LearnOps Leadership Episode with Dr. Sydney Savion: Running L&D Like a Business

dr sydney savion learnops leadership

Cognota founder and CEO Ryan Austin had an opportunity to speak with Dr. Sydney Savion, Chief Learning Officer of City Block Health and veteran L&D professional, as part of Cognota’s LearnOps Leadership Series.

The goal of the series is to speak with seasoned practitioners to better understand the challenges facing L&D teams, and to explore more fully the concept of LearnOps, or learning operations, as a solution to greater efficiency and stronger learning outcomes in the development and delivery of learning experiences.

“L&D is great at delivering resources, but learning professionals confess they lack the skills needed to measure how these resources are performing,” explains Dr. Savion.

Indeed, LearnOps embraces the idea that learning operations are just that—operations—that need to be run like a business. L&D professionals might have instructional design skills, but they also need to have commercial acumen, including the ability to leverage data to inform business insights and the proper utilization of resources.

“It should be like any other vertical in a company—it should be run like a business,” advises Dr. Savion.

Austin agreed. L&D professionals need to understand a return on learning investment and the impact of any time or resources spent in the development of learning experiences. Learning leaders need to continually ask, “What did this mean for the business?” and “What did this mean for employees?”

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Shifting priorities, and L&D practitioners who can deliver ROI

Tools—and Agile methodologies—are important, too. Austin explained that the reliance on data for insights is certainly essential, pointing to a large bank that hired data analysts to better understand its L&D operations. However, the analyst was only able to run reports once per month, which quickly became outdated because the data could not keep up with the speed at which the L&D team was completing projects.

Dr. Savion went on to discuss that in today’s changing corporate environments, L&D priorities have shifted. An acceleration of alternative learning methodologies, a focus on an equitable workforce, and the promotion of wellness and employee well-being have taken hold. Some companies have shed their L&D functions altogether, while others are investing even more resources into the function.

Regardless of the corporate stance on learning, there will be “more of a burning imperative for practitioners to be able to establish what the return on investment will be,” explains Dr. Savion.

They will need to know what data to collect, what to do with that data once collected, and then have an ecosystem in place—the tech stack, process, and strategy—to determine what that ROI ultimately is.

Start by understanding the business

If L&D is going to run itself like a business, then it must begin by understanding the underlying business of the company: its products and its customers, including how those products are developed, priced, delivered, and sold.

“Creating a learning strategy should be based on the company’s vision,” notes Dr. Savion. “L&D needs to clearly correlate learning objectives to business outcomes and business KPIs.”

Savion went on to explain that disparate systems can sometimes prevent the transparency needed to run L&D like a business.

Companies, even those that are smaller and in high-growth mode, can find themselves with several learning platforms in place—used by different departments with very little centralized operations. Dr. Savion pointed out that companies spend as much as $300 billion per year on learning interventions with no ROI, and so there is an unprecedented opportunity for L&D to serve as “stewards over this money” and use it to the fullest potential.

Point solutions, such as one platform for course authoring and another for learning delivery, can speak to one another, using connectivity software, for the benefit of the organization as a whole.

However, Austin points out that he has observed L&D professionals struggling to select the right solution to solve the problem—ostensibly because they don’t have the right data to support a purchasing decision, Dr. Savion points out.

Once L&D can become more literate in data and business practices, they will have an easier time understanding how to maximize L&D platforms for ROI.

Final thoughts

Near the close of the discussion, Dr. Savion mentioned the need for experimentation.

“Pilots or experiments are important to get a better understanding, and to obtain evidence as to whether learning is going to make a difference in the business,” explains Dr. Savion.

The results are data that L&D can use to inform, rather than make assumptions, as to what should be most important to L&D regarding platform selection, course development, delivery, assessment, and measurement.

As for the challenges that lie ahead for L&D, Dr. Savion reiterated her point about the need for learning professionals to develop a clear strategy, understand the company’s products and business model, and connect learning strategy with business KPIs based on data.

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