. Through this, Corporate Learning & Development can transform itself from being a cost centre to a revenue creator.