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Laura Overton

Learning analyst

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Seven habits of highly aligned learning departments pt2


Have you completed the Towards Maturity benchmark report yet? Laura Overton continues her look at a few key trends for a successful L&D department.

The days of isolating the learning experience from workplace activities are numbered and we are seeing an increased hunger within L&D to line up learning with workplace priorities, to increase our relevance, our credibility and our profile as a trusted business partner. 

This means ensuring that we line up with the business’s objectives rather than expect them to line up with ours. To achieve this, the 21st Century L&D team has to become more business-savvy – understanding the  needs of the business, responding to the needs of the business and meeting the needs of the business.

Over the last 10 years Towards Maturity have been gathering data on good L&D practice, finding out what works and those that work in collaboration with business managers rather than in isolation are clearly delivering better results  and enjoying more proactive commitment. But we don’t always practice what we preach –(see box out beneath)

So what constitutes the ‘well-aligned’ learning and development function? The Towards Maturity Benchmark research has identified a new Alignment Index to help understand the impact of the aligned L&D function – those in the top quartile report five times as many business benefits as those in the bottom quartile of the index*. Underpinning the index are seven habits of highly aligned L&D teams. In part one we considered evidence that aligned teams are:

  • Actively involve business leaders in learning decisions
  • Use strategic business objectives to determine learning priorities
  • Focus on the end game

 But it does not stop there. Highly aligned learning teams also stand out in the way that they:

  • Integrate with HR and talent strategy

Learning is never an activity that occurs in isolation and yet it is often executed in siloes. Even other HR and talent activities are often planned and actioned separately. Whilst many organisations have established talent management strategies, the aligned L&D function is one that is clear about where their learning activity fits within the wider talent strategy. In those organisations, siloes are breaking down with top learning companies being twice as likely to embed learning within succession planning, recruitment and performance management strategies.

  • Demonstrate business value

Highly aligned L&D functions are focussed first and foremost on adding real value back to the business, not just cutting costs. Top learning companies are twice as likely to calculate return on investment for their learning programmes (going beyond efficiency savings to calculating value to the bottom line).

They proactively demonstrate the value they are adding by being twice as likely to report back against the agreed targets for learning. As a result, management teams are clearer about how learning is aligned to their overall business plan, with top learning companies twice as likely to agree that their managers recognise the value of on-the-job learning.

  • Ensure staff understand their contribution

Aligned L&D functions play their role in ensuring that their staff are clear about how their learning supports the organisation’s performance and that their workers understand their personal contribution to business success. For example, top learning companies are twice as likely to agree that they are proactive in discussing the aims and objectives at the start of any learning intervention.

  • Enjoy proactive management commitment

Finally, top learning companies are twice as likely to enjoy the fruits of their labour through proactive support from their top managers. Senior managers demonstrate an ongoing commitment to learning, including technology-enabled learning within the organisation not only for their staff but also for themselves.

Many have spoken about the need for learning and development teams to transform how they deliver learning services. They need to shift from being expendable cost centres who process orders for expensive courses to becoming agents of change within the business, working alongside business managers to integrate learning into the workflow in such a way that it creates an agile and responsive organisation.

Those scoring well on the new Towards Maturity Alignment Index are enjoying the closer relationships with the business and the bottom line benefit that they bring. Alignment is critical for L&D success in the future but it is not a given – many aspire to it but not many achieve it. By benchmarking with peers, organisations can fast-track their alignment journey. Take the alignment test today!

So how well are L&D leaders doing at gaining the support of business stakeholder? pt2*

- 47% agree that their managers recognise the value of on-the-job learning
- 21% agree that top managers are involved in proactively promoting learning
- 39% agree that learning objectives are discuss with individuals before they start a learning programme

*averages taken from 2012-13 Towards maturity Benchmark with 500 organisations

Everyone who takes part in the Towards Maturity Benchmark by the 17th of August will receive a free Personalised Benchmark Report providing comparisons with 12 performance indicators – which will help you engage managers and provide a focus on the end game! You will also get feedback against 21 good practices indicators – including your own alignment index.

[1] Go to the Towards Maturity In-Focus report on Aligning Learning to Business for more information about the Alignment Index.

Laura Overton is MD of Towards Maturity. Follow her on Twitter @lauraoverton. Trainingzone are partners of the Towards Maturity Benchmark – you can take part here. Participate by 17 August and you will receive your personalised report in the week commencing 5September. Follow progress on twitter at #bethebest13

Author Profile Picture
Laura Overton

Learning analyst

Read more from Laura Overton

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