Branding the Learning Function: Good Branding Communicates the Value of Learning and Its Impact on Employees' Professional Development

Article excerpt

When Alexander Graham Bell's telephone was field tested, the first reaction from President Ulysses Grant was "Very remarkable! But who in the world would ever want to use one of them?" Today, this remark might seem shocking since life on earth cannot be imagined without a landline telephone or a cell phone. The issue is not specific to the invention, the inventor, or the perceiver; the event happened because the value of the invention was not clearly communicated. Arguably, the state of learning today is sharing a similar fate.

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Learning functions around the world are realizing the significance of creating a brand for learning in their organizations. While various training service providers take branding seriously, learning functions in large corporations also have started to focus on branding. The idea is not just about inviting employees to attend a training program, but about convincing employees to believe in what the training program has to offer. Good branding can open minds and can create a conducive atmosphere for learning to take place.

What is branding?

Scott Bedbury, CEO of Brandstream and former marketing executive for Nike and Starbucks, said, "A great brand raises the bar--it adds a greater sense of purpose to the experience, whether it's the challenge to do your best in sports and fitness, or the affirmation that the cup of coffee you're drinking really matters." Of all the definitions one can find in business books and dictionaries, this statement best exemplifies the significance of branding for a product or service.

Branding is much more than a logo, a witty tag line, or a beautiful design, however. Branding is the collective effect of several aspects of a product or service (including its logo and tag line) on the consumer. Branding learning is about communicating an individual's experience with a learning function--his perception of the learning function, his attitude toward learning programs and initiatives, and his enthusiasm to learn.

The two sides of the learning coin

While most learning functions and corporate universities understand the need for branding, the branding focus often seems one sided. The learning function in any organization caters to two different segments: business leaders and employees.

Every learning function has to align to the business strategy and enable the successful achievement of business objectives, which is the primary reason for its existence. The learning and development (L&D) team also has the responsibility of growing the skills and building the competencies of employees.

Though these two objectives seem unrelated, they are actually two sides of the same coin. When a learning function aligns perfectly with the business strategy and works toward greater efficiency, the function will have to build on the competencies of the employees who will drive the business. And when employees gain the specific skills demanded by the business--to perform better at work--their growth in the organization will be much faster.

However, business leaders and employees are two different stakeholders with two different expectations from the learning function. A good branding strategy should understand and appreciate this difference, communicating to their unique needs and in their preferred mode, thereby creating a powerful impact.

The business brand

The first business meeting I attended in the beginning of my career is fresh in my memory because of one question. The head of human resources asked us, "If the business leaders were given a choice between this learning and development function and another L&D function in the industry, are you sure they will still choose you?" This was one of the defining moments in my career because I truthfully didn't know the answer.

The L&D function primarily exists to support the business. …