How to create an effective learning and development strategy
Effective learning and development strategies support businesses in today’s complex, volatile, and fast-paced industries. L&D should be a key driver for success, but it often lacks direction, resources, and strategic thinking. Given the scale of the challenges, businesses need an L&D strategy that is comprehensive, agile, and sustainable for 2023 and beyond.
The landscape for L&D is tough
L&D is encountering major challenges. We live and work in an increasingly interconnected world where a shock in one part is felt across the system. Technology is transforming business operations whether that’s through AI, robotics, automation, or killer apps. Climate change policies affect businesses large and small. Many sectors see increased regulation, especially for the finance and pharmaceutical sectors.
New skills are needed
When positioning a business to operate in a changing environment the call goes out to L&D to increase training and develop new skills. But the current wave of global change has created a worldwide shortage of skills. Dig deeper and the skills landscape looks uneven. While some skills are rendered redundant by AI and automation, other high-level skills are unavailable, even to buy in. Talent is increasingly difficult to retain when skilled people are so sought after.
L&D must respond to changing work practices
Work practices are changing. Remote and hybrid working have become commonplace in many sectors since the pandemic. This has increased the boundaries of the workplace and added to the geographical spread of many organizations. The workforce itself has become more dispersed and diverse.
L&D’s scope is growing. There has been a greater demand for soft skills training, including leadership, in addition to training in technical or customer-facing roles. Customer demands for more transparent, responsive, and ethical behavior for organizations also require an L&D response.
Technology can support more effective L&D
Although L&D confronts huge logistical and resourcing problems, technology can be L&D’s ally. ICT helps L&D reach today’s more dispersed and diverse set of learners. It can be a force for inclusion and levelling-up. IT software and hardware help bring training to learners in the place and time that they need it. Digital learning promotes teamwork and collaboration and reinforces quality and standards.
Intelligent use of data
The increased use of technology has generated huge amounts of data. Once collected and analyzed that data can be used to promote evidence-based decision making in business operations and training programs. Intelligent use of this data forms the basis for more targeted, relevant, and engaging training. It helps learners take control over their learning and offers a clear pathway to career development.
L&D needs a proactive strategy
These benefits are only truly available if L&D has a clear strategy in place. But what does a L&D strategy look like? It’s important that L&D and the organization recognize the need for the learning and development of its people. That means first putting L&D on a proactive footing.
L&D needs to review core business objectives and identify the key skills, roles, and responsibilities. That information will determine whether what they have is fit for purpose. Even if it is, L&D needs to be aware of what’s coming down the tracks by interrogating the business strategy and aligning its L&D strategy closely with it. When this phase of analysis is over L&D can start to match the skills available with those that it requires. The learning strategy must address any skills gaps.
L&D needs to sell its strategy
No strategy is effective if it remains unimplemented. L&D has to be seen as relevant and integral to business success. L&D needs to actively market and brand itself to advertise its true value to the business. That means clearly identifying and targeting the main stakeholders whose assistance is vital to maximizing L&D’s impact and influence throughout the organization.
L&D’s strategy requires the buy-in of key business stakeholders
Different areas of business are looking to L&D for solutions:
- Leadership is looking for training that improves efficiency, productivity, and performance translating into increased revenue. Leaders want to see an L&D strategy that positively impacts their business needs and goals.
- Managers can see directly whether training is working and can spot skills gaps that need to be addressed. It’s in their interests to establish a learning culture that encourages the sharing of knowledge amongst their teams and across projects.
- HR has a vested interest in a learning strategy that can develop and retain talent. HR is heavily involved in onboarding for new hires, career development for existing employees, and building leadership pipelines.
- IT has become another key stakeholder as L&D increasingly uses technology for the creation and management of learning. IT’s role is essential in integrating any digital learning offerings with existing systems and in ongoing technical support.
Learners are L&D’s number one stakeholder
Too often L&D is disconnected from its core audience. Learners need to be front and center in any strategy for learning and development. L&D has to prioritize learner needs, motivation, and feedback. The strategy must be built from the bottom up and be fully learner-centric.
Today’s employees expect training that is directly relevant to their role, that offers them upskilling opportunities, and that puts them in control of their career progression. In response, L&D needs to deliver personalized, learner-centered training that facilitates knowledge sharing and establishes a climate of continuous learning.
An L&D strategy brings tangible benefits
LinkedIn’s 2023 workplace learning report identifies four top focus areas for L&D:
- Aligning learning programs to business goals
- Upskilling employees
- Creating a culture of learning
- Improving employee retention
These are not mutually exclusive goals. A culture of learning provides opportunities to upskill. Upskilling opportunities aid retention by offering a clear path to employee progression. Retaining experienced and motivated people gives a company the resources to meet its business goals. It’s a virtuous circle.
A successful L&D strategy that focuses on the learning and development of its people contributes hugely to brand recognition and reputation. An organization that prioritizes L&D becomes a place where ambitious, skilled people want to join and where they are happy to stay.
Learning is part of working
The object of any L&D strategy is to make learning and development central to working. The old dichotomy of work and training meant employees were taken away from work to learn. The modern approach to L&D is to bring learning, taking advantage of digital connectivity, into the workflow. Learning becomes part of working and is regarded as a key business objective.
L&D supports fundamental phases of employee development
L&D is a vital component in the milestones of an employee’s journey through an organization:
- Onboarding: Research shows successful onboarding is crucial to avoid churn and wasted investment. That means fast-tracking people into work that they’ve come to do, supporting them through this initial phase, and giving them a clear idea of the pathways to career development.
- Operating and performing: Employees need easy access to the knowledge and information they need to do the job. Informed and engaged workers are more motivated and perform better.
- Compliance: Increased regulation and changing industry standards mean attention needs always to be focused on compliance. Effective L&D saves costs (financial, operational, and reputational) of non-compliance. It also demonstrates the performance benefits of operating compliantly to drive best practice and create efficiencies.
- Upskilling: Studies repeatedly show that opportunities to progress by learning new skills are a major factor in retaining and attracting people. In an age of changing skills requirements, up- and reskilling are vital to business competitiveness.
- Pathways to development: At whatever stage in their careers, it is important to incentivize employees with opportunities. An L&D strategy should contain provision for the creation of clear and personalized learning paths.
Digital learning enhances L&D strategy
Digital learning extends the potential of L&D to meet business needs:
- Digital content is available for a wide range of skills and areas. It can be easily edited and customized for organizations and departments.
- Digital learning can be personalized so that only relevant content is served up. Personalization makes learning more relevant and engaging and can be used in the creation of individual learning pathways.
- Learning platforms store content in a single, centralized location promoting quality control and standardization. It’s always accessible on connected desktop and mobile devices. These platforms use AI systems to recommend new content and issue notifications for knowledge checks and refresher and remedial training.
- Digital connectivity means equal opportunities and access for those working remotely or on the move.
- Digital platforms provide online spaces for collaborative and social learning capturing knowledge through user-generated content.
- Digital learning systems gather data on learner performance and behavior. L&D can use learning analytics tools to identify skills and performance gaps.
Better L&D brings benefits across the business
A comprehensive L&D strategy that makes use of digital learning and intelligent data can positively impact key business goals. These include:
- Building better teams
- Facilitating and enhancing collaboration and knowledge sharing
- Driving up employee morale, satisfaction rates, and hence performance levels
- Offering opportunities through upskilling to meet both business and employee demands
- Hiring and retaining talent
- Creating an environment that delivers employee retention, development, and wellbeing
- Embracing diversity and inclusion
- Delivering leadership training and succession planning
- Ensuring compliance and best practice become the operational norm
- Meeting ESG commitments
- Closing skills gaps
Implementing the strategy is just the start
Once the L&G strategy has approval from key stakeholders, it’s vital that the strategy is effectively communicated across the organization with appropriate messaging and events that highlight its value.
To determine its strategy’s effectiveness L&D needs to track learner performance against learning objectives and business KPIs. Digital learning generates real-time data that can measure key learning metrics. Reporting data can be used to track performance and provide the evidence on which to measure success and identify persistent gaps. Adjustments and changes can then be made to address shortfalls in training.
This evaluation phase closes the feedback loop. It should be cyclical with regular checks built in to ensure the L&D strategy is a living, sustained process and not a one-off event.
Success can be measured in return on investment
Ultimately an effective L&D strategy delivers a demonstrable return on investment .
Return on investment for learning and development can be measured by three key metrics:
Bringing learning directly into the workflow saves L&D time, resources and costs. Re-using and repurposing of content reduces the costs of generating learning. Digitizing content makes it easily updatable filling gaps. Automating parts of the training process using notification alerts, reminders, regular assessments, and recommendations for future learning frees up time for L&D to work on higher order tasks that add value.
2. Enhanced learning
Personalizing learning based on an individual’s prior training, experience, level of expertise, and development path makes it more relevant and effective. Switching to digital learning ensures that training can be accessed anytime, anywhere so knowledge can be quickly refreshed. Digital learning makes the learning experience more engaging and engaged learners have been shown to perform better.
3. Improved performance
An effective L&D strategy closes skills gaps and shares knowledge more widely. A successful learning strategy fast-tracks new hires into work. Giving all employees access to learning no matter where they are working makes training more inclusive and raises standards across the organization. Better training results in a more productive working environment for all.
The end goal is sustainable L&D for all
An effective L&D strategy develops the skills and the people to take advantage of the opportunities in a fast-paced business environment. An iterative and responsive strategy that establishes a culture of learning helps future-proof an organization’s L&D. The strategic goal for L&D, now and in the future, is to secure the learning and development of all employees across the business.
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