It’s easy to create a learning and development (L&D) strategy with a team of professionals who are equally passionate about aligning organizational goals with individual learners’ development needs. Unfortunately, most L&D professionals are challenged to quench the learning thirst of thousands with two fish and five loaves of bread — or one L&D expert and a very limited budget.
L&D teams with limited funding and people resources can look to design thinking methods to establish a framework that is replicable across industries. This framework serves as the foundation of countless possibilities when it comes to creating timely and relevant training that meets the ever-changing needs of today’s marketplace. The three-part framework illustrated below defines the actions L&D professionals should take before creating and implementing a formal L&D strategy.
Framework for Creating a Formal Learning and Development Plan
1. Gaining Executive Buy-in
Adopting an effective L&D strategy begins with senior leaders’ buy-in. The most successful L&D professionals have learned that executive leaders speak a different language than the average employee. I refer to it as their “leadership language,” and it illustrates the priorities they focus on to demonstrate their value to the business — and, in some cases, to the world.
While employees tend to have a 90-degree perspective on their projects and tasks, executive leaders concern themselves with priorities that far exceed the tactical to-dos of an eight-hour workday. The leaders are accountable to shareholders, governing boards and large teams, who charge them with viewing the business from a 360-degree perspective to ensure all of its moving parts are effective and efficient.
Finding ways to incorporate an executive’s leadership language into a formal L&D strategy is a quick way to gain executive sponsorship for training. It also improves the L&D leader’s value in the organization, as it supports the perception of alignment between organizational strategy and intentional training initiatives.
An executive’s leadership language is not always evident in day-to-day operations, and L&D leaders must sometimes seek out this information using both “mega-channels” — conventional approaches such as company news, town hall meetings and financial reports — and “micro-channels” — relational approaches such as one-on-one check-ins, team meetings and direct asks. Most importantly, L&D leaders should determine ways to convert leadership language into training opportunities that they can implement in multiple modalities and then measure to maximize return on investment. This approach enables executives to see their priorities in action.
2. Aligning Employee Skills Gaps
It’s no secret that a satisfied customer experience translates to repeat business. An unfavorable customer experience, on the other hand, can always be traced back to an employee skill gap. For example, if a product or service is not available, the employee can still demonstrate the skill set necessary to win the customer’s confidence. Having the interpersonal communication skills and emotional intelligence to handle concerned customers can be the saving grace for repeat business. When an employee lacks those skills or does not have the capacity to adjust in real time, customer satisfaction is nearly impossible.
The challenges for L&D professionals is that not all employees are willing to expose their skill gaps for fear of being replaced, demoted or terminated. The truth is, though, that no matter how seasoned we are in our professions, there is always something new to learn. When skill gaps are not apparent, employees’ managers can be a good source to collect feedback on strengths and development opportunities.
Hiring and selection processes present also opportunities to address the skills gaps of an entire team. If hiring managers are strategic about their decisions, not only will they search for candidates who can fill apparent skill gaps, but they will inevitably hire the right person for the job.
Aligning employee skill gaps with customer needs creates both short- and long-term wins for the L&D team. If the team can identify key performance indicators (KPIs) in the process, then the training they create to bridge those skills gaps becomes much more valuable. The illustration below provides a basic formula for ensuring that an organization’s L&D strategy meets the basic needs of both internal (employees) and external (end users of the company’s products and services) customers.
Formula for Aligning Skills With Customer Needs
3. Partnering With Stakeholders
As the role of the learning and development professional shifts into organizational development and talent management, L&D professionals are challenged to do more with less. This challenge requires strategic partnerships with stakeholders across departments and business sectors. It also enables these partnerships to optimize the employee life cycle by offering just-in-time training, communication and performance management tools and resources to the appropriate audiences.
Despite any training, communication or performance management tools that exist, it’s important for all stakeholders to be realistic about what training can occur and when. The most successful partnerships have used the employee life cycle to create multi-year L&D strategies and allocate funding and human resources accordingly. While creating a strategy that optimizes the employee life cycle may require time and effort on everyone’s part, it’s imperative to address each phase. When the employee life cycle is not well thought-out, it may become evident with attrition, a disengaged workforce, or even a negative hit to the company’s brand and reputation.
Partnering with stakeholders to develop and implement an L&D strategy demonstrates a commitment to the value of training within an organization. Every department that will be impacted by the training should have a representative stakeholder to weigh in on the initial needs assessment, training opportunities and applicable KPIs. For teams with lean resources, stakeholders from other parts of the organization can serve as extended members of the L&D team.
Want to learn more? Watch Kristal’s presentation from a recent TICE Virtual Conference.