Learning & Development: 5 ways to think like a marketer and boost results

A call to action for Learning & Development!

In the rapidly evolving workplace, Learning and Development (L&D) has become a strategic weapon for businesses. Gone are the days of churning out ‘one size fits all’ learning programmes and materials. Instead clear choices need to be made with a laser focus on what will create a win/win that delivers value for the business and the people it employs.

A better understanding of the way we learn means that lecture style ‘corporate sheep dips’ with one-way communication from a ‘sage on the stage’ have given way to self-directed and social learning - discovery through curated content and coaching. In short it is about equipping people to think for themselves rather than telling them what to think.

What are the implications for Learning and Development?  

Speak the language of business. Partner with business leaders and be ‘consultants within’ to identify what drives performance and set clear goals. Recognise that what gets measured gets done. Historically the measure of success for L&D was the ‘happy sheet’ completed by participants after a learning intervention. Today this does not even feature in the top 5[1]. In its place are KPIs on skill gaps, retention, and performance.

Example: Working with a global financial institution to build customer and commercial acumen and increase confidence and competence in identifying growth opportunities to challenge thinking and inform business strategy. This was measured through before and after assessment of participants, with a marked shift in their ability to

  • See the ‘big picture’
  • Listen to customers to discover unmet needs
  • Speak the language of business (commercial mindset)

Be clear on what needs to change and why. As any marketer will tell you, changing people’s behaviour involves defining a target audience and the desired shift in attitude and behaviour.

Example: Working on business transformation with a major global telecoms company with the goal of increasing customer-centricity, we distilled this to

  • Building empathy - ensuring relentless curiosity about customers and generating actionable insight
  • Using this to create future value for customers and the business
  • Inspiring everyone from front line staff to back office to make a personal impact on improving customer experience

Embrace a ‘growth mindset’. People with a growth mindset worry less about looking smart and put more energy into learning. They tend to achieve more than those with a fixed mindset (who believe their talents are innate gifts)[2]. Employees in companies that embrace a growth mindset are more likely to feel trusted and valued and feel a strong sense of ownership and commitment to the company.[3]

GE’s Jack Welch stood out as a growth-mindset CEO, hiring people according to their potential, i.e. ‘runway not pedigree’. He recognised people’s capacity for growth and made coaching and development an investment priority in his 20-year tenure as CEO, which saw the business increase its value by 4000%.

Future-proof. Jobs involving original thinking are likely to be more resilient than those involving logic, routine and repetitive tasks.[4] 57% of senior leaders today say soft skills are more important than hard skills.[5] It is not enough to develop a great product, platform or concept, the key is persuading people to buy into it. The top 3 soft skills in the workplace today are creativity, collaboration and persuasion.[6]

For individuals, strengthening soft skills is a great career investment. They are transferable and stand the test of time.

Plan for impact and experience. Just as marketers compete for the attention of their audiences, L&D professionals have to overcome the challenge that everyone is overwhelmed, distracted and impatient, with limited bandwidth for learning. However, talent development spends only 15% of time on employee engagement.[7] It is essential to have a targeted approach to learner engagement, to think about learners in the context of their real work situation, and to reach them with the optimal learning experience. John Shurmer, Head of Digital Learning, Barclays bank, says that ‘a marketing mindset is critical to cutting through the noise and connecting with learners’[8]. The award-winning Barclays Digital Wings programme included gamification, social learning, and a multi-channel approach to enable dialogue between coaches and learners.

Without a strategic approach to L&D it becomes tactical and subjective, with limited traction in the business.  Focusing on business outcomes and application to real work priorities helps ensure the optimum mix of content and innovative solutions that engage learners and deliver performance improvement for commercial success. Encouragingly the increased value of L&D is now being recognised and supported with unprecedented levels of commitment and investment. 

This is a step change in the importance of L&D and an exciting time of professionalism and growth.

Jane Ferguson is a business coach and capability consultant who works with Brand Learning helping companies, brands and individuals to deliver change that improves performance, accelerates growth and equips people to thrive at work.

For help with creating lasting learning and behaviour change, check out this blog or get in touch.

BRAND LEARNING: Creating Growth Capabilities


[1] LinkedIn Learning Workplace learning report 2019.

[2] Harvard Business Review 2016. https://hbr.org/2016/01/what-having-a-growth-mindset-actually-means

[3] Harvard Business Review 2014. https://hbr.org/2014/11/how-companies-can-profit-from-a-growth-mindset

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jun/26/jobs-future-automation-robots-skills-creative-health

[5] LinkedIn Learning Workplace learning report 2019.

[6] LinkedIn Learning Workplace learning report 2019. 

[7] LinkedIn Learning Workplace learning report 2019. 

[8] Learning Technologies 2019. Putting change into action fast seminar.