In a classic Harvard Business Review article "Putting the Service-Profit Chain to Work," Professors Heskett, Jones, Loveman, Sasser and Schlesinger discovered a linked chain of effects that can be leveraged to improve service-based companies. The links in the chain are as follows:
Analysts at CorpU have discovered that this same concept can be extended to human capital development, that a company's learning brand is a reflection of the learning-profit chain.
According to the service-profit chain, a model of relationships between nine different business outcomes (see the boxes highlighted in blue) help identify how company profit and the quality of both internal and external service are correlated and can be measured.
According to the HBR authors, the service-profit chain starts with workplace design, which is meant to encompass the multiple independent variables that influence employee satisfaction. As many human capital development leaders recognize, the quality of learning opportunities and services provided in an organization can influence on an employee's opinion of the company. Consequently, CorpU analysts distinguish the learning environment from workplace design, and claim it to be the first step of the service-profit chain in order to promote the importance that learning (products, services, and attitude) has in relation to company success. CorpU analysts and researchers refer to this slight modification as the learning-profit chain.
As Harvard Business School Professor Linda Hill notes in the epilogue of Becoming a Manager, many researchers and analysts note that organizations often do not prepare and reinforce supervisors to be a positive influence on the transfer of learning. Your supervisors may not realize it, but they will be the ones to make or break the learning-profit chain.
In the learning-profit chain, supervisors impact business outcomes in four areas: (1) the learning environment; (2) employee satisfaction; (3) employee productivity; and (4) employee retention.
(Of course, there are opportunities for the supervisor to influence workplace design by ensuring positive and timely communication, effective processes, logical workplace environment arrangements, thoughtful rewards and consequences, etc. However, as the learning-profit chain focuses on the influence of learning on business success, we will highlight the sphere of influence as it pertains to learning and development.)
Learning & Development can take several proactive steps to engage supervisors in their role as a catalyst for learning transfer. First of all, an enlightening exercise might be to use Brinkerhoff's Success Case Method to identify the specific supervisor behaviors that are promoting (and hindering) the learning transfer in your company. Once these behaviors are identified, they can be incorporated into your company's supervisor and manager training programs.
You might also want to consider walking supervisors through the following 9 quadrant process prior to a workforce development program involving their employees, using a grid like the one below and a resource such as Broad and Newstrom's Transfer of Training.
Of course, perhaps a way you can assure that supervisors take their role seriously in learning is to remind them of their influence in the learning-profit chain, connecting the importance of their behavior on the company's results. Whatever tack is taken, it is critical to foster a culture that understands and respects the importance of managers and supervisors within an organization, one in which supervisors are actively involved in all aspects of learning.
This article supports the CorpU 12 Dimensions of Learning Excellence - Execute (Program Design and Delivery).
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