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Simon Gibson


International Learning & Organisational Development Director

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Transforming L&D: Five tips for better business alignment

How L&D can deliver greater business impact in tumultuous times.

Who do you mean when you refer to ‘the business’? Are you ‘the business’? If not, then who are you? Think about these statements:

“What we need to do is understand what ‘the business’ is trying to do?”

“I just don’t understand is what ‘the business’ wants…”

“HR/L&D needs to be more commercial…”

“Listen, I have job ‘X’ to do, what you are doing isn’t helping…”

Do you recognise some of these? Maybe you’ve used some or a version of them before? Earlier in the year I asked why is L&D still not aligning upskilling and reskilling programmes with business needs? It kicked off a great, wide-ranging conversation and hopefully helped stimulate some new thoughts or approaches. As the world slowly begins to open up (to a varying degree) from restrictions, I feel a nagging need to carry on that conversation.

First, let me go back over some old ground and get the debate going again. Does your L&D activity and spend reflect what your company does? If I looked at it, without knowing your company, would I be able to work out what you do and/or are trying to do as a business going forward?

So, here’s the kicker: if not, why not? Do you know how your business makes money/provides a service/sells a product? If not, why not? How can you claim to be ‘helping’ if what you are doing doesn’t actually help anyone but yourself? Who marks your homework? There are lots of questions here, I know, but stick with me.

Skills and productivity

The skills gap/productivity debate isn’t going away anytime soon. No data supports that narrative. No news headline calls it differently. It’s a simple fact that we need better skills, faster, if we’re going to sell more stuff and make more money. I believe that L&D/HR are in a unique position now to drive business transformation in a way many haven’t done or realised they could before.

The leaps in how we work due to technology adoption, the global ‘test-run’ of more agile ways of working that we experienced during the pandemic, and a growing noise that things can be different presents a perfect storm. So, what are you doing to change the statements at the start? Are you doing things in the same way? Are you ignoring the real issues? Do you know what to say no to?

Everything is commercial. I don’t care if you are a global charity, a one person show, or a widget-making giant – everything relates to the bottom line. It pays the wages, keeps you employed, keeps the lights on (if you’re in a workspace) and so much more. It’s what helps the world economy to keep spinning. Every form and guise of business across the planet wants better, so let’s step into that gap and really make a difference going forward.

If you don’t already know, go and find out what people are measured on: how does it work? What impacts it? What gets in the way? What may help? Test that against what you thought was helping.

Five tips for better business alignment

I don’t have all the answers, nor do I claim to, but I do hope this prompts you and/or your team to question what you are doing and what you can do in the time ahead. Here are my top tips. 

  1. Seek to really understand your business strategy
    How do you make money/services/solutions today and how do you want to do that tomorrow? Ask lots and lots of questions and get clear on what may be needed to support this.
  2. Become ‘the business’
    Get on the inside and look out, not the other way round. Go and be brave, find out what is getting in the way of working better/smarter/agile? What would help make it better/faster/productive/efficient? (Clue: it might not be a traditional learning thing!)
  3. Test and learn
    Go and try something quick (weeks, not months) that may help and get feedback on the outcome. Did it alter ‘the business’ in the way you expected? What did you learn? Walk a mile in their shoes – go sit in the store, listen on the phone, go on the customer visit, see how the thing gets made – all of this will give you real and useful data.
  4. Change the conversation
    Be open and brave in talking about what works elsewhere, share insight, build up knowledge on what really helps the business and what doesn’t.
  5. Say no
    Ditch anything that isn’t adding value/contributing to the business strategy. Become of real value as a result.

Now is the time to be brave and take on a new stance as to how you can add real value to your company. Take a close look at your activity. Are you closing your skills gaps and contributing to real business outcomes for today and tomorrow? It’s all about delivering real, meaningful business impact.

Interested in this topic? Read How can L&D embrace business-aligned learning in difficult times?

Author Profile Picture
Simon Gibson

International Learning & Organisational Development Director

Read more from Simon Gibson

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