Business leaders routinely create or adjust strategy. Whether stepping onto a path of growth, finding new markets or addressing organizational weaknesses, leaders are challenged to find ways to keep an organization relevant, innovative, vibrant and growing.
Because execution is a people problem, L&D has a vital role to play in the implementation process by operationalizing and embedding new or refined knowledge, skills and performance. A significant gap exists between the business and L&D, and a key contributor to that gap is often L&D’s ability to respond effectively to strategic changes.
Here are six tips to help L&D close the gap and improve alignment:
1. Understand the Rationale Behind the New Strategy.
An effective strategy declares both what an organization will do or focus on and what the organization will not do or focus on. Decisions are backed by deliberate and nuanced thinking and are usually made after several competing options are considered and the majority discarded. Take the time to learn what’s behind the move and the options that were discarded. That knowledge will inform L&D decisions in the short and long term.
Such a conversation doesn’t need to happen with a member of the C-suite. Ask your counterparts (plural) for their insights. Because organizations and people aren’t perfect, communications and interpretations can vary from the initial intent. Check in with a few people, triangulate what you learn and then check back to confirm you’re on the right track.
2. Figure Out Who Is Impacted – and What the Impact Is.
Strategic shifts typically impact the organization unevenly. Some roles feel a material change to their world and work, while others feel something more like a mild tremor. Some changes draw L&D into the mix immediately, while others take a while to unfold, so L&D can stay on the sidelines for a while.
Use a performance consulting capability to assess how the new strategy impacts each affected role and the degree of that impact. Some changes will have substantial training implications, while others won’t. L&D’s response needs to be finely tuned to those unique needs and should offer nuanced support to address them.
3. Focus on Performance.
Returning for a moment to the alignment challenge, another important variable is that business leaders see changes in performance that not only align with, but are seen to visibly push the organization toward, the strategy’s intended outcomes. The response from L&D will almost certainly include interventions that close knowledge and skill gaps; taking the next step to connect the intervention to performance will pay dividends. Business leader confidence will climb as they can see a demonstrated connection between their aims and L&D’s response. And, while it’ll still take work, it’ll be easier to measure the impact of L&D’s response … which leads to the next tip.
4. Get Inside the Metrics.
A business strategy nearly always includes metrics. The headline: Achievement will be measured. In many cases, the metrics are defined at an organizational level, often on profit and loss or statements like balance sheet. Part of L&D’s job is to use a performance consulting capability to determine, with the help of business-side leaders and managers, how the major strategic metrics can be unpacked into tangible metrics, which can, in turn, be related to employee performance. Isolate and link the metrics to important performance outcomes. Focus first on the business goals, and use L&D analytics to uncover evidence that supports the attainment of those goals.
5. Revamp the Training Request Intake Process.
New strategies tend to cause managers around the organization to see gaps, which become the impetus of an increased volume of training requests. These requests are often tactical in nature and not coordinated with each other. Adjust the intake process to:
- Make a visible link to the strategy
- Link the goal of the request to a performance outcome or development map
- Track, organize and consolidate requests
- Include business stakeholders in the prioritization and approval of projects
6. Attend to the L&D Function and Team.
Use the business goal and performance outcome to help your team develop new skills and insights into the business and, more importantly, their professional development. Encourage them to take on new challenges, and provide feedback and coaching to help them see how their deepening understanding of the business and improved business acumen is helping the organization.
Using these simple tips will help L&D improve alignment and stay on a path to be a trusted advisor to the organization.