Chief Insight Officer Peoplestar, partner of Emerald Works.
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The art of cultivating business-aligned learning

The L&D profession is failing to adapt to the needs of modern business. Unless we can focus on providing evidence-based expertise that is closely aligned to the organisation’s goals, we risk becoming irrelevant.  

18th Mar 2020
Chief Insight Officer Peoplestar, partner of Emerald Works.
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Young female mentor leader coach teaching employees group
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Less than half (48%) of professionals polled said that their organisation’s strategy allows for changing priorities, according to the latest corporate learning research study from Emerald Works. The study, Back to the future: why tomorrow’s workforce needs a learning culture, also revealed that:

  • Only 49% of L&D teams are fully aligned with the strategic goals of their organisation.
  • Just 47% allocate learning resources to address the most critical business priorities.
  • Only 41% manage to deliver learning in time to meet the needs of the business.

This disconnect means that not only is L&D struggling to keep up and gain credibility and buy-in today, but with more complex and challenging change on the horizon, they now have a mountain to climb to apply their expertise and deliver on their core purpose.

The capability conundrum

At the root of the problem is L&D’s own capability, and in particular, its ability to provide future focused, evidence-based expertise, and influence at both a senior and grass roots level.

The visual below is a capability map of the L&D profession. It’s a telling story – one that shows capability across the profession is in decline in the majority of key skill areas. The map highlights three areas of expertise: driving L&D value/intent, L&D guidance and learning ecosystem.

L&D capability map

The backwards trend is concerning.

  • In driving L&D value and intent: Influencing is only reaching 43% (decline of 7% since 2018).

  • In L&D guidance: Data/analytics is only used by 18% (decline of 12% since 2018).

  • In learning ecosystems: Learning in the flow of work is only at 23% (decline of 4% since 2018).

The art of alignment

There is an art to aligning learning with business goals, and it’s not only L&D’s problem to solve. It sounds simple to map learning back to the critical capabilities of the organisation, support transformation and align stakeholder interests. Without a well-defined and effective governance model, however, alignment will not be sustained.

The top performers in this field are organisations that are more mature in their approach to corporate learning. They’re defined as high-impact learning cultures (HILCs). These organisations are ten times more likely than others to impact the four critical levers of business: growth, transformation, productivity and profitability.

Reframing success

HILCs approach learning with the end in mind and therefore they’re beating the odds in our industry. How? By going one step further and reframing the points of success, but through a cultural lens.

A new mandate for all learning success needs to focus on business change and not learning.

Such reframing recognises that organisations are competing for talent, revenue, and influence on a global scale. Those that can provide proof of the points of success – internally and externally – significantly increase their chances of winning in more competitive markets. This is also mitigating their risks against those fierce forces of change.

This can only be done by influencing, facilitating and driving a governance model for learning that’s linked to, and aligned with, the business decision-making rhythm and routine. If you try to add something that’s not related, over time it loses traction – so it must be integrated to sustain impact.

A mandate for change

A new mandate for all learning success needs to focus on business change and not learning. A learning governance model should only focus on business-aligned capability challenges. It should consist of key senior stakeholders across the organisation, as well as key influencers within the grass roots of the ecosystem.

Change isn’t easy and behavioural change is complex, particularly at scale. L&D can’t do this alone, but they can significantly increase their capability and impact by building relationships with key stakeholders and influencers to increase advocacy.

The rewards of doing this are immense. Our research shows that learning leaders and L&D teams in HILCs have a voice, apply their expertise and influence where it matters. They continually practice six habits (found in the full research) that nudge at the roots of culture. As a result, 91% of business leaders in HILCs recognise how their learning interventions are aligned with the overall business plan, as opposed to only 31% on average.

From intent to action

By unleashing the power to cultivate learning, 88% of HILCs report that their intent is realised and not just a statement on a wall or on a framework. What’s more, all stakeholders in HILCs report that they share a vision for organisational learning, as opposed to only 22% on average.

There is an art to aligning learning with business – it’s the ability to sow the seeds of future success by doing less, but doing it better. If it’s not part of the governance model and conversation, it’s not important for L&D to be involved in.

Top performers step away for a reason and they nudge for a reason. That’s why they’re the only organisations with the ability to cultivate success through learning, and impact the critical levers of business.     

With 94% of HILCs reporting that their strategy for learning allows for changing business priorities, as opposed to only 48% on average, it’s clearly an art worth changing for.

Interested in this topic? Read Business-aligned learning: the role of L&D.

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