Strategic Alignment of Learning Programmes
Strategic alignment, which aligns learning programmes with the business needs and objectives, is universally considered among the top challenges for learning and development professionals. Strategic alignment involves starting with the end in mind, determining the performance objectives of the learning programmes, and then designing and delivering training to achieve those specific objectives.
To master strategic alignment, it is important to understand the real reasons businesses invest in learning programmes. Some believe training is provided to create a more satisfied staff or customer. Others believe it is done to improve the staff performance or to ensure that customers know how to use a product. While these reasons are valid and do exist, they are more of benefits realised from training rather than the fundamental strategic reasons behind investing in training.
A business management team's ability to answer the question “Is this learning programme strategically aligned to the critical objectives of the business?” or “Is it a nice thing to have?” can enable them to determine which learning programmes have value and which ones waste valuable resources. When management teams do this kind of rationalisation exercise, they should consider the following three reasons businesses invest in training. If they then can relate their reasons to one or all these three, they generally will pass the test of strategic alignment:
Reduce Costs: Examples of cost reduction are reducing the cost of goods, reducing the cost of failure, improving efficiency, increasing productivity, and reducing the cost of operations. The most often considered reason for training is to improve the performance of employees but the ultimate reason for improving the performance of employees is to reduce the cost of doing business. For example, when a retail company provides training to purchasing department employees, the aim is to enable them to acquire goods and contracts from suppliers at lower costs. Another example is when a bank trains the loan processing team; the objective here is to improve the team skills and knowledge to a level at which they can process more applications (increasing productivity), using fewer resources (improving efficiency), and with minimal mistakes (reducing the cost of failure). Each of these has a direct impact on costs.
Generate Revenue: Examples of generating revenue are improv sales, expand offering, retain customers, and improve service quality. Companies that have some degree of technological orientation in their products or services are expected or even required to train customers on how to install use and maintain their products or services. Such training can be sold directly to the customers as an add-on service, or it can sometimes be included as part of the initial sale. Consider Xerox, which sells office printers and scanners. Xerox customers assume the responsibility to use and maintain the machine, but a customer’s staff has to be trained first on how to use and maintain these machines. The cost of doing that training is built into the price of the printers and is passed on to the customer.
Mitigate Risks: The third and often least understood reason training is provided is to mitigate or at least minimise the risks associated with improper use or consumption of a product. Again consider Xerox, if a customer’s staff is not a trained on how to use large laser office printers properly and people are subsequently injured because they did not know how to use certain safety features, the liability associated with that mistake could be the responsibility of Xerox. As another example, consider the responsibility of a bank to make sure all staff are properly trained to process money transactions accurately and correctly.
Once business leaders pass the strategic alignment test by understanding the fundamental reasons behind investing in training, the implementation practices are what they need to consider next, to turn strategic alignment into actual results.