Business survival in challenging times – L&D’s strategic role

During challenging times in the form of strong competition, new legislation or economic downturns / uncertainty, the L&D team can play an important strategic role in helping to ensure business survival – and even capitalising on the challenge. Here we look at some key tools and approaches that learning and development leaders might adopt to adapt.

Business survival and L&D strategy


Supporting excellence

Excellence in innovation is a tricky capability to instil in any organisation. It doesn’t sit within a team but in an attitude. And yet it is increasingly at the heart of survival for most businesses. Watch the high street – there are survivors, ‘thrivers’ and sad departures. Most of this is down to the organisation’s capability to innovate through learning fast enough. Can L&D support this capability?

It can, but only by being at the heart of the biggest challenges the company faces. If L&D specialists are not in the discussion, they are not in the solution. How L&D engages with the biggest challenges is largely down to the way in which they help to instil the most helpful behaviours in the leadership team. So openness to ideas, exposing proposals and developments early in the cycle to a wider, critical audience are all part of those behaviours.


Tech tools as part of the solution

Including well-focused tools to enable collaborative working and problem solving is part of the answer and there are plenty out there. Digital literacy for L&D is not optional, much the same at it is for most roles within organisations. It is a question of finding the right tool for the job and there is a confusion array of options out there, the most obvious one being the Learning Management System itself.

There is the very helpful list of tools for learning put together by Jane Hart of C4lpt. The directory changes all the time and the variety is considerable. Tools like Slack and Trello are the team working/project collaboration aids, whereas Snagit and Scoopit focus on collection and collation. Then there are die-hards such as SurveyMonkey and new kids like Typeform. There are tools that are not on that list yet – ideeter sits neatly in the innovative support area as a rapid insights tool by setting challenges where either closed or open groups can participate in idea gathering. Quick, neat tools that address particular needs are invaluable to the L&D specialist.

Distilling the output in creative courses, resources and online academies is the way to ensure that effort is well-collated, curated and ‘owned’ by the people closest to the subject. Keeping the learning effort focused on performance, the beating heart of the company, is the best insurance for direct business impact.



Learning before doing, during and after is all part of the solution and creating toolkits to do this is key to L&D success in supporting collaborative behaviours. On top of this, collaborative behaviours are key to successful innovation. As ever, platforms and tools need people and supportive behaviours to result in innovative places to work and learn. The role of L&D sits at the heart of this.

The differences that mark innovative cultures apart from zombie cultures are pretty easy to spot.

Strong collaboration

  •  shared outcomes
  •  feedback on results of projects/launches
  •  subject matter experts identified and available to help
  •  good practice captured and shared
  •  opportunities to learn from others
  •  members contribute to improved process and procedures
  •  peer assists

Weak collaboration

  •  ‘feels political’
  •  one-way communication
  •  lack of commitment
  •  low participation
  •  low visibility of work and outcomes
  •  focused only on immediate individual task delivery
  •  lack of consistency
  •  reduced capability to innovate


The role of the L&D team

L&D’s ability to build a toolkit to support leadership can make the difference. This includes tools to capture challenges and achieve input outside the usual boundaries, techniques for learning from others before embarking on new projects, problem sharing and exposing failures for wider discussion.

Pulling those assets together as a set of resources is where Learning Management Systems (LMS) can sit well. So rather than being the repository for compliance alone, the LMS becomes the hub of distilled learning and practice for the organisation. The success of this is likely to be down to who ‘owns’ the challenges and the expertise which is collated in the LMS.

The relationship between those who feel responsibility within the business, the pain of the problems and the drive to succeed with the well-framed practice within the LMS will be at the heart of this – not sitting still, but timely, relevant and constantly adapting – just like our organisations need to. L&D teams are catalysts in this and they can be the agency that addresses innovation in problem solving through behaviours and tools resulting in agile business outcomes.


Sources & Tools for Further Reading

Every Company Needs An Innovation Tool Kit by Soren Kaplan


Matt Donovan for a whistle stop tour of innovation and new tech in 2018


End of the enterprise era


Practical applications in gamification


Julian Stodd – a guide to the social age


Harold Jarche – Four basic skills for 2020


Jane Hart – Top tools lists