Great training organizations ensure strategic alignment with the business they support. But how do you create strategic alignment if your company doesn’t have KPIs (key performance indicators), OKRs (objectives and key results) or another acronym to set strategic direction for the year?

There are a multitude of reasons your organization may not have annual goals, such as a transition in leadership or a lack of consensus around priorities across the executive team. Or, maybe there are goals, but they aren’t transparently shared with the entire company. Whatever the case may be, it is still the responsibility of the training organization to create a strategy that supports the success of the overall business. Moreover, because the training function is a cost center, with each dollar spent scrutinized by business leaders, it’s critical to set and measure goals to confirm return on investment (ROI) and explicitly demonstrate how those costs are moving the business forward.

Even in the absence of organizational goals, training organizations can achieve alignment with a thoughtful and collaborative approach. Here’s how:

1. Start With the Company’s Mission and Vision

If your organization has a mission and/or vision statement, it’s a good place to start. You’re unlikely to identify specific or tactical goals with only this information; however, it should offer a north star in guiding the training function’s purpose in the short and long term.

If your training organization does not already have its own mission and vision, creating one is another strong starting place for the strategic planning process. Rolling up to the company’s statement, the training organization’s mission and vision provide a framework of its ultimate purpose and guide the team’s goals and activities.

2. Gather Input From Key Stakeholders

Involve the executive team and key business unit leaders in the strategic planning process by requesting input to ensure that your training organization adequately supports their team.

If they have set goals for their functional group this year, great! Ask them to share those goals, and consider asking follow-up questions to understand how the training organization can support their success:

    • Which skills, knowledge or abilities do team members need to achieve these goals?
    • Are there gaps between performance expectations and outcomes? If so, what are they?
    • What current challenges is your team facing in terms of productivity, engagement and/or effectiveness?

If any of the departments do not have goals, consider asking questions to draw out their team’s priorities before diving into those other questions:

    • What are the current projects and priorities for your team?
    • What performance or delivery expectations does the executive team have for your department this year?
    • Imagine it is this time next year. What would you like to say your team has accomplished over the past 12 months?

To enhance collaboration and increase transparency, it is helpful to create a steering committee or learning council with an open invitation to business unit leaders to participate more formally in these efforts. Their voluntary role would involve providing input on the prioritization of the training organization’s activities and giving feedback throughout strategy creation and goal-setting processes.

3. Check for Understanding

Once you’ve gathered information from business unit leaders, a more detailed picture of the broader organizational goals across teams will be clear. Before beginning the strategic planning process, be sure to verify your understanding of business unit priorities with functional leaders. Consolidate what you heard, share it back, and offer an opportunity for confirmation or correction.

You can include this step in the previous step, but it’s an important — and often overlooked — piece of the puzzle that warrants its own callout.

4. Create the Strategic Plan

With a broader picture of company priorities in sight, now is the time to design a strategy for the training organization’s activities to support success across teams. The process of strategic planning, goal-setting and creating roadmap action plans are outside the scope of this article, but there are scores of articles, books and courses on these topics. A few tools and frameworks for consideration include PESTEL analysis, SWOT analysis, TOWS matrix and key performance indicators (KPIs).

Whichever approach you use, be sure to include the entire training organization in the process. If it’s a small team, everyone may have a hands-on role. In a larger training organization, gathering input in focus groups or providing planning updates and inviting feedback may suffice. Involving the whole team will encourage ownership of the resulting strategy and action plan, incentivizing everyone to deliver on the plan and effectively support the organization.

5. Share, Implement, Evaluate and Report on Progress

Now that you’ve created your strategic plan, it’s time to share it across the organization. Be sure to create audience-specific versions and messaging and to distribute the plan to the training organization, the executive team, business unit leaders — and the company as a whole.

The plan should include success measures for you to monitor and report over the course of the year. Remember to create audience-specific updates, such as:

    • Biweekly inputs and internal updates for the training organization.
    • A monthly dashboard for the executive team.
    • Bimonthly learning council meetings.
    • A quarterly newsletter for business unit leaders.
    • An annual infographic for all employees.

6. Stay Flexible, and Realign as Needed

In your regular reporting to key stakeholders, include an opportunity to check in on any change in priorities across the organization. Don’t become inflexibly attached to the annual plan; keep an agile approach, and adjust goals and activities to maintain alignment with company success.

If the purpose of the training organization is to help employees achieve business success, it is critical to develop a strategic plan that aligns with organizational goals — even if they aren’t explicitly created or shared transparently. In that case, it is still possible to create that alignment with some additional planning and thoughtful engagement of key stakeholders.