Strategy can be defined as “a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim” or “the art of devising or employing plans … toward a goal.” However, a definition for strategy that is frequently overlooked but that deserves attention, is “an adaptation or complex of adaptations … that serves or appears to serve an important function in achieving evolutionary success.”

Is your learning strategy a destination to reach or an organic process that continually changes and evolves? What is the goal, and what is the process to achieve it?

What Is a Learning Strategy?

Doing an internet search for “learning strategy” will yield different interpretations of what it is, let alone what constitutes a good one. Some talk about the differences between onboarding and ongoing development, while others dig into mobile and social learning strategies.

No matter which approach you take, two elements are central to any successful learning strategy: The goal is to help the organization achieve the business objectives, and the approach and results need to be evolutionary.

The Goal Is Advancing the Business

As much as learning leaders are interested in and committed to individual growth and development, the reason anyone has a job is because the business is trying to achieve certain outcomes. The CEO and other leaders depend on learning and development (L&D) professionals to enable their teams to meet the demands of the current and future business. Employees depend on the L&D department to keep them employable. Whether or not there is agreement that these responsibilities should be the primary responsibilities, the truth is that they are.

Remaining focused on what the business is trying to achieve and partnering with leaders throughout the organization frames the learning strategy around business goals and improving the key performance indicators (KPIs) and objectives and key results (OKRs) of the different departments and business units.

For example, a business’ goals may be to grow revenue to $100 million, increase app adoption by 25% and decrease quality defects by 10%, all by the end of the fiscal year. If these goals are the company’s defined goals, they should also be the learning department’s defined goals. If a department has an OKR of cutting customer hold time by 30 seconds, that result is one of the learning department’s OKRs, too. Notably, this approach contrasts with focusing on the number of registrations and completions for a course on cutting customer hold time.

This approach also means that the training organization must adapt the timetable of the business. The organization is requiring employees to deliver against these goals. It does no good to deliver an great training program one year after the employees are let go or receive poor performance reviews. Learning and development must shift to accommodate the speed of business.

Another benefit: The budget to support these efforts should be more readily available, as they directly tied to the business goals.

The Approach and Results Need to Be Evolutionary

Organizations frequently approach social learning as a way for peers to share knowledge or to create an alternative to the company’s knowledge base, learning management system (LMS) and Google. However, true social learning is a call to intentionally promote a cross-pollination of knowledge, experimentation, behavior, documentation and exploration with periodic checkpoints to mark development. The learning department serves as a catalyst and host for this process, but it doesn’t lead it or own it.

If we take a simplistic view of evolution, there are multiple variations that exist simultaneously. There is also a dynamic sharing in which peers can transfer knowledge to each other and influence behavior immediately. In the learning context, this process includes the experiences, training, expectations and deliverables for each employee. It isn’t linear; rather, the evolution happens over and over, with different combinations and outcomes.

If the learning organization continues to feed itself with the business goals, why those goals matter and why the employees matter in achieving those goals, then it can focus less on developing content and more on promoting context. Then, self-learning occurs, employees are engaged and business goals are accomplished.

In this scenario, the learning organization records and captures the amalgamation of results and shares them throughout the business, rather than creating custom content. In short: Put cross-functional teams together, enable them to talk about how to solve business problems, collect their ideas and action plans, and distribute them through the company. Foster votes for adoption, work with company leaders to support beta efforts and let the teams who came up with the ideas take a leadership role in implementing them. Support those teams with practical leadership training and mentorship, with this concrete effort already on their agenda. Encourage peer training when gaps occur, further entrenching the evolutionary process. The training will be relevant, and results will be visible throughout the company.

Achieving Evolutionary and Business Success

Across the board, corporate leaders are frustrated at the pace of digital transformation and the lack of truly innovative cultures. These limitations can prevent organizations from meeting their business goals and keep people from the type of development truly desired by senior leadership, impacting their ability to move into new roles and potentially jeopardizing their job security.

Before drilling down into plans, processes, tactics, program design, SME interviews, delivery platforms, etc., make sure that you and your team are focused on business goals and the initiatives that business units and departments are implementing to meet those goals. This information will form the core of an effective learning strategy.

The measures of your success will come from meeting the business goals, not registrations, completions or visits to the LMS. The ultimate success will be employees who are empowered to embrace change — change that they helped create.