I spoke to a group of Compliance Officers, Managing Partners and Finance Directors from the legal sector yesterday on the topic of “how a learning culture supports compliance”. My talk was about the legal sector, but the issues raised are relevant to any business which needs to preserve a technical edge and also move with the times. I have captured my thoughts in a series of short blogs.
Learning is not merely a matter of compliance, but it helps!
Making a business case for learning at work brings us up against some fundamental questions: Why learn? Is it merely to satisfy a regulatory requirement? Is learning solely to support expertise or is it for something else? Do wider business skills require development?
All of these questions lead back to one thing, business purpose. Being clear about what the business is trying to achieve is a pre-requisite to developing strategic plans of any kind, including learning strategy. Once you have clarity about purpose then it is possible to make an assessment of the knowledge & skills people will demonstrate when that purpose is realised. Are they the same as the ones they have now? It is unlikely that they will be purely based on technical expertise; expertise is “a given”.
In professional service firms it can be fairly easy to establish wide-ranging learning needs, because historically there has been a tendency to promote people to managerial and leadership roles on the basis of technical expertise or even time-served. Often those promotions have been made without preparation or development support. And that approach has, broadly speaking, been adequate to-date, but the gaps and tensions it creates are becoming increasingly obvious.
Expecting people to muddle through their responsibilities as leaders and managers in a business is possible when there is plenty of work about and plenty of people to do the work. However, when there is less work, or when that work needs to be done more efficiently by fewer people, the system, and the people within it, becomes strained. Add to that dynamic a demand to deliver big intangibles such as “client-focussed service”, issues of “retention” or “succession planning” and the old approach is found wanting.
Using compliance to get “buy-in”
So we do not need to rely on compliance to make a compelling business case for investment in learning, but considering the barriers that exist, it gives the argument leverage. The truth is that a lot of firms want the benefits of great knowledge and skills – in terms of delivering things like client service standards, efficiency and profitability and retaining staff – but when push comes to shove, the organisation really values and recognises fee-earning. When making the case for investing time and money in learning, compliance provides a regulatory rationale for a change in approach. It can be the foundation on which the steps towards effective learning strategy and business transformation can be made.