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For employees to grow and develop in their careers, companies must invest in learning solutions to provide high-value resources, yet many companies overlook learning and development when evaluating their talent management and human resources solutions. Every year, CedarCrestone looks at these issues, among others, in its HR Systems Survey, headed by Lexy Martin and Stacey Harris this year. We recently spoke with Harris, vice president of research and analytics at CedarCrestone, to hear her insights about how complex learning needs are changing how companies approach their HR and talent management solutions.

What recent shifts have you seen in how organizations approach investing in learning?

During the recession and in the last three years as we’ve been climbing out of the recession, a lot of organizations pulled back their investment on resources from a learning perspective — trainers and people who were content experts, training coordinators and travel budgets all were cut from learning budgets. We also saw a huge decrease in the amount of offered learning, particularly on-boarding and development of skills when companies could purchase or recruit those skills whenever they needed them.

In these lean environments we saw the idea of necessity breeding invention as organizations shifted to social content created by subject matter experts instead of training and development professionals, and we saw an increase in distributed learning environments and performance support, particularly with the rise of mobile devices. Those were replacements for traditional learning environments that were cut during the recession. In this new training environment, organizations were heavily dependent on technology, and a lot of organizations realized their current solutions were no longer viable. . Upwards of 30 to 40 percent of the market looked at replacing their learning technology.

What types of solutions have companies been looking to?

As people have made a lot of the changes and transitions, the big question that has come about is: do we purchase an HRMS with a talent management suite that has all of the elements of learning and talent within it? Or do we opt for a talent management suite that has more of a learning focus? Or de we buy a fully stand-alone LMS?

The 2014 HR Systems Survey showed there was a growing number of people moving toward HRMS-talent management suites combined, and that those people were seeing higher levels of integration of their overall HR talent management solutions than those who were going toward the talent management suite.

I agree that a lot of people are moving in the direction of an HRMS-talent management suite, but after reanalyzing the data, we found many of those companies are not including learning as part of those talent management solutions at this time. Oftentimes organizations who are including a talent management suite with their HRMS are primarily talking about performance management, compensation recruiting, and payroll, but not learning and development. On the other hand, organizations with a standalone talent management suite are taking into consideration learning more than those with an HRMS- talent management system, but still not enough.

What makes learning more difficult to integrate compared to other HR applications?

Compared to all other applications, learning is truly a multi-dimensional application. It touches more employees than any other system in the workplace, which makes it a very important application. A learning system has to perform multiple functions, not just a single process like a performance management tool. It has to manage the process of the employees, how they access content and the process of creating and storing content. It has to manage not only managers recommending courses and content, but also the enterprise requiring content and often regulated training and certification, which is a whole other level of complexity.

I believe learning sits at the center of what most organizations call talent management. Every talent management process has a connection with learning and development, simply put organizations either have the skills they need to survive and adapt or they don’t. A complex learning and development process can define assess and develop those skills. As companies adopt new technologies, they are addressing complex learning needs whereby organizations deliver learning content in multiple formats — e-learning, performance support, mobile support, classroom and conferences.  

If an organization really uses learning as a tool and business asset (because if you think of all of those people in the organization as an asset, then learning is a way of improving those assets), then you really want to be careful and ensure that you can adequately handle the complex learning that you need to provide for those assets. Many of the organizations with integrated talent management systems have not invested in really complex learning environments that are totally integrated in their systems.