It doesn’t matter how good (or bad) your L&D offering is, if nobody knows it’s there, then it might as well not exist. As learning and development has evolved in its capacity and influence within organisations, the truth is that the marketing side of the industry remains painfully behind the times, especially for many internal functions.
While L&D is always there in the background, ready to support people who knock on the door asking for help, very few L&D departments actively reach out and advertise the services they have on offer. This is not only a problem for the department which often gets side-lined when it comes to business strategy, but it also means that employees within the business may not get the development opportunities they need to effectively contribute to the outcomes of the business. This will in turn impact the bottom line, as well as employee engagement and satisfaction.
It’s therefore clear that L&D needs to be more strategic and proactive when it comes to communication, but the question becomes how to achieve this? In the past L&D departments could survive by word of mouth, but in a world where remote working and technology are the new archetype, word of mouth isn’t what it used to be and to achieve greater reach, L&D needs to get assertive.
Marketing in L&D
Start at the top
One of the most important things L&D needs to do to get serious about spreading the word is to get a seat in the board room. Often L&D is treated in isolation, almost like a sub- contractor within an organisation, but L&D is absolutely vital to the success of a business, so that message needs to be clearly and continually conveyed to senior leadership. Representatives from the department should be at the table when discussions about strategy are being had, because L&D will be instrumental in helping to achieve this through employee development. But unless they know what the focus is for the business, they cannot properly plan for it and deliver the best training solutions to make it happen. Additionally if L&D wants to get serious about marketing it’s offering more effectively, it’s likely to need some form of investment or sponsorship from senior leaders to achieve this. Having L&D in the room is therefore essential for both the department itself and the success of the business.
Of course getting that seat in the board room isn’t always going to be simple, but clearly demonstrating the positive impact that effective L&D services will have on productivity, engagement and capability will help sell the idea. The answer lies in framing L&D services in a way that demonstrates how it will help support the strategic vision of the business.
No department can work completely unaided or in isolation; it will always take the input of numerous parties to get things done, and the same is true when it comes to communicating your L&D solutions. To effectively market the services of L&D it will require support and collaboration with many other departments and individuals. This will include forming partnerships with HR, line managers, and senior executives, not to mention frontline employees. If your organisation has an internal comms marketing department, be sure to partner with them too as they will
be able to offer practical support and advice on the most effective ways to convey your information. These are the people who can support you in your quest to inform others of what you offer, they are the people who have access to the workforce and the ability to influence and inform.
Not necessarily for training purposes (although this will be important too), but due to the influx of technology in our lives, digital communications will be absolutely vital to broadcast the capabilities of L&D in a business. It’s also often cheaper than other methods, making digital marketing one of the most cost-effective and efficient ways to communicate with people, and there’s a huge variety to choose from. You can use e-mail, social networking or internal communication options, and if you have an intranet facility, definitely utilise that, and make it clear where people can go to find more information.
Digital approaches can also be an excellent way to provide training to a diverse and time- limited workforce, so if your L&D offering doesn’t deliver on this front, find ways to change this. Digital learning shouldn’t take the place of other forms, but it should be there to compliment them and offer more options for your workforce.
Make information clear and relevant
The most effective marketing strategies are those that are clear, specific and targeted; so don’t waste time, money and energy trying to articulate every programme you run. People can find out information about specific courses by asking or searching a catalogue if you have one. What most people want and need to know is how they can actually access the training. For general marketing purposes focus your efforts on informing people about the capabilities in the L&D department, the processes when applying for training, and where they can find more information.
That being said, if your organisation is working towards a specific strategic vision that L&D can support, then make this plain in our communications. Detail clearly what the vision is, and what the L&D offerings are that will enable staff to effectively drive this change. Similarly if you are aware of skills shortages in specific teams then targeted communications aimed at addressing those could be beneficial, and the recommendation of specific programmes may be appropriate.
The communication pathway between the L&D function and the workforce should be a two- way process. While your focus may initially be on getting the word out there about what you do, eventually you will also need to consider how you can interact with employees to get feedback. While communicating your offering is essential to help increase participation, this will all be for nothing if the service you provide doesn’t meet the needs of your workforce; and you won’t know this unless you ask. Make getting feedback a priority, looking at both individual programmes and also about the department and offering as a whole, and do it regularly. This will ensure you can always provide the most effective and relevant training solutions to the workforce, which will consequently help you to further demonstrate your value to the wider business.
It’s not typically a big area of focus in L&D, but the reality is that marketing and communications is absolutely essential to the success of the department. If improving this area isn’t currently on your agenda, then it certainly should be, and if you already think you’re doing a great job, find out for sure and improve where needed. With the right approach L&D can make a huge impact on a business, but they can only do that if people know they exist.