While any department, team, or even individual employee can take it upon themselves to acquire knowledge or develop a skill, it’s important for the organization as a whole to build an effective overall learning and development strategy.
In addition to the main goal of developing an organization’s people, a proper L&D strategy provides innumerable benefits while addressing several pain points:
- Confirms that resources are aligned and utilized effectively (i.e., courses aren’t built in vain)
- Ensures that learning and training are measured against both individual and organizational performance improvement
- Provides an incentive for recruitment and retention, especially as training as become a sought-after employee benefit
- Brings about a learning culture, demonstrating to employees that the organization has their back and encourages them to keep improving for the betterment of everyone
What is a learning and development strategy?
A learning and development strategy is a blueprint for how an organization can implement systems and processes that serve to improve individual employee competencies, skills, and knowledge. An L&D strategy also includes a plan or framework for the systems and processes necessary to implement and track the success of that strategy. The goal of an L&D strategy is an improvement to business performance through training initiatives and learning interventions.
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The components of an L&D strategy
1. Alignment with overall business strategy
First and foremost, an L&D strategy must be aligned with the overall business strategy. While any organization seeks qualified, skilled employees, no two organizations are completely alike. To serve the specific goals and objectives of an organization, L&D must ensure their internal activities are fully aligned with those goals and create a strategy with a full understanding of where the business is currently and where it’s aiming to get to.
For example, a company that makes the majority of its revenue from repeat customers most likely would seek stellar customer service—as this experience would serve as the driver of customer retention and, therefore, recurring revenue. As such, the organization’s L&D strategy would emphasize improving ongoing customer service training above all else.
This same company might outsource its software development or manufacturing, and so training on web development or product management would most likely not be a priority for L&D.
While this might be based on function, other business strategies can answer important questions about how to create a learning and development strategy. For example, the company might currently work 100% remotely with no plans to bring people back into the office. As such, L&D strategy would need to only focus on the development and delivery of eLearning modules, ensuring that employees have the right tools to participate in training, or in digitizing and delivering previously in-person classroom training.
2. Understanding the needs of internal stakeholders
While L&D typically owns the training function, employees, managers, and entire business units are increasingly taking it upon themselves to develop and deliver training. Many organizations also operate a decentralized or federated model. In cases where several training teams operate in silos, a unified L&D strategy is even more critical.
So, as part of a comprehensive L&D strategy, learning leaders should perform an internal stakeholder assessment to better understand the capacity and resources—and enthusiasm or even desire—for training by the business unit. This can be helpful, as L&D can uncover additional or shared resources that can enable course creation and delivery in a “co-creation” and ownership model.
3. Performing a skills gap analysis
Understanding the current skills and knowledge of the workforce is another important component of a successful L&D strategy. Without understanding the gaps or deficiencies in what employees need to have in order to perform their jobs better, the strategy of delivering training or support materials will be uncertain.
Beyond an initial skills gap analysis, an effective L&D strategy will also outline the frequency of these assessments, and any planning on how to address them. Employees, managers, and even senior management should be made aware of when and how these skills gap analyses are going to take place.
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4. Determining resources available from L&D
While the skills gap analysis serves to understand weaknesses and areas for improvement in employee knowledge and performance, L&D similarly needs to perform an audit of its own resources and capabilities. Indeed, without understanding the skills, capabilities, and capacity of its own team members, in addition to the budget and resources available, training courses and content cannot be developed adequately.
A thorough L&D resource audit might reveal just how under-resourced the L&D department is currently. On the flip side, an audit can supply the critical data needed by learning leaders to support the business case for any increases in budget, headcount, and other resources needed to complete projects and meet stated goals.
5. Executing on the learning and development strategy
This part of an L&D strategy focuses on how courses would be developed, launched, and delivered to learners. Execution can outline the processes that would need to be in place, from concept to delivery to measurement.
Execution requires scoping, which can be difficult for training experiences that need to be built from zero, possibly with new team members and new subject matter experts. However, the execution portion of an L&D strategy should make the best attempt to predict what it would take from a people, time, technologies, and budget standpoint to launch a course. (This type of evaluation is a key component to learning operations, or LearnOps.)
Execution can also take into account any and all courses, assessments, and support materials needed for the organization as a whole over a longer period of time. Viewed in this way, some early execution might stumble, as there might be new processes and technologies to disseminate, but over time, issues are quickly addressed and the delivery of learning experiences can accelerate.
6. Measuring the results
The success of any learning and development strategy plan depends on the data that can be collected at every stage of the process.
While the impact of training on business performance might be the metric of most interest to management, data related to the time and resources needed to create that training on the part of the L&D team and consume that training on the part of the learner is equally important.
LinkedIn Learning’s 2022 Workplace Learning Report cites measurement as a continuing challenge for learning leaders. As such, any data that can track the end-to-end development and delivery of learning experiences can unlock value.
The ability to understand the inputs needed to deliver a particular outcome can identify the relationship between resources and results. There could be some beneficial results, but the cost in resources might be so large that the results do not offset them.
This is why building in data collection and analytics tools as part of a learning and development strategy framework is critical to program success. Cognota collects learning operations data as you work, delivering insights into the way your team works that helps you plan effective for the future. Book a demo of Cognota or start a free trial today to learn more.
7. A look to the future
Finally, a look to the future should also be part of an L&D strategy. Like execution, it can be difficult to predict exactly what a final product or outcome will look like, but building in any “lifecycle” elements to a learning and development strategy can prepare the team and the organization as a whole for any changes or disruptions.
Leaning on the overall business strategy of the organization—the first component listed above—can also help in future roadmapping. Senior management can advise L&D on the company’s plans, including the development and launch of new products or new sales strategies. These could very well translate into training needs, as product managers, engineers, salespeople, and customer service agents might need new knowledge or skills in order to execute on the senior leadership’s plans and vision.
Another way to roadmap L&D’s plans is looking at what’s taking shape in the industry, especially the technologies available to facilitate and accelerate course delivery. Tools such as training intake, capacity planning, and content creation tools enable learning leaders to better understand processes, thereby informing and roadmapping their L&D strategy.
How to build a learning and development strategy
When learning leaders collaborate on how to write a learning and development strategy, they need to take the time to fully assess what will work successfully within their organization—and why.
They need the data and proof that their strategy will lead to positive outcomes and that their resources will be optimized.
As outlined above, many components of a corporate learning and development strategy require research and even some predictions. Let’s take a look at a few ways learning leaders can be assured that they’re developing the strongest, most reliable plans possible.
Identify the learning owners and stakeholders
L&D cannot devise strategies in a vacuum. Get to know the owners and stakeholders of learning across the organization so that the development and implementation of your strategy will go much more smoothly.
This step is carried out before, but is very much related to, component #2 cited above: Internal Stakeholder Assessment. These internal stakeholders can guide you to the areas of training that they know will have the biggest impact across the organization and serve as your internal champions. You might even wish to create a new, separate Learning Advisory Committee that can be your go-to sounding board to solve issues and develop goals.
HR and recruiting might seem the easiest go-to departments who can provide guidance when performing the research and scoping for your L&D strategy. After all, they manage people operations, and have both individual and organization-level data on performance.
However, go deeper, and find departments that can feel the impact of training much more acutely. These teams understand the importance of training and might be willing to help you develop your learning and development strategy because their teams are the ones who stand to benefit the most from it once implemented.
Download this free eBook to learn how to establish a cross-functional Learning Advisory Committee that can be your go-to for discussing training needs, performance issues, and organizational goals.
Survey the audience of learners
While insights from managers are important, insights from the learners themselves can also inform your strategy. As a critical component to understanding your organization’s needs, canvassing employees on topics related to learning can help you round out the development of your overall strategy.
Questions for this employee survey might include:
- Do you feel that you need to learn new skills or acquire knowledge to perform better in your job or advance in your career?
- Do you expect Company X to provide this training for you?
- Approximately how many hours per week or per month do you feel you should spend on learning new skills or acquiring knowledge?
- If Company X was unable to provide this training, would you take it upon yourself to learn on your own in your free time?
Responses to questions such as these can give the L&D team a better understanding of how receptive employees are to training initiatives. Indeed, learner engagement or apathy must be considered when creating the learning and development strategy.
Note that the Skills Gap Analysis, listed as the third component above, is separate from an audience survey, as are training needs uncovered in training intake, or the channel through which employees and managers request training.
Lean on industry best practices
While no two organizations are alike, even if they are in the same industry and have relatively similar workforces, similarities can exist regarding the creation of learning and development strategies.
Reinventing the wheel can be painful and time-consuming, so L&D leaders should incorporate widely known best practices wherever possible. A quick Google search might yield a free, online learning and development strategy PDF—or several—published by forward-thinking organizations wishing to share their experiences with other learning professionals.
The external, third-party insight into L&D planning gleaned from learning and development strategy examples can help when demonstrating the value of a particular methodology or process.
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Over time, organizations have found themselves using a patchwork of disparate tools, platforms, and sources that are inefficient and slow. Teams need solutions that save time, improve collaboration, and track team performance and learning needs across departments and the organization as a whole.
Understand your resources
Building an L&D strategy is tough. To plan the best you can, it’s important to have the software in place in order to understand exactly what resources you do have and how efficiently you can develop and deliver courses that your organization’s learners will love.
L&D teams need the right tools for planning, organization, and collaboration. Without them, it becomes a challenge to maximize team capacity, ensure proper resource utilization, seek efficiencies, and deliver ROI.
With Cognota, you can plan and manage training projects while standardizing L&D processes, ensuring that projects can stay within budget and are delivered on time to learners. Book a demo or try it out with a 14-day free trial!