My Harvard Business Review subscription has been worth the price lately… it’s been giving me some serious food for thought and no, I don’t get any discounts for promoting the articles. This month, an article on Reinventing Your Business Model caught my eye.
I’m thinking about how we have to reinvent learning and development. Think about it… we are (or should be) moving from being in the business of producing training deliverables (courses, job aids, performance support systems) to being in the business of supporting learning in all its many forms – and our deliverables are not so clear cut. If that’s not changing our business model, I don’t know what is.
That’s why Johnson, Christensen, & Kagermann’s article caught my attention and gave me so much to think about. They contend that the elements of a business model consist of a customer value proposition, a profit formula, and the key resources and processes that deliver on that proposition. I haven’t got it figured out by any means, but I’d love your reactions to the following ruminations.
What is the value we intend to create for our customers? What’s the problem that needs a solution? The value proposition is defined by the target customer, the job to be done (what we’re going to do to solve the problem) and the offering (what we’re “selling”). As a first pass, I think that we’re offering individual employees the learning resources they need to develop their capabilities to fulfill their job responsibilities effectively, efficiently, and with a high degree of quality.
Here’s the rub: “The most important attribute of a customer value proposition is its precision: how perfectly it nails the customer job to be done – and nothing else. But such precision is often the most difficult thing to achieve. Companies trying to create the new often neglect to focus on one job; they dilute their efforts by attempting to do lots of things. In doing lots of things, they do nothing really well.”
Ouch. Historically, we (the grand we – professionals in the T&D industry) have focused on delivering great training as the one thing we do well. First we offered great classroom training, then we added performance consulting (to make sure training was the best solution), then we branched out to offering e-learning, now we’re looking at multiplying the deliverables to the far reaches of our imaginations… I know that’s oversimplifying the trend in our business, but you get the picture. Here’s what keeps me awake at night: How can we move in a new direction and still do things well? How do we define our value proposition in such a way that we can actually deliver on it?
What are the processes, norms, and metrics that allow us to deliver on our value proposition in a repeatable and scalable way? Another scary question. We know that our processes have to change… the processes that create classroom training and e-learning won’t help us to create podcasts, collaborative spaces, or user-generated knowledge repositories. How do we define quality for these new learning tools? And how do we measure impact when these tools support learning in a much less measurable way? We have learners who are much more comfortable with the tools than we are and who shrug with lack of concern when we talk about process and standards and regulatory constraints. We can’t be unconcerned, of course, but we need to be far more nimble and responsive than we have been able to be in the past. I wonder if we should pick the new deliverables that are most likely to have impact and become effective at getting those tools in play rather than trying a lot of little experiments without being able to develop our skill at doing any of them really well. On the other hand, I worry that if we take it slow, will we miss the mark and disappoint our learners just when they need us most. ‘Tis a quandary.
Another toughie… What are the skill sets, technology products, and equipment we need to fulfill our new value proposition? What partnerships should we be forming? One of our main challenges here is staying ahead of technology advances, which happen literally every day. In order to make the right technology choices, we need to have made the right decisions regarding our offer… and we need to be forward-thinking enough to determine what will create long-term value. Yikes. More importantly, we need to develop the skill sets that will allow us to take advantage of the technology and fulfill our value proposition. Frankly, I think we should focus on the sustainable skill sets: deep understanding of adult learning, personal capacity to learn, ability to envision a strategic learning solution, and collaboration skills.
Even though we aren’t a profit center, we have to be cost-conscious and time-conscious. How can we create valuable learning tools at low cost? How do we identify the projects that deserve deep investment? We also have to think about what our learners are “paying” in terms of their time and effort to learn and make sure we’re not requiring inordinate investment for the value they receive. This is why enabling collaboration and just-in-time, just-enough learning has such a high payoff if we can get it right – it’s far less expensive by any measure than forcing people through pre-defined experiences that may be too much, too little, too soon, too late, or in some way just not right for the need.
Like I said, quite a lot to think about. Please read the article… let me know what you think. The business model in workplace learning is being reinvented… let’s do it right.
Reinventing Your Business Model by Mark W. Johnson, Clayton M. Christensen, & Henning Kagermann. Harvard Business Review, December 2008.