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Sukhvinder Pabial

Challenging Frontiers

Chief Learning Officer

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Building a stronger learning strategy in challenging times

Five key areas a learning strategy should address.

Creating a learning strategy isn’t a straightforward process, and neither should it be. By focusing on these five key areas, however, you can gain insight and deep understanding of the organisation:

  • Organisational alignment
  • Learning culture
  • Products and services
  • Technology adoption
  • Team capability

Organisational alignment

What are the priorities of the senior leaders? What are the strengths of the organisation? What are the organisational objectives? These are key questions that have to be addressed in your learning strategy.

Why? Well, the typical and traditional learning needs analysis (LNA) focuses on the learning needs of individuals and teams. From a learning perspective, this can make sense – identify learning needs and develop learning solutions to resolve those needs. Unfortunately, this process is often carried out without organisational context. During this pandemic, the organisational context for nearly every organisation has had to fundamentally change. The LNA isn’t designed to be adaptive to such dramatic change.

The learning strategy we design has to show how it will grow the capability of the team. 

Instead, by business partnering and having discussions with senior leaders, we are better able to understand the core performance requirements that we need to work towards. With many people working from home or as a front-line key worker, what are the changing performance requirements for those team members and how can L&D provide solutions to meet those needs?

Being focused on organisational alignment means that senior leaders are given the language and insight that helps them to understand how their organisational objectives can be achieved, because the learning strategy is designed to deliver to the same.

Learning culture

People learn every day with and without formal structures for learning in place. Taking the time to understand how learning is already taking place provides valuable insight into people’s ‘practice of learning’. That means you’re able to determine what kind of change management and communication tools you are likely to need in order to introduce a different and (hopefully) improved learning practice.

As a person/team with responsibility for learning in an organisation, you are also given the explicit mandate for providing a vision of learning in the organisation. What the learning culture could be is in your hands, as are the solutions you could co-create and collaborate with the business to implement.

Products and services

The products and services of your organisation are the foundations of this strategy. Without these, there is no organisation. A clear learning strategy will have depth of understanding about these so that the learning solutions enable and strengthen the delivery of these.

People’s day-to-day priorities are about delivering products and services – that’s what they get measured on, and it’s how their performance is monitored. The learning strategy we design has to show how it will grow the capability of the team to do this better and more efficiently than if your solution wasn’t available.

Performance is the key underlying concept here; however performance is measured, that’s the data and information L&D needs to deeply understand. It’s with this insight that you can develop learning solutions that directly improve performance. Did the learning solution (as a result of the learning strategy) improve the delivery of products or services? That’s the key question you’re trying to answer.

Technology adoption

Pre-pandemic, technology adoption in L&D was mixed. Some were advocates and very comfortable using technology for designing and delivering learning solutions. Others were reluctant, believing that technology is a poor cousin for a live in-person solution. Mid-pandemic, and many in L&D are forced to have to use technology for learning solutions or risk making their roles redundant.

If ever there was a time to really understand the potential and opportunities for using technology, it’s now. Of course many organisations are using common tools like MS Teams and Zoom for everyday communication, but those technologies aren’t the only ones available for technology-based learning.

Let’s say a project team need to spend time together to develop a new product or service, or there is a customer problem that requires a cross-discipline team to come together. How can technology be used to enable those conversations and thinking required beyond bringing everyone together on a virtual call? Tools like Miro and Mural are impressive for online collaboration purposes.

With an array of learning experience platforms now becoming a standard for digital learning, we have a range of tools available to provide learning solutions in a way we’ve never been able to before.

Team capability

The last thing to consider is an uncomfortable one for many in L&D – our own capability. The pandemic forced us all into a rapid digital transformation in 2020 and, as a result, many in L&D were left clueless about how to design for digital learning because they had never updated their skills. This really isn’t acceptable for a profession that has responsibility for delivering learning solutions to organisations.

It’s not just about digital learning, however. Capability is also about meeting the needs of the organisation. With all organisations requiring a fundamental change to their operating model, what does that mean for the capability of the teams delivering the products and services? How are they being upskilled so they can continue to be efficient and productive? They are reliant on L&D to show them a better way, and if L&D isn’t up to speed it raises important questions about their understanding of the organisational objectives.

Ultimately, the creation of a learning strategy and following through on it is the core activity for L&D. A robust learning strategy is essential and should be constantly referred to during decision-making about operational and tactical activity, particularly during turbulent times.  

You can download a learning strategy template for free on the Challenging Frontiers website.

Interested in this topic? Read Six ways to recalibrate your learning strategy.

Author Profile Picture
Sukhvinder Pabial

Chief Learning Officer

Read more from Sukhvinder Pabial

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