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Laura Overton

Learning analyst

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Seven habits of highly aligned learning departments


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

We know in our heart of hearts that a healthy and productive L&D organisation is one that is driven by and able to respond to the pressing needs of the business. The importance of alignment is something that we all know about. Just like the fact that your five-a-day and regular exercise is likely to help us live longer, when L&D understand the priorities of the business and respond accordingly it leads to success, engagement and crediblity. But it doesn’t mean we are practising what we preach. (see the boxout below)

Alignment is about understanding the needs of the business, developing strong relationships with the business and ensuring that all activity is committed to meeting those needs. And it works too. Over the last 10 years Towards Maturity have been gathering data on good L&D practice, finding out what works and what doesn't. We’ve isolated characteristics from the most successful organisations and in the process have create a new Alignment Index to help organisations assess how well they are aligning learning and business priorities compared with their peers [1]. Those in the top quartile of the Alignment Index reported that their e-enabled learning strategy delivers five times as many business benefits than those in the bottom quartile of the index.

So what constitutes the ‘well-aligned’ learning and development function? We’ve identified seven habits of highly aligned L&D teams and will be exploring the first three habits in this article & the final four later in the week.

Highly aligned L&D teams:

  • Actively involve business leaders in learning decisions

When it comes to learning decisions in the organisation, highly aligned L&D teams are working closely with senior managers to ensure that the learning delivered is consistent with business needs. Top performing L&D companies are twice as likely to agree that learning decisions are made with management who are also supportive in identifying the business metrics that the learning intervention is trying to improve. They are also twice as likely to report that their organisation assigns board-level accountability for learning within the organisation helping to cement an ongoing commitment from business leaders to the learning agenda.

As one of our Benchmark participants commented: 'Agree measures of success first with your stakeholders before adopting or designing any training, whether it be online or face-to-face'

  • Use strategic business objectives to determine learning priorities

Aligned L&D functions then use their understanding of business needs to not only establish tactical learning priorities but also set longer term strategy. Top L&D teams don’t just  take learning orders from business managers. They are twice as likely to agree that they analyse business problems before recommending solutions. At a more strategic level, their strategy is twice as likely to be able to adapt to changing business priorities.

  • Focus on the end game

Whether designing or commissioning learning interventions it is critical to focus on the end results by agreeing measurable business targets to move towards. Then you design with the business outcome in mind. This means ensuring that learning professionals in the L&D team are clear about the strategy and priorities of the business. Top learning companies are twice as likely to set business targets upfront for learning interventions and then measure against them. They also demonstrate a commitment to ensuring the skills that are developed are then actively used. For example, they are twice as likely to use defined performance support systems in the organisation to support the application of learning back into the workplace.

So how well are L&D leaders really doing at aligning with business strategy? pt1*

- 37% agree that their organisation has board-level accountability for learning
- 63% believe that their learning initiatives supports the skills the business needs
- 34% identify key performance metrics with management that they want to improve

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

So how aligned is your L&D function?  Why not find out by taking part in the Towards Maturity Benchmark which provides you with an opportunity to review your strategy against the best practices of your peers. 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 5 September. Follow progress on twitter at #bethebest13

Author Profile Picture
Laura Overton

Learning analyst

Read more from Laura Overton

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