Learning and development (L&D) industry literature is rich with advice on how to create an impactful learning strategy. Nearly all such advice seems to be anchored by the importance of aligning business strategy and L&D strategy. Some companies have a long tradition of locating L&D within the human resources (HR) department and view it only as an owner of formal onboarding and compliance training. At other companies, the chief learning officer (CLO) reports directly to the chief executive officer, and there is an expectation that innovative learner experiences are part of the company brand.
Regardless of how L&D is positioned within an organization, the ability for it to make an impact on business strategy is directly proportional to the business’ perception of its value and alignment. When business stakeholders believe that L&D’s goals are their goals and recognize the value of L&D in the achievement of business strategy, the doors open for a shared vision and a productive partnership. This type of partnership allows L&D professionals (and L&D service providers) to bring the most value to their companies and clients. A company may have an exceptionally well thought-out L&D strategy, complete with explicit governance models, robust measurement plans and clearly articulated processes, but without perceived value and alignment and a partnership between L&D and the business, the strategy will likely fall short.
Should L&D abandon the quest to architect sound strategy in lieu of a pizza party to build relationships? Certainly not. Work hard to design learning strategies that align to business strategies, but remember that the work continues after you’ve documented the L&D strategy. When it comes time to execute on the strategy, do so in a way that clearly demonstrates the value of L&D and how well it is aligned to the business strategy.
Here are seven strategies to help you demonstrate value and alignment, enabling the development of an effective partnership. Some of the tips on this list may seem simple or more focused on public relations than on learning, but for L&D and for the business, tone is everything.
1. Know the Business, and Understand the Work
L&D leaders and practitioners cannot align to what they do not know or understand. Investing the time to understand the work of the business is also an investment into the relationship between you and your stakeholders. Some of your team members may need support to understand a company’s business goals, but giving them that support will improve the business acumen of the entire L&D function.
2. Be a Thought Leader, and Bring a Point of View
The value that L&D brings includes a deep understanding of adult learning, expertise in solution types and technologies, the ability to match solutions to needs, and the ability to anticipate and resolve challenges by executing learning solutions. When collaborating on strategy and solutions, you can highlight both value and partnership using a confident point of view that demonstrates this value in the context of current business goals is where L&D can highlight both value and partnership.
3. Speak the Language of the Business, and Avoid Using Learning Lingo
Discussing solutions in the context of business needs can heighten the sense of the partnership. Asking a stakeholder, “How should the widget sales team position the increased diameter of this year’s widget?” demonstrates a greater sense of alignment than asking, “What are the learning objectives for this year’s widget training?” Even if your measurement is in learning terms, frame learning achievements in metrics that the business tracks.
4. Act as a Partner, Not a Provider
When L&D acts as an order-taking service, the business assumes the process of identifying learning solutions, eroding the L&D value proposition. When you act as a partner, you become a trusted adviser who proposes the best solutions and modalities to fit the needs of the business. Sometimes, minor adjustments in tone and process can set the stage to reposition the L&D function as a business partner.
5. Provide the Right Solution for the Need
The business’ confidence in L&D grows when the scope of a solution is proportional to the scope of the need. Your stakeholders might perceive incidences of over- or under-designing a solution as examples of how L&D strategy is misaligned to business strategy. For example, immediate learning needs for small audiences or problems that you can solve by simple changes in knowledge-sharing practices should not be addressed with expensive, high-tech learning solutions that take a long time to develop. Often, even when a complex solution might be the best long-term fit, you can design a simpler solution to meet immediate needs and avoid slowdowns to business function.
6. Stay Humble, and Recognize What Is Working
Demonstrate true partnership with the business by celebrating and even supporting non-L&D-generated solutions that achieve desired outcomes. These types of solutions may also provide an opportunity for you to gain insight into the types of experiences that fit into the culture of the business.
7. Focus on Experiential Learning Only After Creating the Necessary Structure and Supports
Across the organization, experiential learning is only as good as the quality and consistency of available on-the-job experiences and coaching. An L&D organization that knows the business, understands how the work happens and has established a trusted partnership is well equipped to architect impactful experiential learning journeys that include the necessary support for learners and their coaches, mentors and/or managers.
Developing an L&D strategy is an important and worthy investment. Aligning L&D strategy and business strategy is also important, but the perception of alignment is critical to the establishment of a partnership between L&D and the business. This partnership will enable you to become a trusted adviser and can result in a greater impact to the business than even the best learning strategy could provide.
If you’re interested in learning more, view this on-demand Training Industry webinar, sponsored by Performance Development Group: “Creating a Modern Learning Strategy: Your Roadmap to Transforming Corporate Learning.”