I’ve been in your shoes before – complaining about the unrealistic expectations that our business partners have on how quickly we can turn things around in L&D. There are two data points that I think are absolutely fascinating when we think about how we need to get content out:
- The half-life of an average skill today is 5 years (the more technical the skill, the closer to 2.5 years for a half-life (Gratton & Scott),
- The average hold time for a piece of stock is 4-8 months.
Skill Half-Life vs Learning Asset Turnaround
If you’re in a normal corporate machine pumping out a curriculum or learning programs, you know that it can take two to three months for the need to get to you. From there, the majority of L&D teams are publishing content or curricula six to nine months after they learn of the need (by the time the project gets clarified, staffed, reviews completed, loaded to a system, and pushed out to learners) – it’s often still a very “waterfall” approach. After it’s published, it’ll likely take another 6-12 months to scale the content out to the business.
In short, from the point that a learning need is identified, chances are it can take anywhere from six months at a really rapid clip to closer to two years to scale out that learning to address the need. Meanwhile, if it’s a highly technical skill, the half-life of the skill addressed by that content is two and a half years. We have a big delta between the way that we do learning development and design and the way that it needs to scale out. That may not sound like a learner experience issue, but if the learner needs the content today and you don’t get it out to them for months after the need, we’re not just missing the business need, we’re missing the learner need.
Of course, the business wants it 100% right next week, but if you go to your accountable executive and you give two options:
- “I can deliver this course for you by the end of next week and it’s going to be 60% of the way there.” or
- “I can deliver this course next month and it can be 90% of the way there.”
Which path are they choosing?
For most of us (not in a compliance or regulatory content), they’re going to say, “Get it 60% right next week because I have no idea if a month or two months from now my needs are even going to be the same.” Why? Because they need folks performing better next week, and who knows what will change next month.
While at Capital One, our CEO would do these 7 hour annual talks (I know it sounds like torture, but it was incredibly energizing). At one of these talks, the CEO threw out a data point that almost knocked me over. In the 1950s and ’60s, the average time that a shareholder would hold a piece of stock was somewhere in the range of eight years. Today, the average time that a stockholder holds a piece of stock is four to eight months. Whoever invests today expects your company to return profits on their investment within the first two quarters to three quarters.
Meanwhile, over in L&D, they’re coming to us and saying, “We need this program super fast.” and we’re saying, “But don’t you know about our analysis? We need more time to get through all of our methods and our science and our approach…”
When the business says to us, we need this in a few weeks or a month, it’s not because they’re being difficult or that they don’t think that what you do is valid. It is certainly not because they don’t care about L&D. All of those things we have bought into it, often making it an “us vs them” approach to our job. In truth, they are moving that quickly because the market is moving that quickly. Your CEO needs to add profit every single quarter to keep your shareholders happy. We must let go of our ideal development cycles and think in terms of the market pressure your CEO and executives are under. We’ve got to ask ourselves what the one or two things are that we can deliver quickly to help solve the immediate need and get it done?
Do you have the time that you need or want to be creative with your L&D approach? Maybe not, but nobody is cutting out your design and development time to be less creative or to make your learning programs less instructionally sound. They’re reducing timelines because they have to respond to a market in a world where the next iPhone release is going to come out in just another week or two and the market could be completely upended. That’s the business challenge, and if we want to add value, L&D has to learn how to support business in that market.
That’s it. Stop complaining about the turnaround time. Do what you can to fix it in your own shop. It serves the learner, it serves the business, and it serves you. Every time you complain about the timeline, your reducing your credibility.