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Laura Overton

Learning analyst

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How to balance organisational goals and individual learning needs

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Laura Overton continues her series looking at how to serve both the workforce and the business with your L&D strategy. 

In the first of our series on using evidence to drive change within L&D, I looked at delivering an L&D strategy fit for a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world. In this second article I explore alignment and how L&D teams can align with business and satisfy learners’ needs. 

L&D has to meet the needs of its learners. It also has to meet the needs of the business. This may sound like a clash of priorities for L&D, but actually, the two should be mutually conducive.

Aligning learning to individual and organisational demand is increasingly important in today’s agile business environment. These are fast-moving times that we live and work in so businesses need to able to change as change is required. L&D can help facilitate change by ensuring there are people with the right skills in the right place at the right time, and that learning is a continuous process.

In order to achieve this, L&D must have a strong understanding of what current and future business needs are and how learning can help meet those needs. L&D needs to be able to operate strategically, working alongside the business, committed to driving the business forward. Business leaders also need to demand more from their L&D teams, and to look beyond the course in order to understand the broader role that it has to play in delivering performance in the organisation. L&D needs to ensure it has the business leaders on its side.

When this alignment between individual needs and business needs happens, it leads to higher individual engagement and productivity and increased business success. That is surely the holy grail of any organisation.

In the In-Focus report, 'Aligning Learning to Business' (introduced in 2013 and updated yearly) we highlighted seven habits of highly aligned L&D teams. These habits are:

  • Operate as a business partner
  • Use strategic business objectives to determine learning priorities
  • Design with the end in mind
  • Integrate with HR and talent strategy
  • Demonstrate business value
  • Ensure that workers understand personal contribution to business success
  • Enjoy proactive management commitment

In our report, we also compiled an alignment Index. What it showed is that highly aligned teams enjoy significant benefits, particularly when compared with teams with low alignment. Highly aligned L&D teams are four times as likely to report :

  • Increased revenue as a result of learning interventions
  • Increased productivity
  • Increased staff engagement
  • A reduction in staff turnover

than teams in the bottom quartile of the Alignment Index. In order to achieve high business alignment, it is imperative that L&D has a strategic understanding of business drivers and needs. L&D teams need to have strong relationships with people in the business and an understanding of where the business is heading.

Only then can they develop learning strategies that will meet those business needs. Not that the learning should be business-centric; learner needs have to be at the heart of any learning strategy, alongside business needs. L&D needs to be learner-centric, but within the context of organisational goals. We found that 90% of L&D leaders are looking for an increased ability to adapt programmes to individual need and context.

It can be tricky to strike the right balance between being learner-centric and business focused, but that is what L&D needs to achieve. If there is too heavy a focus on learner experience and choice, that jeopardises business engagement and alignment. Conversely, if the focus is too much on business efficiency, then learner engagement suffers.

Learners also need to know how their efforts fit in with organisational needs and outcomes. L&D has a communications role to play here. Employees who can see how their role and learning contribute to business success report higher levels of engagement, motivation and productivity. When an individual’s aspirations are tied in with the business’s aspirations, that’s when there are real results.

Businesses that foster a talent-centred learning culture, where individual performance is recognised, celebrated and enhanced are more likely to maintain a strong competitive edge.

Our report, the 'New Learning Agenda', makes much of the need for L&D to build customer-activated learning strategies in order to drive employee engagement. These strategies have to understand and facilitate the needs of the individual within the business. That means L&D needs to situate itself at the heart of the business.

Another of our In-Focus reports, 'Building Staff Engagement', pinpoints the seven habits of highly engaged organisations. These are:

  • Understand learners
  • Make learning relevant and accessible
  • Equip stakeholders with the right resources
  • Support learning in the workplace
  • Minimise the barriers that can lead to poor engagement
  • Develop a strategy for winning hearts and minds
  • Celebrate success

Highly engaged organisations have that strong alignment between individual and business needs. They also tend to have a focus on outcomes – what they want to achieve and how they are going to achieve it. When L&D has its focus on outcomes, then learning can be tailored to facilitate those outcomes – that is the way to align individual learning with organisational needs. L&D needs to be designing learning interventions that will help achieve the desired business outcomes in the best possible way for the business and the individual.

How does your strategy compare with the top performing L&D teams? Use the Towards Maturity 2015 Benchmark to find out your alignment and engagement index. It is free to use until 31st July. open, click here to start yours now.  

Start your benchmark today

Author Profile Picture
Laura Overton

Learning analyst

Read more from Laura Overton

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