How to align learning with the business

by | Mar 19, 2018 | Articles, General, Resources

The question of aligning learning with the business is a constant and evolving one for people who work in learning and development. The answer to this is elusive and involves more than your standard response of ‘show return on investment’ – although this too remains very important.

But, regardless of its slippery nature it’s a question that Krystyna Gadd of How to Accelerate Learning helped to answer during her session at the Learning Technologies 2018 speaker exchange. The brainchild of Towards Maturity, the speaker exchange gives delegates a chance to get up close and personal with a handful of speakers from the conference. The sessions provide more context around what the speaker’s session upstairs will be about and quite often, delegates get a unique insight into some of the most pressing business issues surrounding L&D professionals. So how did it go?

Splitting her answer into nine bullet points which, in a tactful move, were written on lolly sticks to give out to attendees, Krystyna took an informal yet methodical look at the question. Every delegate had the chance to contribute their experience and ask questions of their fellow exchange attendees. So how do you align learning with the business, Krystyna? Here are the answers, one lolly stick at a time:

Be curious

Discussion results: Ask questions of our business leaders. We need to take time to understand the business and to do that, we need to talk to people. Which people? The C-Suite, the people who hold the purse things, but also the people who are out making the organisation tick on a daily basis. What can they see that needs fixing? Can L&D help? Maybe learning isn’t what is needed to fix the problem, but as L&D pros we are still be the best people to help identify the problem. Finally, we might be able to move away from the order takers model and also we need to work with business leaders to understand how they see their business world.

Analyse

Discussion results: Data and feedback are key to understanding, so make sure you look at results and act on the good, and more importantly, the bad. Don’t be afraid to analyse. The data you collect will help you make informed and measured decisions that benefit the business as a whole.

Stakeholders

Discussion results: Engage and understand the right stakeholders. You’ll have people who will like your work but not say anything, like it and help you promote it, and people who will try to work against you, often without you knowing. Find them, identify them and work with them and convince them of the good you are doing.

Infiltrate

Discussion results: Get inside their heads. Learning should be happening everywhere. Make it spread. If you see people working in silos without collaboration, become that bridge to help them open up to other areas of the organisation. Infiltration can be a positive thing.

Eye on the prize

Discussion results: This is KEY for alignment. What’s the business direction? Work towards that. Provide evidence for your work and set objectives. More than one person quoted the old saw ‘hand on the tiller, eye on the horizon’, mostly because it’s true. Another mantra that can apply here is a decades-old environmental one: ‘think global, act local’. Know your overarching business strategy and link it to your everyday work.

Network

Discussion results: Don’t be afraid to walk into a finance meeting. Make contacts everywhere, from assistants to CEOs. Everyone wants to perform better so everyone should learn. It’s our job to link people together; to help them find each other.

Feedback

Discussion results: Stick with Krystyna on this one – happy sheets aren’t always useless, we just need to ask the right questions. So here’s what to ask: Ask what the one thing that stood out for you was. Ask what one thing you would change. Ask them to circle words, specifically chosen by you to provide useful anecdotal data. Make the happy sheet your friend, but if you don’t use it there are plenty of other ways to gather info.

Be joined up

Discussion results: Know every element of the process. Building on ‘network’ and ‘infiltrate’, we need to be the glue that binds the disparate elements of our organisations together, and simultaneously the tool that breaks down the barriers between silos.

Focus on performance

Discussion results: Understand performance change. Lack of line manager follow-up is the biggest reason for training or learning not sticking. We know that line managers are crucial, so involve them in the entire process, start to finish. Show that you value them and you value a continuous learning experience. They will respond if they know they’re valued.

Conclusion

With attending delegates from all over the UK as well as France and the Netherlands, it’s by turns heartening and troubling that alignment is such a universal issue. If you get the chance – visit Krystyna’s website ‘how to accelerate learning’. It might give you the tools you need to align your learning work with the business. It’s something that has always been tricky, and above are a few additions to the ROI demonstration that the C suite still so clearly needs. L&D people, you can do this!

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