Is your L&D strategy having the business impact you set out to achieve, or are you simply ticking boxes? Here’s a step-by-step approach to assessing your achievements and course correcting if needed.
In my previous article, I reflected on how a learning strategy has to be explicit and enable people in the organisation to do something new. I also described how a simple strategy framework – ‘diagnosis, guiding policy, coherent action’ – can help an ambitious L&D team to define how it creates value with and for the organisation.
The L&D strategy must enable the organisation to develop what is – or will be – increasingly valuable looking out, around and ahead.
Once you’ve got your strategy in place, you’ll need to assess its strategic impact , which I’ll guide you through here.
Alignment between brand/business goals and ‘learning’ goals
The L&D strategy should enable the organisation to develop the new thinking and interactions it needs to achieve its business goals. It should directly contribute where greater alignment is needed across the organisation (to ensure cohesion and coherence), where enablement is needed (to help shift old thinking and create new value) and where positive disruption is now required to create new paths and new ideas.
The alternative is passive, safe and unremarkable; (and therefore not an effective strategy).
Supporting process standardisation versus increasing individual and team autonomy
There are two 'axis' around which the work of L&D can align:
- Developing individuals versus developing the organisation as a whole
- 'Productive' learning (for the 'now') versus 'generative' learning (developing for a different future)
In most organisations, L&D still only focuses on individual, productive learning. The priority is maintaining centralised control through standardisation and consistency. (Think: capability frameworks, core skills , leadership skills, curriculum and pathways).
This is a hangover from the old 'industrial' mindset, when businesses only created value through consistent execution of individual roles and their individual skills. The limitations of this approach are becoming more apparent as the remote working business world begins to unravel beyond the pandemic. We can now see what differentiates an organisation and ensures its sustainability is the strength of its connections – its adaptability.
So a more balanced, contextual and influential L&D strategy should include a deliberate combination of:
- Individual, productive learning: helping people to improve their performance in a current role.
- Organisational, productive learning: enabling teams to connect, reflect and work together more effectively to increase the current performance of the business.
- Individual, generative learning: supporting people to learn new skills and make new connections that generate new ideas and strategies.
- Organisational, generative learning: accelerating the collective wisdom of the organisation, helping it to look outside, to find new opportunities and challenge existing thinking.
Proportion of L&D investments in ‘just to stand still’ capabilities
A training curriculum is always a lagging measure (and it isn't a strategy). The ‘L&D offer’ inevitably reflects what’s already been prioritised and codified. The risk of building an L&D strategy only around current topics and leadership requests is that it is only reacting to symptoms in plain sight.
Proportion of L&D investments in genuinely new capabilities
Linking to the point above, the L&D strategy must enable the organisation to develop what is – or will be – increasingly valuable looking out, around and ahead. Otherwise, the L&D team are only focusing on control and looking backwards.
Proportion of investments in unique capabilities that will differentiate the organisation
How does the L&D strategy help identify and/or reinforce the approaches that positively set the organisation apart from its competitors? Where in the organisation would we need to learn faster and create new knowledge? How does the L&D strategy ensure the organisation isn’t only focused on incremental innovation and small degrees of separation with the rest of the market?
Proportion of investment in mandatory/compliance/regulatory responsibilities
L&D teams should optimise the core in order to grow the new. Technology works well as a tool to scale standardisation and replication. It should reduce the burden for L&D professionals in the ‘binary’ compliance learning space, as there are no more incremental gains to be made here.
As a ‘rule of thumb’ if the L&D strategy is investing more that 60% of its focus/ time/effort /budget into mandatory ‘learning’ then it can’t positively disrupt the future performance of the organisation.
Correlation between level of learning technology investment and development as a learning organisation
The level of financial investment in learning technologies isn’t necessarily an indication of commitment to organisational learning. Investment in learning technologies (i.e. digital transformation of learning) often reinforces ‘old world’ thinking. Most technology implementations are simply scaling and optimising a content led approach, which entrenches the idea that access and consumption of learning content alone enables a shift in performance and cultures. A useful acid test for learning technology deployments is to consider what team managers will need to do differently once the new technology is in place.
Extent to which access to more content and increased consumption of content are seen as success measures
Organisations don’t need another information delivery team. The clearest indicator that there is no coherent L&D strategy is when providing learning content is the strategy.
Level of engagement from high performing teams with the current learning offer
The features, characteristics, cultural norms, shared expectations and work outcomes inside the highest performing teams in the organisation are the most relevant inputs for an L&D strategy.
Ease with which exemplary performers can share their experience/knowledge/ideas to benefit others
This is a helpful measure to understand the level of focus (explicit or implicit) on L&D maintaining control of the learning agenda. If the L&D strategy is solely control, then centralised programmes fit beautifully.
If, however, the L&D strategy seeks to identify workers as learners, facilitate collaboration, enable ideas to connect across teams and expose people to new thinking, then exemplary performers will be at the centre.
In my consulting and advisory work I see three key benefits of this approach to assessing the potential impact of a learning strategy:
- It enables a more challenging and reflective approach to reviewing the L&D strategy.
- It helps to move the L&D function away from the role of internal provider and order taker towards one based on new value creation and accelerating change.
- It ensures a more balanced focus on ‘what has got us here’ alongside ‘what will the organisation need for a different future?’.
This assessment process is key to the success of your learning strategy – hopefully this article has provided food for thought to get you started.
Interested in this topic? Read Learning analytics: ten questions L&D detectives must ask to assess the impact of learning .
Paul learned and relearned from more than twenty five years of corporate senior leadership roles in Operations, Business Transformation, Marketing, Capability Building and Learning and Development in the UK and internationally.
The common thread through all of my work was how to achieve these evolving, connected organisational goals by...
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Having worked for a Blue Chip Oil company and a Small Independent Oil Company the L&D Strategies were vastly different due to the maturity of the organisations and the Strategic vs Tactical business strategies. Whilst the former was capable of investing in the time and resource to develop and train its employees , the latter wasn't as it was a new entity with huge ambitions to grow. It's growth was hugely reliant upon the dedication, experience and knowledge of its employees. Its employees were recruited specifically for their experience, their depth and breadth of knowledge, with no room for the development of less experienced recruits. It is important to recognise the life cycle of a company and what capacity exists within the organisation for the training and development of its employees before taking a generic approach to L&D.