According to Training Industry research, strategic alignment is the most important process capability of great training organizations. And while many training organizations considered strategic alignment a strength before the pandemic, the crisis has made it difficult to align training initiatives with business goals. In fact, a recent Training Industry pulse survey found that only 20% of learning professionals feel confident that they know what their stakeholders’ current needs are. Among respondents who do feel confident of their stakeholders’ current needs, many reported being unsure about whether or not they can deliver training initiatives that address them.
So, how can learning leaders achieve strategic alignment when businesses are constantly pivoting in light of COVID-19? How does one plan for uncertainty?
It starts with reevaluating your learning and development (L&D) plan. Follow this four-step process to begin.
Step 1: Connect
Nothing is certain in today’s business environment. Nearly all industries have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic in one way or another. As a result, companies worldwide are reevaluating their “strategic priorities and daily practices,” says Noelle Akins, president of Akins & Associates and founder of the coaching program Type A in a Healthy Way.
Now more than ever, learning leaders must consistently communicate with stakeholders to stay on the pulse of evolving business needs. After all, “Crises are times that require an extra effort to communicate and keep everyone connected,” says Gal Rimon, founder and chief executive officer of Centrical. By staying connected and aligned with stakeholders, when business priorities shift, learning leaders can deliver training initiatives with “amazing synchronicity.”
Akins agrees that training professionals should partner closely with business executives to “explore together how you can co-create a way forward so that L&D can help build [organizational] capabilities and skills that facilitate business success.”
Step 2: Prioritize
After communicating with stakeholders to determine business needs, identify which training initiatives in your current L&D plan align with them. Keep the learning initiatives that are “core to your foundation,” and eliminate the ones that aren’t, Akins says. It’s also important to prioritize learning initiatives that address foundational skills. After all, “all industries, during this disruptive time, are seeing the need for strong leadership, emotional intelligence and change management competencies,” Akins says.
Matt Donovan, chief learning and innovation officer at GP Strategies, echoes this sentiment: “We have to make room for emotional intelligence,” he says. “Our plans [and] our strategies have to be more empathic than ever.”
The coronavirus pandemic has caused most companies that can go remote to do so, making soft skills even more vital to business outcomes. For example, Donovan says, sales reps must learn how to connect with clients virtually, which requires greater emotional intelligence and empathy than when meeting face to face.
Your L&D plan should include training initiatives that help learners “connect virtually” to ensure business “goes on as usual” during the crisis. While in the past, we may have separated “business from the emotional” and “empathy from vision,” during a crisis — and in the future of work — “they need to be more connected than ever,” Donovan says.
Step 3: Adapt
It is important to prioritize learning initiatives that address key business goals and teach foundational skills. But don’t be afraid to pivot. During the crisis, business priorities will change. Certain goals may be put on hold, and others may arise. And you can expect the “speed and intensity of change” to continue to build, Akins says.
As a learning leader, you “need to be able to shift on the fly,” Rimon says. The expression “he who hesitates is lost” could not be more appropriate in today’s business climate. Not only must learning leaders ensure their L&D plan is aligned to business priorities, “they need to be able to put it into action at a moment’s notice.”
According to LinkedIn’s 2020 “Leading with Learning” report, 68% of L&D professionals agree the level of urgency around launching learning programs has risen significantly during the crisis. To keep up, training professionals must have reskilling and upskilling initiatives “ready to go” when priorities shift, Rimon says.
It may seem risky to try something new during a crisis. Why adopt an emerging learning technology or new delivery method if you can stick to what worked in the past? According to Donovan, the answer is simple: The way L&D organizations have operated in the past “will not work in the future.” Now, he says, is the time to “lean into innovation.”
Some organizations have already used the pandemic as an opportunity to “completely reimagine” their priorities and how they deliver on them, says Jane Sparrow, founder of The Culture Builders and author of “The Culture Builders: Leadership Strategies for Employee Performance.” By swiftly adapting to evolving business needs and embracing innovation, you can keep your L&D plan sharp and ready to drive change.
Step 4: Repeat
Reevaluating your L&D plan is not a one-and-done process. It is a continuous commitment to the business of learning. After communicating with stakeholders to identify business needs, prioritizing learning initiatives accordingly and adapting as needs change, repeat the process. Constantly reassessing your L&D plan will help ensure the training function continues to drive business results during these uncertain economic times. Doing so will reiterate your value to the business and, ultimately, Akins says, prove that L&D is a “critical business enabler” positioned to lead your organization through uncertainty and into the future.