In the context of the training organization, strategic alignment is a process of prioritizing the goals and missions of an organization’s training activities around the business needs of the enterprise, and ensuring that learning helps drive business results.

Strategic alignment is a growing trend in business, one that often accompanies an enterprise-wide realignment of numerous departments around corporate business goals. As companies strive to meet increased global business challenges with greater focus on the bottom line, many are requiring their training departments to similarly refocus on serving their precise business needs.

Recent studies by indicate that an overwhelming number of corporate training professionals perceive strategic alignment as the single most-important process capability that enables training organizations to excel.

But, unlike the modest adjustments that might occur within certain functional areas such as sales, the impact of alignment within the training department typically involves a profound change both in practice and orientation. It means moving training from a “supply-side” model, also known as the corporate university model, to a “demand-side” model that is focused on supporting business decisions with just-in-time learning curricula.

That means abandoning the longstanding allegiance of training departments to catalogues of expensive revenue-producing courseware. That agenda is traditionally oriented both philosophically and financially around the personal and professional development goals of employees rather than corporate strategy. Training organizations are often compensated on the quantity of training taken by employees, which creates an incentive to offer popular courses that aren’t necessarily aligned with business priorities.

As a result, adopting this new value chain of learning has been likened to turning around a battleship while jettisoning established practices and relationships.

How do companies align their training to business goals?

The challenge for HR-based training organizations is to address and resolve several “systemic” issues that hinder a successful shift in their models, according to training professionals. For example, they need to establish a solid, two-way relationship with senior management so that new curricula can accurately reflect executive priorities.

Fostering such relationships often begins with a commitment to learn and “speak the language” of the C-suite, especially that spoken by the CFO.  A second important commitment is to become more aggressive about recognizing business problems and recommending solutions to them.

Strategic alignment does not necessarily mean that content catalogues by their very nature represent old school thinking, say training professionals. But it does mean that companies should consider offering catalogues of professional development courses that are tied directly to business goals.

Granted, this new model creates pressure on training departments to develop new courseware, which can be painful and expensive.

New enrollment procedures often require employees to win approval from their supervisors in order to take any personal development course. The development program itself must be deemed relevant to the business.

Research from reveals that with respect to strategic alignment, there were five critical practices that separate great training organizations from others:

  • Adapting training to an organization’s unique business culture
  • Customizing training to meet the organization’s needs
  • Establishing agreed upon business objectives
  • Defining performance success metrics
  • Developing consultative partnerships with clients

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