The strategic imperative

Written by Paul Matthews on 23 January 2019

Reading time: 3 minutes.

It is a rare business strategy that says, 'let’s keep doing exactly what we are doing for the next 12 months'. Business strategies almost always require change and change implies that new activities and behaviours will be required from the employees who are executing the strategy.

To execute the strategy, people in the business need to be capable of doing what needs to be done, including the new things, when they are asked to do it. Some of this required ‘capability at the point of work’, is undoubtedly dependent on learning.

There are of course many other factors involved in addition to having competent people, but here we are just considering the learning elements.
So... to execute a strategy, we need competent people at their posts when the business needs them there. Clearly, for employees to keep up with these changing demands, some learning is needed. It’s also obvious that some of that learning is needed upstream of the need for it, and some can wait until it’s needed at the point of work.

The strategic imperative starts with the senior team of an organisation and they should be challenged on the existence and usefulness of their strategy. 

There is little point, and it is very inefficient, to try to teach people everything they might need to know just in case they need it, when much of it could be learned in the moment. And to use a game analogy, it can also be way too late to learn a new play when the team is on the pitch and in the game.

As L&D, we need to predict what the business strategy will require in terms of new behaviours and therefore new learning, and then create our own L&D strategy. L&D needs to be thinking ahead of time what people will be required to do as the strategy unfolds, and how they need to prepare those people to participate effectively.

This is why it is essential that you are basing your L&D strategy on a sound, well-articulated and widely shared business vision and strategy. Sadly, this does not exist in many organisations and so creating an L&D strategy becomes guesswork.

I have seen many L&D strategies which have been created with little or no business strategic input and they can consist of many fine words and phrases, and some of the latest L&D thinking, but they often have little impact on how L&D goes about its business because there is no direct link to the business.

Without that link, and an awareness by both the senior team and L&D of that link, there is little direct executive interest or support for L&D, and thus no oversight. L&D gets to carry on with a shaky budget and not as involved in the game as it could be.

If the organisation does not know where it is going and how fast it wants to get there, how can L&D be expected to provide people with the needed knowledge and skills, and provide the required point of work performance support?

To me the strategic imperative starts with the senior team of an organisation and they should be challenged on the existence and usefulness of their strategy.

Can it be understood outside the boardroom? Does it reflect our reality? Is there enough detail in it to plot a course? Is there an integrated way of measuring progress as it unfolds? Is there a degree of flexibility to respond to feedback from its execution? Does it have full and unequivocal board support?

And the big question for you is ‘Can you use it as the basis for your L&D strategy?’

If not, you have some challenging to do!


About the author

Paul Matthews is the founder of People Alchemy and expert in workplace learning, especially informal learning, learning transfer, performance consultancy, and how Learning & Development can help achieve business targets.

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