The two most frequently asked questions by new clients are, “Can you helps us improve/update/increase …” and “Should we be investing in that new …” Our response is always the same, “Do you have a strategy or road map that you are currently following?”
A recent Brandon-Hall study found that aligning the learning strategy with the business goal was a top priority for learning organizations. Production can be as fast and efficient as possible but if you are producing an obsolete item you will never achieve your goal of increasing market share.
The key to addressing this priority is developing a Learning Strategy ‘Road Map’ that provides the direction and framework that links learning to business needs through improved human performance. The road map represented in the following diagram show the links between the business and learning that focus the learning strategy on its contribution to achieving the business goals.
The Learning Strategy Road Map identifies important milestones in the journey.
- Identify business needs and document business goals
- Identify key characteristics of learning that support business goals
- Benchmark/Assess the current learning organization
- Develop the profile of the ideal learning organization
- Develop an operational plan
The Learning Strategy Road Map includes these major steps:
- Assess the organization’s business and learning environment:
- Organizational and ‘business’ drivers
- Learning drivers
- Interview (or conduct focus group with) key stakeholders.
- Identify key characteristics that describe the current training/learning situation.
- Conduct focus group/survey to assess current state of learning environment and identify the desired future state.
- Identify forces enabling or impeding the change process.
- Prepare the Learning Strategy ‘Road Map’ for the organization using a collaborative process.
The starting point for developing a Learning Strategy is to understand the business goals for your organization. You need to engage the key stakeholders to gain an understanding of those primary goals. Work with the stakeholders to identify four or five key characteristics that represent how learning relates to and supports those business goals. The nature of the characteristics varies from organization to organization, but typical examples are:
- Training supports performance improvement goals
- Consistent level of service across the organization
- Improved cost effectiveness of training
It is the shared goal and related characteristics that provide the focus for the strategy. In developing the learning strategy, FKA uses an approach evolved from the Force Field Analysis method. This method focuses on identifying the key characteristics (mentioned above) that need to be addressed by the strategy and the forces that are influencing those characteristics. Typically, there are two types of forces:
- Constraining forces that keep the characteristic in its current state; and
- Driving forces, that push the characteristic to evolve.
Once the characteristics and forces of the current state are documented, the process moves into its forward-thinking or visioning mode. You work with the stakeholders to re-express the learning characteristics in a future state, i.e., how the organization would like their learning to be. Once this vision is in place, the strategy is developed by planning to remove or minimize the constraining forces while at the same time enhance the driving forces. An operational plan that focuses on the adjustment of these forces will over time shift the learning characteristics towards the desired, future state. The best way to understand this approach is to examine a few examples of the force field diagrams for typical learning strategy characteristics.
Example 1 – Learning Model
Situation: Organization currently had a traditional training model and wants to move to a continuous learning model. It was interesting because this characteristic came from one of the senior executives not from the training organization. We were told that discussions with peers outside the organization had provided the information to that executive that ‘Continuous Learning’ was necessary for any organization to keep with the rapidly changing business environment.
Example 2 –Efficiency
Situation: Organization wanted to improve the operational efficiency of the training organization resulting in lower costs. This was a characteristic that was part of every operating departments strategy because the organization had a very visible cost-cutting goal.
Example 3 – Technology Platform
Situation: Organization wanted to have a platform to deliver learning online and support a Continuous Learning model. This characteristic was first described as a constraining force on the Traditional Training Model. In the discussions with the stakeholders it was agreed this more than a constraining force and was a characteristic in its own right.
Benefits and Outcomes
The primary benefit of developing a learning strategy using this approach is to provide a framework for continuously monitoring and adjusting the strategy as the organization’s goals evolve. As priorities shift a new characteristic can be added. As time passes the influence of the forces will change and the parts of the strategy based on those forces can be updated.
Other benefits include:
- Alignment between the learning culture and business goals
- On-going measurement of ROI (return on investment)
- Coordinated and sustainable approach
- Planned and coordinated change management
- Maintainable strategy evolving with organizational change
- Increased flexibility and adaptability of human resources
- Higher productivity through better job performance and more efficient use of human resources
- Reduced costs in many areas, due to lower labor turnover, errors, accidents, absenteeism
- Improved profitability
- Improved efficiency or competitive position brought about by implementing technological changes
Every learning organization should strive to be recognized as a significant contributor to the achievement of its organization’s business goals. This requires planning, and in particular, strategic planning that looks beyond the current year’s operational needs. If you are going to develop a Learning Strategy Road Map (or Strategic Learning Plan) you do not want it to be a document that is read once and then filed away. Force field analysis is a structured approach to planning and supports on-going refreshment of the learning strategy.
VP Research and Product Development