Human resources professionals and learning leader’s understand that investing in workplace learning initiatives is a critical enabler to a skilled, engaged and effective workforce. Learning continues to be viewed as one of the ways that organizations will ensure success. But to have a positive impact on an organization and contribute to its bottom line, there is mounting pressure on HR and the learning function to demonstrate the value of workplace learning in business terms and the improvement of operational efficiency.

The good news is research has uncovered a blueprint that identifies some common characteristics of how an organization can meet those demands and become a high-performance learning organization (HPLO).

All HPLOs provide evidence that:

  • Learning has value in the culture
  • They have leveraged technology in learning
  • They provide innovative learning and performance initiatives
  • There is a link between learning and performance

HPLOs have six characteristics in common


Demonstrating value is a foundational characteristic of all HPLOs. Value is established by focusing on a formal process to align learning and performance improvement solutions and priorities with business strategies. Alignment, as a key characteristic of HPLOs, begins with a learning strategy that maps learning resources to: competencies, individual development plans, roles, models of performance and corporate goals.


Another critical characteristic of HPLOs is their provision of a broad range of internal and external formal and work-based opportunities using a more blended learning environment. HPLOs recognize the need to increase the amount of experiential learning (commonly known as on-the-job learning), redesign the classroom experience, increase the amount of informal learning and embrace the need for new technologies and new modalities. By pulling experiences from all across the learning spectrum, HPLOs not only create an environment with more frequent learning opportunities, they also create a blended learning experience that improves key performance indicators, such as: revenue, employee engagement, customer satisfaction, turnover and organizational productivity.


Improving learning effectiveness and efficiency are two common characteristics of HPLOs. Maximizing the effectiveness of learning is achieved by aligning learning initiatives with business needs and providing timely access to relevant blended learning opportunities. HPLOs also demonstrate effectiveness by monitoring individual and organizational performance indicators and linking changes in performance to both learning and non-learning performance improvement activities. HPLOs typically use an assortment of process and reporting tools such as balanced score-cards to assess learning’s impact on individual and organizational performance metrics by gauging key performance indicators or performance objectives.


It is estimated that HPLOs devote a significant portion of their time (40 per cent) to non-learning solutions, which are often under the general heading of performance improvement solutions. These solutions may include a wide range of activities such as organizational development, process analysis and improvement, talent management, job-specific tools and resources, performance coaching and feedback, knowledge management, performance management, incentives and non-incentive motivational strategies.


Efficiency of learning in HPLOs balance centralized and decentralized aspects of the learning function, along with internal process improvement, use of technology and strategic outsourcing. HPLOs also demonstrate efficiency by monitoring time, usage and cost indicators and linking decreases in these to changes in the processes and practices of the learning function.


A final characteristic of HPLOs is C-level involvement, which means visible involvement and support from senior learning and business leaders with the learning and performance improvement initiatives. Vice-presidents and C-level executives of HPLOs continue to support learning in several ways, such as public statements of the value of workplace learning and performance, the participation as facilitators or speakers in the learning initiatives and by including learning objectives as part of performance goals. Support for learning initiatives from CEOs and senior executives in performance goals is critical, because their vision determines the learning structure and environment in the entire organization. The organization’s strategy forms the platform from which business unit goals and then individual development plans and key performance indicators are identified. Therefore, the organization’s goals, strategies and competencies provide a framework under which the development of business unit-level and individual-level learning initiatives fall.


With priorities cascading down to business units and individual performance plans, employees can clearly envision how integral their performance is to the success of the organization. With the connectivity of the organizational and individual levels, employees in HPLOs are more accountable for business results, such as, increased revenue or increased customer loyalty, and are rewarded when their individual performance contributes to business results.

It goes without saying that HR and learning leaders in HPLOs have the influence to be a strategic part of the senior leadership team. Without access and knowledge to the organization’s overall business goals, objectives and strategies, as well as the individual business unit goals, learning will not be able to align and demonstrate its true value.


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