Lessons from Private Equity: Creating Business Value Through Learning and Development

Topics: Learning Excellence, Align, Measure, Business Outcomes, Running Training Like a Business 2011


The 2012 US presidential race has focused public attention on private equity (PE) firms. More specifically, media outlets have directed attention on the buyout side of PE, which buys mature companies that have encountered some challenges, fixes them up so that they are profitable, and then sells its interest to another buyer all usually within a fixed period of time (usually between 5-10 years). A lot of ink has been spilled by pundits and politicians about whether PE firms create jobs, though the truth of the matter, according to a recent NBER report from September 2011, offers a measured answer to the value of a PE firm: "While private equity buyouts accelerate job losses at target firms relative to controls, they also lead to the more rapid creation of new job positions, particularly in the form of new jobs at new establishments." Whatever one's politics or opinions, PE firms are in business to identify opportunities and create value. More importantly, lessons from private equity firms offer learning professionals tips on running corporate learning as a business to create value.  

The idea that corporate learning can be used to build business value is, of course, not new. In Running Training Like A Business (1999), Ed Trolley argued that the training industry was focused more on running as a function than as a business, resulting in a mutual feeling that both the company and the training professional did not feel fully satisfied. The company did not feel it was getting value and the training professionals did not feel that their contribution was valuable. Trolley's fundamental premise was that training departments had to transform themselves from a function orientation to a business orientation. Our research updating Trolley's seminal work noted, among other things:

  • Integrated measurement systems and measurement of business impact remain elusive in spite of innumerable articles, books, workshops and trade show sessions to the contrary.
  • Even simple things such as effective and consistent design and delivery standards across the enterprise exist only about one-third of the time.
  • Across each critical process, and in total across all practices, only about one-third of companies approach the notion of running training like a business.

The remainder of this article provides five practical steps, including changes in what you measure, to run your learning function like a business, helping senior management leverage learning applied to develop company-specific differentiated capability helping to connect people to the experience of the brand.

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