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Robin Martin

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Transforming learning into a strategic business force


For strategic success 2013 is all about aligning your L&D vision with your business goals. Robin Martin explains further.

Today business moves faster than ever. New market opportunities open and close at blinding speed, new competitors emerge overnight, product lifecycles are getting shorter, and customers are more knowledgeable and sophisticated. This fast-changing environment has led to requirement to change learning and training. Most organisations now recognise the importance of developing a strategic approach to learning. Moving away from more tactical based activities associated with training such as measuring skills-based behaviours, to focussing on acquisition of knowledge and learning transfer that result in individual and organisational performance improvements. However more often than not, the task of aligning the learning organisation to the business can be challenging and the perception of how the business views the learning organisation in terms of aligning to strategic initiatives is different to how the learning organisation perceives itself.

A recent survey conducted by the HCM Advisory Group and sponsored by Saba Software surveyed a cross section of organisations to provide insight into various issues in training and learning. The survey revealed that there is a still a gap between the perceived importance of the learning function to organisational success, as well as a gap between the view of learning leaders and senior C-level leadership. Overall 52% of respondents to the survey reported that the learning function at their organisation is seen as a strategic enabler for the business. 33.6% reported that the learning function is seen as a ‘necessary but costly contributor to the business’ and 13.7% report that the learning function is perceived as a cost centre. Interestingly when respondents were asked to what extent learning is aligned with the business at their organisation the aggregate of the responses was 75.8%. Given that only 52% of respondents of respondents reported that the learning function at their organisation is seen as a strategic enabler, this number is surprisingly high. One possible conclusion to draw from this is that whilst the learning function believes that it is aligned to the business strategy, the business has not yet recognised them as strategic enablers.

So how do you change this perception and truly become a strategic enabler?

Essentially it is helpful to do an audit, understand where you are now with your L&D programs, where you want to be to support strategic initiatives and then determine how to get there.

  • Know the strategic priorities – focus on long term strategic priorities rather than short term tactical/urgent priorities. Know your industry, competitors, and how your organisation is perceived externally, to enable you to understand where it needs to be in 3-5 years.
  • Understand how L&D can contribute to those priorities – Be clear on how existing programs support the business strategy, what the gaps are and therefore what needs to be developed to achieve those goals.
  • Determine what learning programs will support the business strategy – Once you have set the scene in terms of determining where you are now and where you want to be, you can examine your programs in more detail.  What L&D requirements are there?  What training programs should continue, or discontinue?  What new programs should be developed? Look at these in the context of your organisations direction, so for example, are you launching new products or services?  Do you have the knowledge in house to deliver them, or will new skills need to be developed?  What are the most critical skills?
  • Determine metrics – Move beyond using happy sheets to determine the effectiveness of your training, to more demonstrable results such as increased sales or productivity, improved customer service, reduced recruiting costs, faster on-boarding, or reducing employee turnover.  All of these have a positive impact on corporate results.  And as you develop your impacting L&D results, this will enable you to better create a business case to not only maintain but also to grow your current L&D funding. 

The survey also revealed some key methods about approaches used to increase alignment:

  • Post event-student evaluation
  • Formal learning/training requirements planning
  • Annual mapping of the learning strategy to the business strategy
  • Feedback on the relevance of training to employee performance
  • Comparison between corporate strategy and current course offerings
  • Results from tests and quizzes
  • Observation of objective measures of employee performance (e.g. reduction of errors, growth of customer accounts etc.)
  • Post training evaluation of job performance from managers, customers and colleagues
  • Learning advisory board with business and learning leaders

Many of these points were used by only a small cross section of organisations however upon re-examination of the data in relation to organisational maturity - those organisations that were perceived as strategic enablers in fact were dramatically more likely to use every approach to increase the alignment of learning with the business.  And the three most distinguishing learning alignment approaches of Strategic Enablers were, formal learning requirements planning, comparison between corporate strategy and the curriculum, and an annual mapping of the learning strategy to the business strategy.

In a tough climate with increasing pressure on training budgets, L&D is constantly challenged to demonstrate the value, ROI and business impact of training initiatives. Many of the challenges that organisations face can be addressed by investments in learning technology. Analytics and dashboards as well as data integration can help learning organisations measure the impact of learning. Investments in social learning tools and mobile learning delivery can make training available anytime and anywhere, and investments in elearning delivery and learning management systems can help learning organisations deliver training at scale to geographically dispersed audiences. Also it is evident that the way to increase the value and return of training is to engage with the business before designing training content, and ensure that any initiatives are relevant to the business need.  The business strategy needs to be the framework for the development of an organisations most critical asset – its people.

Robin Martin is regional vice president of sales, Northern Europe, of Saba Software. Saba (NASDAQ: SABA) enables organisations to build a transformative workplace that leverages the advent of social networking in business and the ubiquity of mobile to empower an organisation’s most mission-critical assets – its people. The company provides a set of people-centric enterprise solutions to various businesses and industries worldwide. Saba delivers cloud-based learning management, talent management, and social enterprise solutions to transform the way people work.

Saba's premier customer base includes major global organizations and industry leaders in financial services, life sciences and healthcare, high tech, automotive and manufacturing, retail, energy and utilities, packaged goods, and public sector organisations.


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