For a learning organization to be successful, it needs to demonstrate value to the company. As such, capability-building priorities and programs need to be integrated into the organization’s overall business priorities; for example, if digital transformation is a core priority for the organization, then L&D priorities should focus on building the capabilities to make this happen.
In our last post, we discussed the importance and definition of L&D governance. In this post, also drawn from our chapter in Elevating Learning & Development, we describe how L&D functions must identify the specific elements that leadership perceive L&D is lacking—and address them accordingly.
In short, learning leaders must establish linking mechanisms that engage L&D professionals in strategy setting; develop a learning, prioritization, and planning process; define, adopt, and regularly review robust key performance indicators (KPIs); and establish effective governing bodies.
Establish linking mechanisms that engage L&D professionals in strategy setting
Organizations should begin by ensuring that capability needs are an integral part of overall organizational strategy discussions, not an afterthought. This approach doesn’t require an established reporting line; it can be tackled with linkage mechanisms—that is, intentional actions or activities that bring L&D professionals to the table early and often. Examples of linkage mechanisms include annual strategy sessions, learning networks, and subteams.
Linkage mechanisms can exist outside of the specific L&D structures (centralized, decentralized, or hybrid) our colleagues discussed in a previous post. The goal of these mechanisms is to develop operating models that connect L&D professionals to business units, strategic projects, product launches, or broad transformational efforts in meaningful ways. Success requires early and consistent engagement, agreement, and, ultimately, a champion beyond the walls of HR or L&D.
Develop a learning, prioritization, and planning process
A learning, prioritization, and planning (LPP) process can help learning functions identify capability gaps, develop appropriate learning solutions, and then prioritize and plan the build-out of those solutions. By implementing an LPP, an L&D organization can ensure consistency in how business units make learning requests and assess whether these requests fit into the company’s overall business objectives. Several questions can help determine if the request directly supports a strategic program or initiative:
- Would the learning solution address a core capability gap—that is, one that is tied to value creation? Does it appear on a learning-journey map, or in support of it?
- What is the size of the target audience? Will the solution reach enough people to trigger a pivot point for impact or behavior change?
- Where are the targeted learners located geographically?
- What is the expected investment per learner, and what is the expected return on that investment?
Define, adopt, and regularly review a robust set of KPIs
L&D leaders tend to make three core mistakes when developing solutions and managing curricula. The first mistake is waiting until the solution (or set of solutions) is complete before asking how success will be measured. Second, the answer to that question is often quite narrow, relating not to business impact but to operational or efficiency metrics on the program itself—such as number of participants, participant satisfaction, and suitability of venue and technology. Third, metrics are often monitored by L&D professionals, not incorporated in the broader scorecard for a business unit or a business leader’s individual success metrics.
It is imperative to break this cycle by connecting learning initiatives to the organization’s overall objectives and ensuring that they have an impact on the entire organization. Organizations can assess impact across a range of measures, including financial metrics (such as revenue or cost savings) and nonfinancial metrics (such as satisfaction and process improvements).
Establish effective governing bodies for L&D
Regardless of reporting structure, an engaged, influential L&D governing body and an executive learning council are crucial to ensure alignment between L&D and the organization. Depending on the overall structure of L&D, the function may also benefit from a learner advisory group, an external advisory board, or an operational steering group.
L&D governance board: The function of an L&D board is to provide leadership and strategic and financial oversight of L&D efforts across the organization. An L&D governing body should engage senior executives who will challenge the status quo and embrace innovation in capability building. These individuals must be well respected, have a strong network in the organization, and serve as role models for lifelong learning.
Executive learning council: This council works with the L&D governance board to oversee the strategic direction of the learning function and ensure that L&D is meeting the organization’s highest-priority needs. An executive learning council typically includes senior executives from the learning function and from business units.
Learner advisory group: It is essential to consider the learner’s perspective, especially with today’s increasing focus on personalization and the customer experience. One way to do this is to create an advisory group consisting of learners from various levels across the organization.
External advisory group: Given the pace of change in L&D, external advisers with content expertise can play a powerful role in advancing the agenda and building the L&D function’s credibility.
Operational steering group: A steering body that oversees day-to-day operations can provide valuable support for decentralized L&D functions. Of course, the need for such a group is highly dependent on the broader management and organizational structure of L&D. In centralized L&D structures, the leadership team may support this remit without the need for another steering committee.
It is important to note that the various governing bodies are not essential in every organization, and they can be configured in different ways to meet the needs of a variety of organizational structures. The point is that nearly every organizational structure needs some sort of governing body or bodies to support oversight and connections beyond the formal L&D function structure.
L&D functions that fortify their governance model and align it with the organization’s overall strategy gain long-term credibility and stability. With that, they can also find the funding and resources needed to spur the workforce growth and organizational impact to which they aspire.