Learning strategy: eight steps to removing the ‘fear factor’
Creating a five-year strategy can fill learning professionals with dread, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are some quick hints and tips that can help.
The word ‘strategy’ can sometimes bring a wave of fear, but strategy is merely the job of scoping out the future, in terms of the ‘why’, ‘what’ and ‘how’ of the next five years. Putting it this way makes the task a little more appealing and enables you to focus on what’s really important, i.e. the approach you take to deliver impactful results the business desires.
It’s very easy to come in and dismiss everything and believe in the rhetoric of a ‘silver bullet’ solution, but let me tell you, there isn’t one.
My approach is simple and straightforward. I like to work with a model that reflects the steps and important questions to ask as you shape a robust and sustainable learning and development (L&D) strategy. Here are the eight important steps to take:
- Have a vision: create a direction of travel – why are you going the way you are?
- Stocktake to see what exists already: what current business content is relevant to drive performance forward?
- What resources are needed to deliver your vision? What curriculums or subject expertise needs to be built to support efficiency in what the business does?
- Identify the gap between what you have and what you need: what is the challenge you are trying to overcome and/or work through so that the transition minimises any interruptions to performance?
- Create a realistic implementation plan: what assurances are you giving to your stakeholders, so that they have a high level view of the coming months ahead?
- What quick wins can you put in place straight away? The business will always be hungry for activity, what are you doing to keep their interest and engagement high?
- What are the high level solutions that may need more time? Sustainability is key – what are you doing to move away from what I call ‘firework events’ (those that have little ongoing impact) and move towards embedding and transferring learning?
- How are you going to measure success? Think about performance outcomes, written in a language that means something to the business, otherwise, it’s just words on a page that nobody will demonstrate
Beyond this, there are some other things you can do to help smooth the course, which are listed below.
Hone your L&D vision
Data, data and more data will give you a breadth of information to help define the future the business is aiming for. At SAHA, Best Companies engagement data provided vital themes and statistics that shaped the language and tone of our L&D vision. It’s about building a culture where leaders listen and inspire, managers challenge and support and individuals take accountability.
You’ll be amazed when you realise how much content is hiding in all areas of your business – it’s like going into a cupboard that’s not been cleaned up for a while. Be curious and tenacious in seeking it out. This experience will give you vital clues about how the business has got to where it is now, which can be very positive. It’s very easy to come in and dismiss everything and believe in the rhetoric of a ‘silver bullet’ solution, but let me tell you, there isn’t one. It’s about piecing together the old and the current to shape a new and more impactful future.
Close the gap
Be ruthless, only opting to choose two to three key areas of learning to focus on. Build the relevant leadership capabilities required that will support your performance and align to your corporate and people strategies.
Know your challenge intimately and be able to articulate it at the drop of the hat. This will provide the credibility and confidence for your business to come forward and offer their advice, support and direction.
The big plan
Be brave and don’t hide behind ‘what ifs’. Lay out your plan with the assumptions you have made. It’s ok to fail quickly and change in line with the needs of the business. It’s not ok to say nothing and hypothesise.
Do something that the business will get excited about. Use their ideas with pride and make every effort to bring them to life. You don’t have to wait for your creation to be first. Quite frankly, it’s about what the business needs and not ourselves
It’s more than just a course
Solutions for learning on the job should be a priority, followed by using key networks of the business to share expertise. Finally, provide accreditation to experiences, something more formal. Sound familiar? I’ll just say 70:20:10…
Follow the principle of sustainability
Look beyond the solution today and think about how this will still be alive and kicking in 12, 24 or 60 months’ time. You need a sustainable learning strategy. It needs flexibility and scalability built into the design so that it can grow and evolve with the business, as opposed to a solution that’s pitched in the ‘now’, that’s no good even for tomorrow. Beware of those firework events.
Interested in this topic? Read How to adapt your talent and learning strategy in uncertain times.
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Paul Hodgkinson is a trainer, facilitator and business coach with experience of working in multiple industries, globally and with key stakeholders to drive learning, performance and engagement initiatives. Currently working at saha as an HR Business Partner, Organizational Development.