Jonathan Kettleborough wrote “Build a winning L&D Strategy” for the Training Journal and sets five rules for developing an effective strategy for your L&D department.
Strategy is the process for determining the choices the business needs to make – typically over the next three to five years. Often L&D will fail to worry about the strategy of its business, deciding instead to develop a ‘standalone’ L&D strategy and take it from there. But you can’ t just do that; if you did, you’d be failing to align within the business and, therefore, anything you developed would be no more than some random guess – hardly a professional approach. As you can imagine, there’s little point in developing a strategy without first understanding the strategy of your business
- Rule 1: Start from the outside in – L&D strategies often tend to be insular – they’re about how individuals or departments can achieve what they want – rather than demonstrating an understanding of what the business requires. Insular strategies focus on the ‘inside’ issues of your department or your skillset or your focus areas rather than on the issues affecting your business. Insular strategies are ‘inside out’ and tend to read something like this: ‘Learning and development needs to be an integral part of our business. It should be available to everyone and be flexible to suit different learning styles and work patterns. It should meet the needs of the individual, the team both now and in the future.’ Fine words, indeed, but ones that fail to take account of what the business wants, and you ignore your business at your peril. hen we put the needs of the business first, we’re in with a chance of developing an ‘outside in’ strategy. ‘Outside in’ strategies start with the needs of the business on the ‘outside’ and then proceed to explain how these will be met – the ‘inside’
Here’s an example:
‘All employees need the right level of skills to deliver the corporate plan, brand values and qualities.
‘We will achieve this by:
- ensuring that our approach to L&D identification and analysis begins with the linkage of objectives to corporate and departmental plans
- designing events and programmes relevant to corporate plan priorities.’
Starting from the outside in achieves many things:
- it ensures you focus on the needs of the business
- it delivers strategies that will be recognised and supported
- it’s more likely to gain appropriate funding and resources.
- Rule 2: Keep growing and supporting the core business – Every business, no matter how big or small, has an element of core business. Core business is what keeps the organisation going year after year after year – and what normally represents the bulk of its income. For an insurance company, it could be household or car policies; for a building society, it could be the level of mortgage lending; for a retailer, it could be ladies’ fashion.
As L&D professionals, you should therefore do two key things:
- make sure you’re absolutely clear on what your core business is
- do all you can to assist the growth and support of your core business.
Keep your focus; question and challenge everything you do to ensure all your efforts are focused on growing and supporting your core business. If you’re not helping to grow your core business, you’re potentially putting in effort without result – which is a wholly unrewarding path to take!
- Rule 3: Clear value propositions for the customer – If you were approached by one of your senior managers and asked what do you do around here to help us make money? what would you say? The chances are that you’d be rather flustered and blurt out something that isn’t necessarily that positive! L&D professionals don’t tend to talk that often about creating value propositions but they are essential for developing a winning L&D strategy.
A value proposition is a promise of value to be delivered and a belief from the customer that value will be experienced. There are two sides to a value proposition. On one side you’re making ‘a promise that value will be delivered’ and on the other side there’s ‘a belief from the customer that value will be experienced’.
At the heart of the proposition is the word ‘value’. As L&D professionals we use words like ‘value’ all the time, but we may not all agree on what we actually mean by it. Here’s one view on what value means within L&D:
value = benefits – costs
The value of what we offer is the benefit we bring minus the cost of delivering that value. Although the concept of sitting down and actually working out a value proposition could well be an alien activity, as L&D professionals you’re competing on a daily basis for the limited resources your business has at its disposal and a well thought out value proposition demonstrates that you clearly understand the needs of your business and are responding accordingly.
According to Neil Rackham, a best-selling author on the subject of sales and marketing, there are four main components of a value proposition. These are:
- Capability – the knowledge, skills and experience to deliver. You may not have all the capabilities in-house – and therefore may have to outsource or hire consultants – but, without the ability to offer the capability, you cannot begin to build a value proposition.
As L&D professionals, you may already have certain capabilities within your business, such as delivering classroom training, but you may want to branch out into other areas such as e-learning. Clearly, as a provider of classroom training, you’ll already have capabilities such as adult learning theory, learning analysis and design, designing great interactive learning and understanding the needs of learners.
So you may already have a number of the elements needed to demonstrate a capability in e-learning, but not all of them. It really doesn’t matter how you add this capability into your mix; it could be by recruiting experienced resources or by partnering with an external e-learning provider. Either way you must be able to demonstrate your capability, otherwise you cannot build your value proposition.
- Impact – It doesn’t matter how much money you spend, or how many experts you involve, or how long it takes to deliver a solution; the fact is that you must deliver an impact. Impact can be measured in a host of ways, but essentially it’s all about the positive change that you’ve made in your business or for your customers.
Impact could be:
- reduced costs
- increased process speed
- fewer errors or accidents
- increased revenues and reduced waste
- reduced time to competence for new entrants.
The key here is that just doing ‘something’ is not enough. You must be able to measure impact, or show how you made an impact or show what impact you are likely to achieve, otherwise you’ll be dead in the water. The best way to demonstrate impact is by some form of financial measure, although I realise that, within the L&D industry, it’s never always that simple!
Proof – When delivering a value proposition, it’s vitally important to be able to show real proof for what you’re suggesting. In our profession, demonstrating proof isn’t always that easy. For example, try finding real proof of any of the following:
- e-learning is more effective than classroom training
- people fail to learn through classroom training or through formal lectures
- the correct use of psychometric tests means you hire better employees
- multiple choice questions are the best type of question to use when you’re assessing competency.
L&D professionals are increasingly battling to secure funds and resources for their initiatives. Resources will always be tight within business, but the development of a value proposition is an excellent way for them to put forward their case in a structured and logical manner; one that will appeal to senior executives and demonstrate that you have the needs of the business at heart.
- Rule 4: Fine tune for the marketplace – Take a few moments to think about the last time you really took one of your L&D interventions or processes and fine-tuned it for the marketplace. For L&D professionals, fine-tuning can include:
- constantly updating L&D interventions with relevant and up-to-date case studies
- taking advantage of new technologies, e.g. social media or using the internet for initial applicant screening or for reaching targeted candidates
- adapting your way of working to take advantage of newer communication tools, e.g. Skype, virtual classrooms and virtual meetings
- staying abreast of the latest trends and developments, not only from standard L&D publications but also from sources such as Harvard Business Review, The Economist, Wired and so on.
L&D professionals are relatively quick to accept and implement new technologies, approaches and practices but fine-tuning for the market is about much more than that; it’s about understanding your business and how the environment in which it operates is changing – and spotting opportunities you can exploit to benefit your business.
- Rule 5: Clearly communicate your strategy within the organisation and among other external stakeholders – a winning strategy is of little use if nobody knows anything about it. Sharing your strategy, both internally and externally, is an excellent way of signalling your intentions and gaining buy-in for what you’re about to embark upon. Sharing it demonstrates that you not only ‘get’ the key issues and challenges facing your organisation but that you also have appropriate solutions and mitigations in place. A good strategy says to your business ‘we understand the issues and are well placed to deal with them’.
Get your message out, simply and clearly, to all your stakeholders. For L&D professionals that should mean:
- senior executives
- team leaders
- employees – both full-time and part-time
- contract staff and key business partners
- external suppliers.
Remember that communication is not a one-off activity. You’ll need to communicate continuously with your stakeholders to keep them informed about changes, progress and results and, of course, be prepared to answer honestly the questions that the