Learning Strategy on One Page

Image courtesy of Harvard Business Publishing

Could you clearly and concisely explain your organisation’s learning strategy on one page? How about 5 pages? Do you have one and it’s 20 pages but no one really understands it? Here is a challenge for you: get started with the goal of framing the beginning of your strategy on one page. Later you can build this out to five (maybe six) pages that are easy to explain: WHY, WHAT, WHO, WHEN, HOW.

My experience with “learning people” (using that term in the nicest possible way because you’re my people..) is that strategy is not in their everyday wheelhouse. It seems too big and they don’t know where to start. If questioned the reactions may range from evasion, hostility, or denial that they are in the “right place” to need one yet. I politely disagree. I particularly appreciate this aphorism: “the best time to do something you’re putting off is… right now.” Forgive me if this post is overly-worded in the imperative and just roll with it 😉

Have a look here at this little nugget from HBR, for a very simple way to get started with some questions. I recommend you get a few of your most switched-on colleagues together for a few hours of honest discussion to shape some answers to these. Ideally you can work off-site somewhere and really focus. If not for this, then when? You may come up with more questions, disagree, but that’s healthy. Just start!

  1. Why do you exist? What is your root purpose? I suggest each person in the group taking a few quiet moments to think for themselves, then share the answers. The differences in answers may be really amusing and fun to reflect on. When you feel comfortable, compare all of the answers against Exhibit 1 in this article, “The 5 key areas of talent development.” Are any of these areas currently emphasised more or less than you believe they “should” be in your organisation today? Think about how you would prefer to be working. You don’t have to put any timeline around that, just what would it look like if you had a sensible, easy-to-communicate mission?
  2. What is your value proposition? I remember a senior leader at a client’s corporate university introducing himself and proudly declaring how many employees had completed certification in Project Management. My (unvoiced) reaction was, “so what?” Do business leaders actually care about learning certificates or completions? How does that knowledge transfer to business objectives? I find this to be the conversation L&D professionals struggle the most with. After you quietly brainstorm your answers, challenge each others’ answers with a requirement to complete this phrase, “Why? So that…” Try doing this up to five times for each idea and see if you can help each other get closer to business value not learning metrics. This is the story you want to be able to share with your business leadership.
  3. Who are you trying to serve/target? Your stakeholders are all over the place on this one. Talk about it. Of course we want the learners to enjoy and be engaged in our offerings. However, is that really who you are serving? Just saying…
  4. How will you know you are winning? Similar to Question 2, I hear L&D professionals get caught up in the Kirkpatrick Model but they never get past stage 2. This may be because it’s easy to measure and is under L&D’s control, or even insecurity about what appropriate success measures are from a business perspective. When you know why you exist, what is unique about your team, and who you service, true measures of success become more apparent.

I would submit that a few hours centred on discussing these four questions will not only clear a lot of cobwebs, it can be communicated on one page and is a solid foundation for a learning strategy. More on that in my next post!