Business strategy engagement – aligning learning strategy for business growth

Last week I started the first in this three part series looking at L&D at the top table.  I looked at business governance structure and used a model that links strategic decision-making activity with the operational activities within a company. This week, I will reflect on the alignment of learning to business growth. There is, of course, no one right way of handling this. The culture, direction and underlying drivers of an organisation are critical in defining the best way of addressing learning. And it is very likely that different business areas will respond to different approaches as their contexts are frequently so different. The dynamic of a business area that deals with complex, uncertain knowledge, relies on ill-defined or wholly collaborative relationships.  Often there are many dispersed stakeholders in a more challenging environment than a more stable working area. The learning strategy then has to be sensitive to the context as well as the business drivers. I find the following model a useful one when starting out in forming the strategic outline for an organisation or business area. willow blog impage

Fig 1. Becoming a learning organisation copyright WillowDNA 2012

It is not intended as a flow from left to right although the journey for many companies has been just that. Reality is usually much more additive, with tactics continuing to be important and cost of delivery remaining an issue. But L&D are likely to be focusing on business outcome now and targeting top table issues. L&D will be engaging at least some of their learning budget to directly support the USPs of the company. Innovation and knowledge flow in the fastest moving business areas will require a responsive and broader learning ecosystem, probably employing more of the wider 70:20:10 toolkit. Of course, online learning is a key delivery mechanism and it would be a very strange organisation that did not have online and social learning as fundamental aspects of their learning ecosystem. Matching the learning practice with the cultural norms of the business function is going to result in better outcomes. It is the engagement of learning in the working practices of the company that is the underlying foundation to any L&D delivery mechanism. Personally, I find feedback loops the most effective and these can be embedded in most working fields from Product Management through to Call Centres. This requires the correct learning environment including people, process through to technology. Next week I will take this further and look at the creating the right learning architecture in the final blog in this three part series.