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How can HR individualize learning and development programs for staff - especially executives? Three experts provide their tips.

Tip 1 - Use a framework as a springboard to discussions about tailored L&D plans
By Deborah Burt, director of people, Parsons Brinckerhoff

With executives, it helps a great deal to work with an accepted framework as the backdrop for discussions about tailoring individual learning and development plans.

This framework provides a measure of consistency in performance expectations for common roles. It means communicating these expectations and holding people accountable for meeting them. For instance, an organization may expect all managers to be competent across a range of people management skills. Once individuals understand these expectations and gauge their own performance, if a gap or variation exists, we can tailor activities to address this.

At Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB) we have developed an in-house competency framework called Success Profiles, which include senior executive roles. These comprehensive tools identify skills, attributes and competencies and define expected performance levels. Online assessment tools enable people to self-assess, undertake a 180 or 360 degree assessment, and to identify strengths and gaps.

Once they have identified the gaps, the online tool suggests various development options to close the gaps. At PB we take the 70/20/10 approach to development very seriously. This approach suggests 70% of a person's learning will be achieved on the job. But even on the job learning needs to be tailored, planned and coached. Here's an example. If an executive has difficulty in a competency such as 'Delivering exceptional results' and the specific element identified as problematic is 'Focuses on delivering exceptional results', then two examples of 70% development activities are:

• Encourage your team to develop a project scorecard with challenging but realistic targets. Regularly monitor progress.
• Provide specific feedback to individuals and the team on how they are contributing to organizational success through their work. Recognize and celebrate success as milestones are achieved.

From here, the HR business partner supports individual executives in understanding their assessment and how to implement these activities; and often provides feedback on their performance. The response from staff as they use this framework has shown this is a strong solution to meet our people's development needs.

Tip 2 - Include more story-telling in your facilitation and design, while boosting the manager's capability to have development conversations
By Colleen Kavanagh, learning and development manager, sanofi-aventis

Let me answer this by applying Peter Senge's 'Systems Thinking' - I will apply it to one small but complex system and work on the basis that what we can apply in one system, we can apply to others that are larger and as complex.

My system here is 'my learner' who in this instance is an adult and so brings life experience. The relevance here is that adult learners are contextual learners.

When an adult learner is provided with examples of how their experience in one context can be applied in their new context, they will quickly construct links between their new knowledge and prior knowledge and 'transfer their own learning from one place to another' eg a salesperson can quickly integrate a new sales call model when links and connections are made to their previous selling or communication experience.

One of the keys to telling a good story or using examples is to be artfully vague: that is to highlight the similarities between the protagonist in the story/example and your audience. This will increase the audience's ability to associate with the protagonist and vicariously go through the same experience, arriving at the same understanding or attitude. This is all about moving learners from the known to the unknown.

Including more story-telling and more examples in your facilitation and design is one way to individualize learning and it will also enable you to create a more generative learning environment.

Continuing with my 'systems thinking' approach - let's think about the components of the system: the learner's manager. What is their role and how can they assist me to individualize the programs?

The Broad and Newstrom Research on 'Transfer of Learning' is instructive here. They examined the roles of the identified stakeholders in terms of their influence on the transfer of learning: the Manager of the Learner; the L&D professional and the Learner. Broad and Newstrom's research demonstrated that the manager usually holds two of the top three positions.

Rod Matthews at Impact Human Performance Technologies holds a similar view: "The best way to increase the likelihood of individualizing learning and development is to increase the capability of the manager to have development conversations."

The individual's manager is certainly in the best position to identify knowledge and skill needs specific to an individual prior to a learning intervention. They are also in the best position follow up, reinforce, coach and assess those specific individual needs.

*Broad, M.L. & Newstrom, JW in their book 'Transfer of Training: Action-Packed Strategies to Ensure High Payoff From Training Investments' (published in 1992).
Rod Matthews can be contacted at .

Tip 3 - Know the profiles of your people well
By Alessandro Paparelli, regional HR director, Asia/Pacific, Ferragamo

Some time ago, at a seminar, a delegate told me during a break: "Coming here is ok for status, but we should never ask for training. It shows weakness." I've rarely heard a more stupid comment!

Willingness to learn, on the contrary, shows maturity and confidence in one's potential. Just like encouraging it, on the company's side, shows a correct understanding on how the value of its human capital is built, maintained and increased. A proactive approach from both sides is particularly important.

Corporate training programs are excellent in improving general skills, but if someone takes the initiative to highlight a specific need, that's where organizations have an opportunity to really let someone shine.

To spot these opportunities, HR professionals should know the profiles of their people well, and have a clear understanding of their current roles. Internal training from expert colleagues is an option that is often underestimated in individualizing learning and development programs.


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