Over the past few months, I’ve spent significant time thinking about L&D and its relationship to the rest of the organization. I’ve been hearing more and more about how L&D is not keeping up with the needs of the business, how employees are turning to outside sources to spend their developmental hours, and how business leadership has completely lost confidence in L&D.
There are examples of organizations doing L&D well, and we hunt them out and highlight them, but I don’t think anyone is going to argue with me that L&D, as a function, is in crisis mode. As I speak with these more mature organizations, common threads begin to emerge. These organizations exist to drive business value, versus existing to provide training. The common theme is how L&D aligns (or doesn’t) with the rest of the organization. Here are my three most prominent observations.
1. L&D is more aligned when it speaks the same language as the business. While the rest of the business tends to focus on terms and KPIs like customer engagement, conversion rates, and time to market, L&D often tosses terms like learning objectives, instructional modalities, and course completions. L&D may very well be utilizing its expertise to provide knowledge and skills to drive the business. But sometimes the vocabulary gets in the way. I recently spoke to a director of L&D who told her team, “Go ahead and geek out with the learning stuff when you’re talking to us, but when you face the business, make sure you’re speaking their language.” Sage advice.
2. L&D is more aligned when it understands and communicates with all of their stakeholders. L&D typically has three major stakeholder groups, and it should communicate and build relationships with each:
· Business Leaders. Business or executive leaders can be compared to buyers. They set priorities and provide funding; they understand the strategy and shift it when necessary; they play a large part in shaping the culture; and their support of learning and development initiatives may be the difference between success and failure. When L&D understands and aligns with business leaders, they tend to focus their efforts and resources in the right way, and are better able to make the case for additional resources when necessary.
· Line Managers. Line managers can be compared to influencers. They influence employee priorities; they are responsible for executing business strategies; they own the learning culture; and they frequently own some sort of budget. When L&D understands the pain points of line managers, it is able to efficiently address them in the solutions that are provided. When this happens, they likely gain the respect and confidence of line managers, which can help confirm that the right developmental activities are taking place.
· Employees. Employees are the consumer of learning products provided by L&D. They give up their time and attention to learn. Employees are interested in doing their jobs better and more efficiently; in avoiding being overwhelmed and overworked; and in developing their own careers. When L&D understands these motivations, they can design initiatives that better fit into the work, increasing the probability that learning is happening continuously.
3. L&D is more aligned when it focuses. Because business moves so rapidly and strategies pivot regularly, L&D should provide the organization with knowledge and skills for any new direction. It isn’t an easy job. But, it’s an important one. An L&D department should put as much thought into what they aren’t going to do as they do into what they are going to do. When L&D is able to draw a clear distinction between the things that they and the business would like to do, versus the things that will likely actually move the business forward, they are often better able to allocate their resources to provide what the business needs. It’s better to do less and do it really well, versus doing too much and failing.
And that’s it. My top three for alignment. If you’d like more info on any of these three topics, you’re in luck. There happens to be a webinar on this topic on December 10 at 1:30 EST. You can register here. We also just completed a series of articles, performance support tools, and infographics that speak to this subject. Just search for Aligning L&D in the Bersin Library.