Without strategic alignment, business functions would be chasing drastically different goals and objectives, resulting in little to no business impact. In times of crisis and change, like we’re experiencing during the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for strategic alignment becomes increasingly important. As business priorities shift, learning leaders must ensure their training strategy reflects those changes.

For over a decade, Training Industry has been conducting research on the process capabilities and practices that define great training organizations. Withstanding the test of time, strategic alignment has been consistently rated as the most important process capability. Strategic alignment is the foundation of a great training organization, and now more than ever, a strong foundation is needed to weather a turbulent business market.

“All employees and departments working towards a set of the same goals will contribute to the overall success of the organization,” says Dr. Theresa Horne, CPTM, a senior program manager working in leadership and talent development at the National Labor Relations Board. “As a training organization, our actions should always be rooted in making the business and its human assets as successful as possible.”

Becoming a Trusted Partner

To position training as an enabler to company growth, learning leaders must work closely with the senior leadership team to establish agreed-upon business objectives. This partnership provides learning leaders with a higher level of clarity and context surrounding the goals and can alleviate any miscommunication.

“When goals are communicated with the rest of the organization, sometimes, there’s not that level of detail that would really help a training manager make better choices in creating that effective strategic alignment,” says Kenneth Baucum, CPTM, an organizational development manager at SageNet. “Sometimes, it’s just a matter of communication.”

By actively listening and asking important questions, learning leaders can get the information they need to make the right decisions. But that information doesn’t always come easy, says Baucum. Sometimes, it takes a little digging and persistence to find answers. In moments of resistance from leadership, learning leaders should clearly communicate that they are searching for answers to better understand the goals — not undermine them. This approach can help establish training as an ally to the business.

Having a seat at the decision-making table and being able to work closely with senior leaders is critical to creating training that is truly impactful. “Being in the conversation to lead the discussion on how training can support the various business initiatives gives the training manager insight on not only where the business is heading in the near future but also on which areas are top priorities,” says Horne. By fully understanding the organization’s strategic plan, training managers can highlight areas where training can maximize the potential outcome, she adds.

Transparency and Alignment

Ensuring strategic alignment across the entire organization is challenging. Employees and departments need to be working toward the same goals or risk cannibalizing their efforts. To ensure everyone is on the same page, it’s important to regularly check in with employees. Soliciting feedback from employees is a critical part of achieving strategic alignment, says Julie Kirsch, CPTM, the director of training and development at Calibre CPA Group. “Employees may have perceived needs that are different from their supervisors, managers or leaders.”

Conducting an assessment using employee surveys, interviews or a task force can help identify whether the goals of the employees and the leaders match. “Listening to the needs of the workforce and the organization’s leadership will make the alignment process easier,” adds Horne. Learning leaders must address any inconsistencies and identify ways to align goals across the business.

For example, Baucum found that new hire orientation programs are a great way to share company goals and maintain strategic alignment across the business. Introducing company goals to new employees during the onboarding process allows them to ask questions and better understand how their role connects to those goals. This approach increases engagement while allowing each employee to look more holistically at the company and not just his or her small part, he says.

Moving Forward More Efficiently

Aligning training to the specific needs of the business can help organizations create a competitive advantage. Developing training that reflects the organization’s culture, learner preferences and business objectives increases productivity and engagement. In fact, customizing training to meet an organization’s needs is the most critical strategic alignment practice for great training organizations, according to Training Industry research.

Strategic alignment enables faster decision-making when business priorities shift. Organizations that can quickly adapt to change will be the most successful, but it requires clarity and communication of those changes across the entire business. “Strategic alignment is a very powerful tool when communicating with business leaders,” says Baucum. “It prevents wasting time and helps us move forward more efficiently.” So, when change does occur, learning leaders are well prepared to pivot and meet the needs of their employees.