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Performance Management

Learning and Performance Management Can’t Be Separated Any Longer—Here’s How You Link Them


Modern performance management is just as much about your employee’s career development as it is about business performance. But historically, the traditional performance management process has focused more on performance appraisals that aren’t linked to development pathways.

Organisations need to link performance management and learning in order to drive real organisational transformation and meaningful career progression for employees. But how do you actually build that link? Let’s dive in to how you can align learning and performance to build an effective performance management process.

Why link learning and performance management? 

Linking learning and performance management is the first step in creating a cohesive and effective employee development strategy. Learning and development (L&D) is useless if it doesn’t actually drive performance uplift, just as performance management is pointless if it doesn’t lead to actionable development plans for employees. When businesses link learning and performance management they enable their employees to master the capabilities they need to make a business impact.

Why is it important to link learning and performance management?

The traditional performance management process struggles to bridge the gap between performance reviews and employee improvement. That means performance management exists without rhyme or reason, because it has no greater impact on the business at any level. Bridging that gap isn’t quite as hard as you might think. It’s a matter of capability development.

Capabilities are the mix of personal and technical skills, knowledge, behaviours, processes and tools that combine to deliver on business objectives. The more employees develop their assigned capabilities, the better your business performs. Why? Because employee development is about improving performance markers you’ve defined as necessary to your business strategy.

In other words: Learning leads to capability building, and capability building leads to performance improvement.

When you focus on capability development, you’ll see a few significant impacts.

  1. Alignment with organisational goals, as capabilities are derived from business strategy and feed back into business goals.
  2. All the moving parts of your business (individual employees, teams, leaders, and stakeholders) will be on the same page when it comes to performance expectations and development.
  3. Ongoing organisational transformation through a sustainable and agile workforce and business that can adapt to challenges and take pre-emptive measures against risks.
  4. Personalised development plans, which improve employee retention and increase employee engagement. 94% of employees say they’d stay with an employer longer if their career development was prioritised. A personalised development plan their specific role-based capabilities, allowing them to contribute more value to the company.
  5. Better quality performance data, which enable HR and L&D professionals to gather valuable insights and allocate resources as optimally as possible. Performance data can reveal trends, learning effectiveness and training ROI, allowing informed decision-making when it comes to development opportunities and budgeting.
  6. Better talent development and recruitment, as effective performance management forms the basis of in-depth job scorecards to be used in targeted employee performance plans and job descriptions. This enables businesses to recruit, retain, and develop the right talent for the job and create a healthy talent pipeline.

How to align learning and performance

Aligning performance with learning is fairly straightforward. The hard part can be making the case for it internally, especially if you’re working with legacy L&D systems and processes.

We’ve identified three crucial best practices to link learning and performance.

  1. Defining learning and performance objectives
  2. Aligning learning with performance data
  3. Leveraging technology.

Define learning and performance objectives

The first step is aligning your goals for learning and performance with your business mission, vision, and values. Start by identifying optimal workforce capabilities, because these are the capabilities your employees will need to develop and master in order to meet performance goals and achieve business objectives. Think:

Just remember that defining the end goal is only the beginning. What will actually get you there are clear metrics for success that make the journey to the destination measurable and achievable. Anyone can set a goal to hit the gym and get fit, but it won’t happen unless you set smaller goals to measure your progress.

How this helps

Employees need to see the value in what they do to perform at their best, and we don’t just mean from an engagement standpoint. No one wants to put effort into a job that doesn’t contribute any meaningful value to the business as a whole. Clearly defined performance expectations and goals counter this, providing employees with a clear direction.

Align learning and performance data

In a nutshell: embed learning in performance management. Traditional performance management judges your performance at the end of the review period. Relevant learning and development might be provided afterwards.

On the other hand, embedded performance management delivers performance appraisals in the form of continuous feedback throughout the year rather than after the fact. This doesn’t mean you can’t have any formal performance reviews anymore (in fact, we expect you will) but formal annual or quarterly reviews can’t be the only form of feedback your employees receive.

When you embed performance management and learning, you’re also leveraging performance data (like key performance indicators, ROI, and learning outcomes) to ensure the right employees get the right development opportunities. Look at it this way: You don’t know what learning to provide unless you’re leveraging performance data effectively.

Take a capability gap analysis, for example. It measures which capabilities your employees are proficient in on a levelled scale of competence. High competency = exceeding expectations, and low competency = employees need to develop their capabilities further. You can use this information to assign targeted learning that will actually make an impact by developing the capabilities they’re weak in and improving their competence.

How this helps

So what are the real benefits of embedding performance management with the learning process?

Leverage technology

A lot of organisations still handle their performance and learning management manually. Other organisations use independent learning technology—i.e. a separate performance management system from their learning management system. We get it. That’s how it’s always been, and so that’s how it will continue to be. But what if we told you it could be easier?

We developed the performance learning management system (PLMS) for this reason. A performance learning management system is the only learning management technology that actually links learning and performance together in the same system. It ensures that all your learning is designed and targeted towards specific development needs for the explicit purpose of improving performance. This means identifying and assigning capabilities, matching learners with tailored training, and progress tracking to help with course management efforts.

How this helps

A PLMS automates the process of identifying capabilities, assigning learning content, and tracking learning and performance progression. It links the right learning to the right learners to ensure that employees can master the business and role-based capabilities necessary for them to perform their roles and drive value for the company. Plus, automation reduces the chance for human error and bias to enter the picture.

The impact of siloed learning and performance management 

To start, you’re just going to see that gap between performance reviews and actual performance improvement get even wider.

Again, capabilities are the powerhouse of learning management and performance management. If learning and performance aren’t in conversation with each other then they’re both misaligned from organisational goals—all because capabilities aren’t being developed and business priorities aren’t being met. So, you won’t have a way to track progress towards goals and managers won’t be able to carry out objective performance reviews, because they won’t actually know what criteria and KPIs they need to measure employee performance against. Which means:

In summary: Learning is useless if you can’t measure how it impacts performance, and performance management is useless if you can’t utilise performance reviews to assign tailored learning content. When these two aspects work separately from each other instead of in tandem, your organisational capabilities aren’t being developed to drive business success.

Key takeaways 

Learning that doesn’t drive performance is useless, and performance management that doesn’t drive development is meaningless. You can’t have one without the other if you want either to be effective.

Linking learning and performance management together is the only way to ensure effective learning and development initiatives, and an uplift in company performance. You just need to remember three strategies to align learning and performance:

  1. Defining learning and performance objectives
  2. Aligning learning with performance data
  3. Leveraging technology.

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