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Bola Owoade

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Senior Learning and Development Advisor

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Creating a learning and development strategy


The late Stephen Covey who wrote the best selling book, Seven Habits for Highly Effective People differentiated between leaders and managers in a rather interesting way. He wrote that while leaders do the right thing, managers do things right. In other words leaders define the destination, managers undertake the tasks required to get to the destination. You may be wondering what a post about learning and development strategy has to do with Stephen Covey's view about leaders and managers. Look at it this way, a learning and development strategy is about doing what is right, defining a destination for the learning and development function based on what the organisation is aiming to achieve. Without an aligned destination you may be doing things right but not doing the right thing. So you may be delivering some great training courses, investing in social learning and even delivering content via mobile platforms, but is the learning aligned to the organisation's needs. Ultimately doing things right without doing the right thing is a waste of time and cost consuming. That is precisely why it is important to take some time to create a learning and development strategy.

Creating a learning and development strategy is about gathering the necessary information and putting together an overall strategy for the learning and development function. This strategy should clearly outline what the function is going to do to support the business. To create such a strategy you will need to answer some key questions.

1 - What does your organisation want to achieve? This should be clarified in some form of business or strategic plan as vision or mission statements.

2 - How does your organisation intend to go about achieving what it set out to achieve? - This should be your organisation's strategy or business plan. Ideally it will highlight some key strategic or business objectives and the top level actions required to achieve them.

3 - What organisational capabilities does the organisation need to successfully implement its strategy? This are things that the organisation must be able to do. Some people refer to them as organisational competencies while others refer to them as sources of competitive advantage. For example an that is going through a lot of change must have strong change management capabilities. Organisations involved in a lot of project based work must have good project management capabilities.

4 - What combination of skills, knowledge and attitudes (human capital or competencies) do people need to ensure the organisation has the right capabilities? An organisation's capabilities comes from its people. 

5 - What learning do people need to develop the right combination of skills, knowledge and attitudes?

6 - How will the learning be developed and delivered?

7 - How will you ensure that the people are learning what they need to.

The first three questions deal with strategic issues and by answering them it helps to align the learning and development function to the organisation's strategy. This can also be called vertical alignment.

The next four questions deal with operational issues and will consist of learning analysis, design, development, implementation and evaluation. At this stage the learning and development function must be be working with other parts of HR and other departments. This is what is known as horizontal alignment.

Answering these questions and documenting them will form the foundation for a learning and development strategy, but you will need to consider:

 - Where you will get all the information from.

 - Who you need to speak to.

 - How you will document the strategy.

 - How long will it take to put the strategy together?

In putting the strategy together I believe we should emulate what web software developers call the lean methodology where a Minimum Viable Product or MVP is released to the market to test customers reaction. An MVP is a software product with minimum features. As the software developers listen to their customers they keep on adapting the product based on customer feedback. In the same way when creating a learning and development strategy we should start with a Minimum Viable Strategy (or MVS) which has enough information to start supporting the organisation. We should then keep on adapting the strategy as more and more information is derived from the business. Creating a learning and development strategy should be an iterative process, not one where we spend 3 months completing a so called complete strategy document.

In the next post I will touch on documenting and communicating a learning and development strategy? 

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Bola Owoade

Senior Learning and Development Advisor

Read more from Bola Owoade

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