Director Clarity Learning and Development
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Business strategy: what part can L&D play through the pandemic and beyond?

Does the L&D profession have a much stronger role to play in business strategising? L&D expert Jackie Clifford believes so. Here, she offers her vision for a new paradigm for L&D’s involvement in how organisations operate.

16th Nov 2020
Director Clarity Learning and Development
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Strategy concept
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Deloitte have recently published a workbook entitled ‘COVID-19: Workforce strategies for a post-COVID-19 recovery, in which they propose three phases entitled Respond, Recover and Thrive. 

“Respond – dealing with the present situation and managing continuity; Recover – learning and emerging stronger; Thrive – preparing for and shaping the ‘new normal’”.

This, along with some recent training experiences, got me thinking about our roles as L&D professionals in supporting organisations during these three phases in a strategic rather than a reactive way.

I wonder how many learning conversations are really taking place in a climate where organisations feel like they are fighting for survival.

In recent years, HR and L&D have been evolving to become more strategic – at least that is what many books and articles would like to have us believe. 

My experience of working with various companies and talking to HR professionals and L&D colleagues suggests to me that, whilst many organisations are much more strategic about their people practices, many are not. 

This was highlighted to me just recently when I heard about a request for assertiveness and conflict management training. On investigation, we uncovered something which was not a training issue, but was certainly an opportunity for learning and development. 

In another example, I became aware of an organisation that is running its annual performance and development review process, but is still using the process to identify ‘training needs’ rather than learning and development needs.

This may seem like semantics, however I am certain that using the word training prompts the reviewer and reviewee to have the annual conversation which answers the question ‘which courses do you want to attend this year?’

L&D as the foundation of business strategy

It goes without saying that the Covid-19 pandemic has been horrific in so many ways. Yet it has also offered a huge opportunity for us to stop, reflect and adopt a completely new paradigm for the ways in which our organisations operate.

In Deloitte’s three stages, I personally see learning and development running through each one as a cornerstone and foundation (apologies for what are probably very inaccurate construction references!).

In reality, I wonder how many learning conversations are really taking place in a climate where organisations feel like they are fighting for survival.

My ideas for a new paradigm are evolving; but at present include five different notions. These may not all be new and different, but they include things which I believe are important and under-valued. 

We don’t have to go into strategic meetings with strategy ideas, but we should be the organisational coaches who can help those around the table to release their ideas into the melting pot.

In my vision I see...

1. Managers and team members taking time out of every day to reflect

Of course, this is not a new idea and it is not a radical one – although it often feels radical for those trying to adopt it! Let’s not make it a major ‘thing’. Let’s schedule a calendar reminder to go for a 15-minute thinking walk and during that time let’s consider some questions such as:

  • What’s going on today?

  • How am I responding?

  • Why might I be responding in this way?

  • Is my response effective?

  • What tweaks should I make to be even more effective?

  • What evidence do I have to tell me that any of this thinking is true?

2. Regular team meetings used not only as operational planning meetings, but also reflective learning meetings

These reflective sessions should using questions like:

  • What do we know today that we didn’t know yesterday?

  • What can we do with this knowledge?

  • What is going on for us as a team?

  • How are we responding?

  • Why are we responding in this way?

  • How effective is our response?

  • What might we do differently to be even more effective?

  • What evidence do we have to support our responses to all these questions?

3. L&D professionals being included in strategy conversations at the earliest stages

Why should they be included so early on you may ask? Because (in my vision) they are seen as valued partners and excel at facilitating learning conversations. 

The CIPD has definitely hit the mark with its Profession Maps – the 2013 Map included “courage to challenge” as a behaviour and the 2018 Map has “professional courage and influence” as one of its core behaviours. 

All of us L&D professionals would benefit from honing our skills so that we can exhibit courageous and influential behaviours that will build our credibility so that we have a place in the group that’s discussing organisational strategy. 

We don’t have to go into those strategic meetings with strategy ideas, but we should be the organisational coaches who can help those around the table to release their ideas into the melting pot, stir them around and eventually produce something that will enable the organisation to Respond, Recover and Thrive.

4. Learning taking place at individual, team and organisational levels

At all three of these levels, I see learning taking place ‘in the flow of work’, as highlighted by Andy Lancaster in his book ‘Driving Performance through Learning’.

This means that every individual in the organisation becomes a self-directed learner who is used to accessing content in a range of ways and does not wait for their place on the next training course so that they can learn the thing that they need to solve their current challenge.

This means that teams work together and collaborate in ways which promote learning and minimise the tendency to look for blame when things don’t go according to plan.

This means that organisations value and invite challenge and that senior managers do not feel the need to have all the answers all of the time. 

5. Strategy formed, reviewed and reformed on an ongoing basis

This would mean that the strategic planning for an organisation is not a once-a-year event. It is something that is as much part of the day-to-day as writing the daily to-do list. 

And as part of that ongoing strategic process, learning and development becomes part of the conversation and not a bolt-on at the end.

These are my thoughts right now, in November 2020. As I reflect and learn more, I am certain that my thoughts will evolve and change and I look forward to putting my fingers to keyboard again in the future.

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