I recently introduced the Learning Model Canvas (LMC), a visual tool for identifying a business’ current and ideal learning model. Organizations don’t necessarily need to begin an LMC with any particular section, but learning leaders most often find Customer Segments to be a natural starting point.
Customer Segments heavily influence the direction of the other LMC sections and the overall learning model. The question to be answered here is “Who are we creating value for?” It isn’t enough to say that the entire business is the customer; L&D cannot be everything to everyone at all times. Learning units need to be able to focus limited resources and specialize in meeting the needs of a single or limited number of customer segments. This isn’t to say that other segments in an organization should be ignored, but supporting a learning model that creates value for the primary customer segment should always be L&D’s priority.
Not Just Who, but Who Does What
By “customer,” I don’t necessarily mean the end user (or recipient) of L&D’s training. Here, the customer simply means the entity whose objectives L&D seeks to support. A customer could be internal or external to the company. Fortunately, businesses often segment themselves into convenient customer categories, such as business units, departments, strategic partners, and individual employees. These groups can be further stratified into positions such as management, line, and executives. Given these parameters, L&D can often determine who the “real” customer is by simply asking “who wins?”
I’m reminded of a meeting I once attended between the L&D, Marketing, and Sales departments of a major telecommunications company shortly before the launch of a new product. To train the workforce, marketing wanted two, 30-minute-long eLearning modules. Sales wanted just a quick product specification documents, a competitive comparison checklist, and a less than two-minute-long product demonstration video. They were adamantly against the learning modules. After the meeting, I asked the senior L&D leader “Who wins, Marketing or Sales?” In a corporate environment, the customer will often be whoever has the greatest influence.
But deciding who wins isn’t the only concern, nor are business-defined HR attributes the only guidelines to consider. There are actually learning-specific customer segments to consider based on the roles taken during the planning and execution of any learning initiative:
- Requester – Recognizes the need for learning and requests its execution
- Sponsor – Champions the learning and propels it through organizational roadblocks
- Payer – Pays for the learning
- Participant – Receives the learning
Following are a few scenarios illustrating the way in which these roles determine who the customer is, and how they influence the learning process:
Scenario 1 – Requester Driven
The VP of HR asks that the workforce take mandatory compliance training. The learning department pays for the development and labor costs of the training, which the employees participate in.
In this instance, the VP of HR is the requester and ultimately, L&D’s the payer. As the payer, the learning department has the most influence over cost because it’s their budget. Meanwhile, the employees (participants) have little to no influence over the type or content of the training.
Scenario 2 – Payer Driven
The Director of Retail Sales requests training for a new sales methodology. The learning department charges the development and delivery of the training to the Sales budget. The employees complete the training.
The customer in this scenario is the Director of Retail Sales, who is both the requester and payer (by holding the budget). Employees, as the participants, have slight influence as both subject matter experts and feedback loops.
Scenario 3 – Participant Driven
An employee requests time management training, selecting a course on Lynda.com from a list approved by the company. The employee pays the fee on a personal credit card, then completes the self-paced learning module.
The customer in this scenario is the employee, who fills the roles of requester, payer, and participant.
Connection to the Learning Models
Knowing who the true customer is greatly influences an organization’s ideal learning model. If the customer is the payer but not the participant, that might suggest finding a cost-effective approach such as Mass Distribution. If the participant is the customer, L&D might consider a people-centered approach to Skills Development (such as the Innovation model), or Information Dissemination (such as the Performance Support model). Pursuing a new training program (or transitioning to a new learning model) without considering who the customer is can lead L&D to waste resources pursuing a type of training that minimally – or even negatively – affect the desired outcome.
Customer Segments are an important part of the LMC, but it is only one of the nine interrelated pieces that make up a learning model. Stay tuned to Saltbox Savvy in the coming weeks as I continue surveying the components of Learning Model Canvas. If you have questions about Customer Segments or would like more information about completing your own LMC, contact us at Saltbox or leave a comment below.
If you take a look at the above scenarios, you’ll notice that roles aren’t necessarily distributed evenly. In Scenario 1, requester, payer, and participant were split among different individuals and organizations. In Scenario 2, the roles of requester and payer were combined in a single entity. And in Scenario 3, all roles were held by the employee. When designing learning, take this distribution of roles into consideration. A customer who represents all roles has different expectations and needs than a customer who only fills a single learning role. A participant may request a resource-intensive learning feature, but unless they are also the payer, they may not be aware of the budget limitations you have to work with. In these cases, it’s not just about “who wins” but also about what compromises need to be made to gain buy-in from all parties. This is another one of the tough conversations the LMC can help to open up in your learning organization.