The Millennium Group
46169 Westlake Drive
Sterling, VA 20165
Organizations are similar in that an upward spiral can be created by providing educational
opportunities at all levels. Tie training and development closely with strategy, and organizational
goals will be achieved. As with competencies within manufacturing or sales, learning is a process.
Understanding and managing the process of learning provides a source of competitive advantage –
for individuals, communities, companies, and even society at large.
Organizational Assessment - Strategy and your Workforce Planning
Developing a sound overall strategy is essential to provide direction and focus for the organization.
Ideally, human capital managers should be involved in the strategic decisions of the organization –
especially if it is a service enterprise. Developing a strategic plan involves creating a roadmap for
change and growth. In planning a corresponding learning and knowledge strategy, the same basic
guidelines apply. The organization has current processes that enable it to function as it is today.
Tomorrow’s operations will require new skills and processes. This gap must be filled with new
A strategy will clearly define the before and after state, along with roadmap for implementation – in
terms of human capital development – or workplace training and development. If your organization
maintains certain operating standards for internal quality like ISO, Baldridge, Balanced Scorecard, Six
Sigma, etc., these requirements can be used as a basis for conducting the assessment. Analyze your
current operations, develop processes and procedures that will improve the operation, and train
people to those requirements.
In order to conduct a proper learning and knowledge assessment – and to develop a strategy that
will align these activities with the overall goals of the organization – several different types of learning
activities must be evaluated. This is an inventory of all the various learning activities that must be
taken into account in forming a learning and knowledge strategy. We must understand what has to
be learned, how learning takes place, and which areas need specialized knowledge and training.
Finally, learning and knowledge transfer must be extended to the larger enterprise to be optimally
effective. Understanding these learning elements and how they react with one another in learning
and development will aid in forming a detailed roadmap for strategy implementation.
Learning Components Essential for Performance
The last time we checked, unattended computers and empty chairs can’t figure out how to get things
done. It is incumbent upon the people in the organization to implement the chosen strategy.
Therefore, human capital must have the right knowledge at the right time. As we know, transferring
this knowledge is the essence of learning – but exactly what does the organization need to know?
There are five essential components of workforce training and development that are necessary for
optimal performance. Each of these components must be clearly established and visible in every
organization. Make a checklist and see how your organization stacks up.
|Policy and Procedures – this is relevant at all levels for every department – they should be |
|written, proved, trained and updated quarterly|
|Skills – whether hard or soft, they are essential for every person at all levels of the organization|
|Compliance and regulations – compliance means keeping the company out of trouble but it |
|can also mean complying with company established operating standards – like internally |
mandated quality programs
|Human development – these are essential soft skills like leadership, time management and a |
|host of other topics that add to the talent pool in the organization|
|Cross training - should be required of all employees at some level. It is the easiest, least |
|expensive method for increasing organizational capacity. It also has the best ROI of all training |
Where Learning Occurs
Now that we know what must be learned, we can consider how individuals engage in these
knowledge transfer activities. Then we will be able to begin managing these activities and reporting
on learning outcomes. Learning must be documented in each situation. Here is a list of how learning
occurs in a typical organization.
- On the Job –this includes peer to peer, and manager led training, apprenticeships, and soft
skills like mentoring, coaching, and learning cultural aspects of an organization.
- In a classroom or through instructor-led training - Procedures, orientation, human
development and compliance topics are taught in a classic instructor led setting.
- Skills demonstrations –can be performed on the job, online or in an instructor led situation.
This would include computer and software skills.
- Online delivery – all kinds of learning can occur online including compliance, skills (through
simulations), employee development, etc…. Because online training can be tracked closely
through individual point-and-click quizzes and testing, this is an excellent method for tracking all
types of learning activities.
- Blended Learning Environments – Virtually any type of program can be blended with an
online component to provide additional learning experiences. In some cases, blending the
learning environment can create tremendous cost savings, as is the case when a portion of
instructor led training is converted to online courses.
Tacit transfer of knowledge involves mentoring, coaching and interaction with peers either in person
or through the use of technology.
The important thing to keep in mind when developing a learning and knowledge strategy is to
determine how the organization learns now and to develop new methods of learning that will save
money, improve learning outcomes and provide an opportunity for recording this information. When
we combine what we need to know with the methods for learning, we can begin to see how many
types of learning activities must be tracked and recorded.
Your organization may or may not have as many variables as is shown above, but certainly each
arrow is a possibility. In assessing the current situation, it is important to list all formal and informal
training programs and how they are currently delivered and tracked. Then determine how your
current programs might be deployed more efficiently. Finally, you might find glaring gaps in your
training programs that must be filled. Keep in mind that developing a future strategy will likely mean
transferring learning activities to another, more effective method. For instance, compliance might be
taught in a classroom currently, but a learning strategy might be to shift this online for better control
and lower costs.
Unique Knowledge Requirements
After the basics are in place, it is wise to begin to simplify the process by determining how like
learners might be grouped. Since every industry is different this will vary significantly from one
organization to the next. The following categories represent groupings of like learners. When
considering what must be learned, and how this knowledge transfer will occur, it will be essential to
keep in mind the best method for uniform delivery to these groups of learners.
- All employees – Orientation, compliance training, timekeeping, benefits education, and other
onboarding activities are examples of all-employee learning events.
- Departments typically have different operating procedures. These might be similar for like
departments across the country or around the world. For example, one hotel chain might have
the same procedures for housekeeping, front desk, reservations, banquets, etc… regardless of
where their hotels are.
- Client teams – Professional services firms often have procedures surrounding client
interactions. This would include government contractors or others engaged in specific projects
in a team setting. Any time a community of practice is client centered, special knowledge might
- Subject matter experts – These groups of like learners need uniform knowledge throughout
the organization regardless of their geographic location – like safety officers on project sites,
logisticians, IT technicians, project managers etc…
- Divisions like departments will have very different sets of learning requirements. Disney has
theme parks, cruise ships, movies and entertainment, consumer products of all types, and even
a bus line. These divisions might share the same values, but have very different operating
- Countries – of course, training requirements will vary from country to country in a host of ways
– like compliance and local laws along with nuances of culture and customs.
- Job categories and descriptions – it is very common for organizations to require certain skill
sets for certain jobs and levels. These competencies can be taken right from a good job
- Number of employee reports – First time supervisors at Target or shift managers at Wendy’s
might require similar training. Directors and VPs need different types of training. However,
everyone engaged in interviewing, hiring and firing at all levels might require the same training.
It is not uncommon for organizations to begin to offer leadership and other developmental
training to those supervising others.
When you begin to evaluate groups of learners in terms of what must be learned and how it will
occur, your opportunities increase significantly. Evaluating all these combinations for feasibility,
reliability and growth will provide a foundation for a sound workplace training and development
strategy. Perhaps your organization might look something like this:
Extending Learning through the Enterprise
Some type of learning occurs throughout the entire supply chain. Capturing, controlling and improving
these activities will be an essential component of the learning and knowledge strategy. This is called
“enterprise learning” and once implemented will be a significant factor in establishing and maintaining
a competitive advantage. Once a learning plan is created for each segment of your extended
business organization, relearning and reskilling can happen very quickly as new products are
developed or processes are improved.
- Employees – A classic example is McDonalds and their famous Hamburger University – a teen
can start as a crew member and move up through the entire organization. (They, like many
other companies offer online training, on-job-training, and, of course at the University itself)
- Customers –Customer training is important to maintaining an edge on the competition in a
number of industries. Lowes and Home Depot swear by it… (They offer seminars, advice on-
the job and information online)
- Suppliers – Training and certifying suppliers is an important aspect of Walmart’s competitive
advantage (This training starts when you first try to sell to Walmart – and takes place
throughout the organization in many different ways)
- Distributors – Training your downstream supply chain is critical. Sun Microsystems sells nothing
directly but relies exclusively on resellers. Automobiles, power tools, carpet and tile, computer
software, medicines of all kinds – the list goes on and on…… This training occurs by every
method imaginable – but rapid e-learning is becoming the method of choice for many companies.
Training for membership can be a profit center! For all the non-profit organizations in the world,
member training and communications is absolutely essential. There are numerous methods for
delivering and tracking learning outcomes, including online delivery.
All of these learning opportunities must be considered because by mixing and matching, better
information can be provided faster and economies of scale can be achieved to bolster the bottom line.
After considering the extended enterprise in your learning and knowledge assessment, your options
for grouping like learners and deploying resources might look something like this:
Managing these learning activities competently is the secret to creating and sustaining a competitive
advantage in a knowledge-based economy.
Holding People Accountable to Performance Standards
Accountability is only possible if there is a demonstration of learning outcomes. Testing is an example
of how we might be able to determine if knowledge has indeed been transferred correctly. In order to
hold individuals strictly accountable, records must be kept that show which individuals know what.
Reports and metrics should be developed so that managers and strategists can see where
competencies exist and where improvement is needed. Records must be maintained for compliance
issues. Imagine an airline not being able to verify that a mechanic was properly trained and certified.
Continuing professional education exists and is tracked in numerous occupations.
Managing Groups of Learners
Ensuring that every individual in the enterprise is contributing to the organizational mission may seem
overwhelming given all the various learning opportunities. This process can be simplified by
establishing a system for managing the learning process. Learning is a course of action like any other
in an organization. It can be managed just like any operation. Grouping learners makes this task
easier. For instance, one department may have procedures that must be followed by every individual
in that department. One job description may have specific skills that must be verified. Everyone in
that job description can be placed into a similar curriculum. Cross training provides depth to the
organization and creates capacity.
Functions of a Learning Management System (LMS)
Learning Management Systems (LMS) sprung forth in the late nineties as the new software system
that could transform companies into lean, mean learning machines. The ideal LMS state enables
control of learning functions at all levels, for all individuals, both within the organization itself and
through the entire enterprise. This has not been the case with many LMS implementations to date
because people, not software that must administer and run knowledge transfer programs. A piece of
LMS software will not manage anything. It is the content and administration of the system that
enables it to add value to the bottom line. If managed properly, an online LMS holds the promise for
delivering untold increases in efficiency and a method for managing rapid organizational change.
However, whether a software program is deployed for this purpose or not, the basic elements of a
learning system are as follows:
- Tracking learning outcomes - The only way to hold people accountable to performance
standards (individually or collectively) is to require proof of learning outcomes.
- Activity administration - Learning occurs in many different forms and in various locations.
Making sure each individual receives the right training at the right time requires coordination.
Registering, assessment, testing and reporting are all administrative functions that must be
- Grouping like learners - Learners should be grouped in order to streamline the administrative
process. Similar to a college curriculum in a given subject, learners must have basic skills in a
variety of areas. Learners are typically grouped by department, job description, level within an
organization and so forth as discussed above.
- e-Learning deployment - e-Learning is here to stay. A major benefit of a software-based LMS
is deployment of online curriculum. Disseminating information to a much larger audience for a
fraction of the cost of traditional classroom or seminar courses makes e-learning a requirement
for the changing organization. It also provides the foundation for rapid content development
- Knowledge management - A necessary component of a LMS is storage of operational know-
how. Materials containing procedures, policy, operating guides for machinery and software,
etc.. can all be stored for easy retrieval within a LMS. Even if LMS software is not used for this
purpose, this essential knowledge repository of operating guidelines must be established and
- Reporting - Decision makers rely on reporting to provide a snapshot of how an operation is
performing. Metrics are essential for laying a foundation for improvement. Six Sigma and
balanced scorecards rely on metrics to gauge operational effectiveness. Reporting on learning
outcomes is no less important than other organizational functions.
A learning management system (LMS) can be used to track all types of learning regardless of where or
when it occurs. It makes sense to deploy an LMS by first using it to track existing training programs.
If, for example, your learning is primarily instructor led, the LMS can be used by instructors to verify
attendance. Or a survey can be placed online so employees can log on and provide feedback. For
skills or compliance training, a simple online test will provide proof that an employee fully understands
the information. Of course, a LMS can also be used for providing online or blended learning
experiences. Custom courses can be developed for an organization and employees can point-and-
click through courses. When metrics are pulled, learning outcomes can be monitored very closely.
Perhaps most important, however, is the ability to determine where an individual stands in
relationship to his or her learning plan. Departments can be monitored for policy or procedure
training. Learning plans, such as compliance programs can be monitored in aggregate to determine
who needs to finish critical training. The following is a screen shot of a live LMS system. This learning
plan is for all employees in the organization. The blue courses are online and the black ones are
either instructor led training or on-the-job certifications. Each module requires, at minimum, a checklist
and simple test. Each employee in this organization received a certificate, generated by the system
automatically, showing completion of each course.
Getting Started with a New Program
Establishing a new learning program is a project, similar to any other initiative. Like learning itself, it
requires building on a foundation of basics. And it is important to always consider return on
investment, whether that is time or money. For this reason there are steps that should be
undertaken to ensure that your learning management program will meet the needs of the
organization. As with any major initiative, developing a learning system must align with organizational
goals and values, contribute towards stated objectives, and have a direct relationship to bottom line
efficiency. Buy-in is especially important because learning occurs at all levels of an organization. For
this reason the following activities should be undertaken with a broad base of participants, and in a
high profile manner.
- Needs assessment
- Producing a gap analysis
- Developing a learning system proposal
- Evaluating return on investment in human capital
- Performance accountability
- Engaging in continuous process improvement
- Managing continuous change
Strategy necessarily involves growing and changing. Once an organization becomes a learning
organization, new operating processes can be rolled out very quickly to facilitate rapid change. The
ability to change quickly to market and economic conditions may be a source sustainable competitive
advantage for your organization.
About the Author
Valerie Whitcomb is a business process analyst specializing in human capital development, with practical
experience in learning and knowledge management systems. Valerie partners with TMG clients to provide
organizational learning assessments, learning plans, and project management for implementation of large-
scale knowledge and learning initiatives. She is the primary administrator of the Millennium Groups’ own
online learning management system (LMS) and oversees client learning activities within the system. She
is skilled in developing blended learning programs that demonstrate learning outcomes in terms of
knowledge transfer and return on investment.
Her management experience and educational background has provided her with an opportunity to directly
apply virtually every aspect of workplace training and development programs, at a variety of levels, and to
gauge corresponding operational efficiencies. She has a wealth of change-management experience in the
areas of people and processes, and has worked with dozens of organizations to achieve major
Valerie is currently in dissertation phase of her Ph.D. in Applied Management and Decision Sciences with a
specialty in Learning and Knowledge Management. She recently published and presented a paper at the
Society for Applied Learning Technologies (SALT) Annual Conference concerning implementing learning
management systems. In addition to being an active member of SALT, she belongs to the American
Society for Training and Development (ASTD), the American Management Association (AMA) and local and
national chapters of the Society for Human Resources Development (SHRM). She serves on the Workforce
Development Committee for the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce and is active in issues concerning
training for unemployed and low-skilled individuals. Valerie received her MBA from The George Washington
University with a concentration in International Management and Marketing and her undergraduate degree
is also in Business Administration.
About The Millennium Group International
The Millennium Group International, LLC (TMG) has over ten years of experience in both Human Resources
and Organizational Development. We provide a consistent mix of effective and successful programs in
strategy development, training, executive/leadership growth, succession management, customized
organizational effectiveness solutions, and human resources consulting.
Our core service offerings include:
- Executive Coaching
- Management Consulting
- Training and Development Programs
- Learning Management
TMG helps clients build organizational capacity through developing human capital. In the last decade, we
have gained a reputation for providing top quality services at very competitive rates in virtually every aspect
of human capital development. TMG has been instrumental in improving hundreds of corporations, not-for-
profit, and government organizations by helping developing their most important asset, their people.
Learning & Knowledge
Essential Tools for Implementing Organizational Strategy
By Valerie J. Whitcomb, M.B.A
Director of Learning & Knowledge Management
Learning is Essential for many Reasons
Learning is the cornerstone of a successful
society. Let’s consider a moment – the
“haves” and the “have nots”. Cities with
great universities and training programs
attract world class businesses. The better
educated the talent pool, the better the jobs
in the area and so the upward spiral goes. An
economically depressed area will have few
educational opportunities and little industry –
and thus unemployment and poverty.