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Why aligning L&D with business goals means changing the process

If you’re really going to align your L&D strategy with business goals, it’s going to take more than just a few fluffy tips like ‘thinking more learner-centric’ or ‘changing your content’. You’re going to need to change the process and get involved in conversations much sooner, so you’re not simply fitting your L&D strategy in goal boxes you’ve had no input into.

What if we told you that L&D can sometimes be its own worst enemy. Typically, the bigger business objectives come down the food chain, and we try our best to create a bridge between those aims and our learner ambitions. But is that really the best way of aligning learning with business objectives?

At this point, would you know the root causes of business problems? Would you truly understand the challenges of reaching our goals? And would you really have the chance to discuss where L&D can actually support success?

Becoming partners and consultants in key conversations

The answer to those questions above is no. When L&D is following orders, we can align to a certain extent – but we can’t help shape the business goals or get a true understanding of where the challenges and problems come from. 

Armed with development data and an understanding of learners, L&D can play a really effective role as a consultant when they’re involved earlier in the process. 

Aligning L&D with business goals

Imagine the wider business goal is to improve customer satisfaction and stakeholders presume adding more staff solves the issue, L&D’s role becomes one of onboarding and training those new reps. But what if we know that response times are the biggest customer pain point, and by integrating learning into the right tools and creating more microlearning, we can support reps in shaving minutes off that window?

There’s a huge difference between knowing a goal is to improve customer satisfaction and understanding the problems that have led us to that point. Until you really understand the challenge, you can’t offer the right solution. L&D might not even be the answer! So, that’s why you need those earlier conversations, where you ditch the jargon and just discuss the problems, solutions and goals.

Another perk of getting involved in those conversations earlier is that you can discuss the performance results needed to reach those goals. A simple scenario might be that in order to achieve more revenue, we require more sales – wouldn’t it be better to brainstorm together as you work out L&D’s role in connecting the two?

Collaborating with teams across the business

Sometimes, the business objectives might be too broad for you to see where L&D can really make an impact. But if you can support teams with their more specific goals, there’s a fair argument that you’ll drive their performance and that subsequently gets us all closer to the business goals. It’ll also help you tangibly demonstrate the impact L&D has had on performance, so perhaps you’re better off thinking small picture before the big picture.

Let’s revisit that more revenue goal. For the sales team, it’s important to understand whether the issue is creating more leads, closing more deals or something else. Having that discussion gives you a better sense of the role L&D could play, whether that’s building confidence and competence or creating a mentoring program where effective closers can impart wisdom for others.

Finding the balance between the learner and business

Another challenge is connecting personal learner goals with those business objectives. 76% and 68% of employees value career growth opportunities and training and development, respectively, so it’s important that they understand the role their personal growth plays in driving the business forward.

In other words, it’s not simply enough to tell people what the business goals are and expect them to care. You’ve got to create that personal motivation and path to progress to really light a fire in people. Who wouldn’t want to build new skills AND help the business become more successful!? Skills is probably the key word too…

Why aligning L&D with business goals means changing the process.

Working out your skills gap

When people think about aligning learning with business, there’s a tendency to think in terms of which learning relates to which goal. But it would be better to ask where the business wants to be and which skills do we need to get there. The difference between the two is your skills gap, and it’s really where L&D can tie together a lot of the ideas we’ve already spoken about.

Firstly, thinking in terms of skills probably makes it easier to communicate that benefit to individual learners. It also brings in that idea of becoming consultants in those goal-setting conversations, because you can provide that perspective on what talents you have and which you might need to build in terms of reaching the wider objectives.

In a nutshell, once you know the skills gap, it’s probably an easier sell to everyone. You’re telling learners that by developing these new talents they’ll progress and help the business progress at the same time. And you can also clearly demonstrate to business leaders that you’ve got the development plan to support their goals while keeping people engaged too.

Understanding the metrics that matter

  • What metrics matter to business leaders and stakeholders?
  • What are your hard and soft benefits of L&D?
  • Which metrics are you collecting as part of your strategy?
  • How often do you need to communicate them?

Let’s pick up with that last point. If you wait until the yearly review to show people the impact of your L&D efforts, you’ll hardly keep people engaged! But what if every month or two you could show them the progress you’re all making together – that’s a huge source of motivation for most people, and it’ll encourage leaders to keep up their buy-in to your learning strategy.

But, you need to have an idea about what metrics matter to them. There’s no point showing them a metric you’re proud of but means very little to them, it’s the equivalent of showing someone a song you really love and them just staring blankly back at you. It’s about striking the balance between singing L&D’s praises and giving people the data they need to keep progressing towards a goal.

Managing expectations

One final point, make sure you’re not over promising and under-delivering when it comes to what L&D is going to help achieve. If there was one word to keep in mind, it would be clarity. Be clear on what you need from others to achieve goals, make sure everyone understands what you’ll deliver and set a timeframe for what you’re going to achieve. 

And as part of that, don’t be afraid to say no – it might help you say yes to the right things and deliver on what really matters.

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