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Nigel Paine

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Six ways to recalibrate your learning strategy

Six shifts the L&D profession must make now.

Not so very long ago, I used to start my workshops on this topic by picking up a learning strategy document that someone (not in the room) had written, and tear it up dramatically in front of everybody. “You don't need a learning strategy”, I would urge. “What you need to explain is, how you will contribute to delivering your organisation’s business strategy”.  I may be a little less dramatic now, yet I still see plenty of learning strategies that commit the four cardinal sins:

  1. Setting targets based on volume and quantity of learning and judging success using the same criteria.
  2. Talking about what you intend to do as if you were a separate, autonomous operation.
  3. Using learning jargon (words like ‘curriculum’) that no one understands or cares about.
  4. Referencing only the learning team, so you make it appear like it is written exclusively for them, without connecting with anyone or anything else.

What would a marketing strategy look like if it failed to mention the market or the products aimed into that market? Imagine a finance department that went its own sweet way regardless of the situation that the company found itself in.  When you consider this, you begin to wonder why anyone should tolerate a learning and development operation that appears be so naive and so detached from the reality of the day-to-day business challenges or the organisation’s aspiration for the future.

Six shifts for a better strategy

There are six recalibrations that it may be helpful to consider. If you follow them, they will help you to develop a learning strategy that everyone will read and grasp its importance. It should increase the level of engagement and be obvious how its implementation will make a significant contribution to the overall success of the organisation. These items form a series of transformations in both approach and thinking:

Shift one: move from reinforcement to challenge

The most important way that you will help build the organisation for the future is to increase the level of curiosity and engagement. This resonates more than reinforcing tired assumptions by repeating the same old programmes. Develop L&D at the cutting edge.

Shift two:  ensure that the outcomes you want to deliver are emergent and dynamic

Try to avoid simple ‘known facts’ – indeed, embrace uncertainty and lead people gently into a sense of discomfort. At that point they will learn fast because it is viscerally clear what the purpose of the learning is.

Shift three: focus on mindset change rather than knowledge acquisition

If you can change behaviour and challenge assumptions, you will get people ready to learn and do things differently. Very often, if you get the mindset right, the knowledge will take care of itself.

Shift four: seek alliances all over the organisation

Make sure your ideas are co-authored not aimed at people with no buy-in or engagement. The phrase ‘in partnership with..’ should litter your strategy. No major piece of work should be proposed or developed without key alliances being in place.

Shift five: increase how much you ask questions and decrease how much you tell people what you are going to do

Be uncertain, but make sure that you will move to certainty when you have had a chance to talk, experiment and understand the business.

Shift six:  become a framer not a shaper

Framers look at the familiar and refocus it using an appropriate frame. Shapers tell people what it is they should be looking at. Once you realise how powerful the learning frame is, use it for all the business challenges. Your main question should be, 'how can we frame this?’ This means that you are engaging in conversations around what is familiar and important, but you are looking at it from a different angle. This alternative perspective is invaluable.  

Keep these in mind as you prepare your strategy and you will create an agenda that emphasises your own relevance and centrality to the organisation rather than your irrelevance!  If you need further proof, then think about what would happen if you and your team were no longer employed: would the organisation continue pretty much as usual? If so, start to get very nervous.  You need to be as critically important to your CEO as the marketing and the finance teams are. Do not rest until you have achieved this objective, and make sure that your learning strategy is a key document on this journey.  

Definitely write your organisation’s learning strategy – but make sure it is a calling card into the heart of the business not a farewell letter.

Interested in this topic? Read How to future-proof your L&D strategy in uncertain times.

One Response

  1. Nigel, thanks for your
    Nigel, thanks for your insights, incisive as always and timely for me as I realign our Learning Strategy to accommodate the challenges we are facing. From Diverse Corporate Growth to Dispersed Team Development to Empowered Individual Learning, these six shifts are key not to just surviving but growth.

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