Finding the strength in L&D

Finding the strength in L&D

Most of us know that taking care of ourselves and exercising our bodies in any form is good for us. It keeps us healthy, helps us live longer and improves our wellbeing.

In learning and development, we often feel like the last ones to be taken care of. Our roles are to serve our business and our learners. We are focused on developing their skills and capabilities, too often at the expense of our own development.

In my own experience leading global L&D teams, I like to think of building L&D strengths as strategic business partners similarly to embarking on a fitness or exercise regime. Sometimes, just getting started can be overwhelming. There is a lot of information out there about what’s good for you, what you need to avoid, what you absolutely need to do and absolutely need not to do in order to be successful. This article aims at sharing the top 10 ways to help you build your strength and skills as a strategic business partner. As with anything, it begins with planning, progressions, milestones and measures for you improve upon as you gain more confidence.

Create a learning strategy.

Any successful program begins with a goal in mind and is typically broken down into manageable parts to be tracked, measured, improved and communicated to others in order to demonstrate achievement and success.

Your L&D strategy should be clearly defined and broken down into specific measurables, which reflect the deliverables against your strategy and your progress. Your strategy should be identified, communicated and aligned with business expectations. Consistency, continuous improvement and setting a routine will go a long way. You want to be easy to do business with. By creating standards, guidelines and processes, you can create a consistent approach to working with your stakeholders, which will free you and your team to do more strategic work.

Align curriculum to strategy and learners’ needs.

It’s not always what’s visible on the outside that matters. Though you may start to see larger muscles, lift more weights, put your leg over your head or run faster, it’s important to remember you did all of this by beginning with a goal and purpose. These visible changes may have simply been a lagging indicator of your progress, not your leading indicator. 

Think of your curriculum as the product visible to your business and your learners. All of your products should be created with a business purpose in mind. Whether it’s microlearning, video or a six-month-long leadership program, it should all serve a purpose. Regularly review this curriculum to ensure it serves a purpose, and retire or update if it doesn’t. Some final piece of advice on this: It’s easy to curate curriculum from other sources rather than creating it all on your own, so consider investing in off-the-shelf content in order to scale for large learning audiences.

Optimize your learning tech stack for maximum consumption by learners, data management aligned with the business, learning measurement and ROI.

Like fitness, L&D has many digital tools available to keep track of progress, measurements and to provide feedback. An LMS is a necessary element to have in L&D. There are other learning tech platforms such as LXP, microlearning, gamification or authoring tools. It is most important to leverage these tools to the best of their capabilities, you and your team’s capabilities and your learner’s capabilities. 

When a platform is used for its intended purposes, you will get the best out of it. In order to minimize confusion for your learners, make it easy for them to know where to go when they need learning. And, most importantly, most tools have the benefit of providing important data about your learners and your curriculum, which will impact your strategy and overall L&D investment. 

Leverage and analyze data to make informed decisions for improvements and modifications. 

In order to track and measure progress, you must gather data to provide feedback and use it to create a story from the beginning to a midpoint and possibly an end-point. Begin with your L&D strategy and identify the data available to support your priorities. Use this data to create a dashboard which you present to your business partners so they can understand your status and the direction you are headed. A dashboard provides insights and outcomes to your stakeholders and allows for impactful discussions on your strategy and whether it is meeting the expectations of your customers. The data available to you may come from sources outside of your expertise. Tap into other resources in your business who are collecting data and leverage it to tell your learning story. 

Have clear communications and marketing in place for learners to know where to go to learn.

The curriculum we create as part of our L&D strategy should also be clearly communicated and marketed to your learners. Your customers interact with your product in different ways. Take time to understand the entire scope of your customer base, which is not just your learners. Your stakeholders, sponsors and even your L&D vendors are your customers. Focus on understanding your customers in ways which will make it easier to do business with you and easier for them to find you.

Create your marketing and communications around your customer base. Use your customer information for insights, data and feedback. When creating a marketing or communications plan, consider taking learnings from current marketing strategies, such as social media and SEO and create a communications and marketing approach to your curriculum. You may want to leverage others, such as learning champions to help drive your products further with testimonials and feedback.

Design curriculum and programs with the end user in mind, taking into consideration diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging.

There are fitness programs available for anyone, regardless of what motivates us to begin. In the workplace, we are blessed to have opportunities to work with many different types of people. In L&D, we accommodate different learning approaches. Many organizations have DEIB strategies and your L&D strategy should be aligned with and an extension of the strategy. Adjust your content if it is not inclusive of neurodivergent or disabled people. You could take it a step further and leverage data available to ensure a diverse group of employees have opportunities to participate in your available content and curriculum.

Know your total spend monitor and maximize YOY, uncover hidden costs. 

A fitness program can cost a lot, or can be done well with limited funds and just using your body. It is important to monitor spending regularly. Identify a partner in finance who can help manage spend and identify the times during the year where you may have more spend over others. Note that subscription and licensing costs would be considered annualized over the year so it is not recognized in one cost cycle. Often, our organizations are federated or decentralized and there may be additional training spent in other parts of the organization which you are not responsible for. You can save your organization thousands of dollars if you can scale and partner your efforts.

End-to-end processes, guidelines and standards are in place to best align with customer needs.

It’s easy to show up to the gym without a plan, but then you do not know whether you’ve started or finished, and whether you are making progress. Create repeatable standards, processes and guidelines that can be followed over and over again. This way, your stakeholders know how to work with you,  your team knows how to get their work done and you can measure your progress over time.

Get help when needed.

You may be a one-person team, overwhelmed with the amount of work that’s expected of you. Just as you may use a fitness trainer or a coach or join up with like-minded fitness people in a group, identify trusted external partners and define when you need to use them. Tap into learning champions or others within your organization who are willing to help. You always know those who have a passion for learning or facilitating. Leverage them as SMEs, or to help pilot your programs.

Regroup, rest and recover.

This goes for all learning leaders as well as learners. When learning new things, as in fitness, rest and recovery are important for retaining what you have gained. Encourage your learners to reflect and recover from new learning, focusing on application and practice. Learning and fitness are not sprints, they are marathons.

Whether you are now motivated to go for a long run, or to consider your L&D strategy in a business-like approach, consider the above as tools you can use to become a stronger business partner, or a stronger human, whichever way you decide to move forward.

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