Aligning Learning To Business

How To Align Learning To Business
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Summary: In order to align learning to business, Learning and Development has to understand what the business wants and needs and how to then deliver it. Read this article to find out how Towards Maturity's research is revealing the steps Learning and Development professionals need to take in order to partner for success with the business.

How To Align Learning To Business

Learning and Development knows that aligning learning to business needs is critical; for the success of Learning and Development and the success of the business. Learning and Development knows this, but is it doing it?

The answer of course is that some organizations are, but some are not. Many are not, in fact. According to our latest In-Focus Report, Aligning Learning to Business, 39% of Learning and Development professionals are not confident that their learning activities actually support the skills the business needs. Furthermore, only 55% analyze the business problem before recommending a solution, and 36% of organizations work with business leaders to identify business performance indicators that they want to improve.

A number of studies over the past few years show a lack of confidence in Learning and Development teams from the business. A Capita study revealed that fewer than half of business leaders felt that their Learning and Development teams were able to provide adequate training to weather the downturn into recovery. A Censuswide study commissioned by Skillsoft released in May this year showed that only 20% of business leaders use L&D to cultivate future leadership talent or to multi skill individuals in order to grow the business. It seems that business leaders' expectations of Learning and Development  are limited to a "we value you" buzz for their staff.

These statistics show that many Learning and Development functions still have a long way to go in terms of properly aligning learning to business needs and becoming the valued business advisors they want to be.

However, the good news is there is an increasing recognition and desire from Learning and Development to become more business-focused. Some 90% of 600 global Learning and Development professionals in our study said it was critical or important for learning to be integrated with work. Learning and Development knows it needs to happen. It just doesn’t always know how.

We have looked at the behavior of the top learning companies involved in our benchmarking work and have identified their habits and activities that lead to alignment. We found that there are 7 habits of highly aligned Learning and Development teams, who:

  1. Actively involve business leaders in learning decisions.
  2. Use strategic business objectives to determine learning priorities.
  3. Focus on the end results.
  4. Integrate with HR and talent strategy.
  5. Demonstrate business value.
  6. Ensure staff understand their contribution.
  7. Enjoy proactive management commitment.

When we compared the activities of these top learning companies with those in the whole sample, we found that they are twice as likely to:

  • Agree that learning decisions are made with management and that management assign board level accountability for learning.
  • Analyze business problems before recommending solutions.
  • Set business targets up front for learning interventions and then measure against them.
  • Embed learning within succession planning, recruitment and performance management strategies.
  • Calculate return on investment for their learning programs.
  • Be proactive in discussing the aims and objectives at the start of any learning intervention.
  • Agree that senior managers demonstrate a commitment to learning.

Using this information, we have formed a Towards Maturity Alignment Index™, creating benchmark values for business alignment.

Those companies that score highly on the Alignment Index report a close, mutually supportive relationship with the business. They are twice as likely to report that their organization assigns board level accountability for learning within the organization. Their business leaders are much more committed to the learning agenda.

Highly aligned companies can demonstrate the bottom line benefit that they bring, which encourages buy-in from the business. By analyzing the Index, we found that:

  • Those companies in the top quartile of the Alignment Index report that their e-enabled learning approaches are delivering five times as many business benefits as those in the bottom quartile of the Index.
  • Aligned organizations are more likely to report having a mature e-enabled learning culture.
  • Aligned organizations report fewer barriers to change.

In order to align learning to business, Learning and Development has to understand what the business wants and needs and how to then deliver it. Learning and Development has to become a lot more business-savvy, working in collaboration with business managers, rather than in isolation in their world of learning. We think it is all about defining the need, the learner context and the work context and using that information to build capabilities and ensure engagement. That way Learning and Development can impact on the business and demonstrate its value.

Monitoring results and reporting them back to the business is important. Top learning companies are twice as likely to calculate the ROI of their learning interventions.

Here are a few examples of the way that top learning companies are having an effect on the bottom line:

  • They are at least four times as likely to be able to respond faster to business change.
  • They are improving productivity.
  • They are reducing time to competence.
  • They facilitate faster application of learning back into the workplace.
  • They are improving talent/performance management.
  • They are decreasing training costs and delivery time.

Business-aligned Learning and Development departments don't just take orders from business managers. They are much more strategic than that, analyzing business problems before recommending solutions. As the seven highly aligned habits show, they focus on end results when designing programs. They also ensure that staff understands how their learning supports the organization’s performance and their personal contribution to business success.

Our research shows that Learning and Development really does need to be talking to and working with the business, at every level and at every turn. That is how real alignment is achieved.

A Step-By-Step Process to Achieving Alignment

Alignment does NOT happen overnight. It is a step-by-step process that is explored throughout our report and the Towards Maturity Benchmark, which gives you personalised feedback on what you need to do in order to make progress. Make sure you check out our In-Focus report on Aligning Learning to Business and benchmark to find out what steps you can take to bring success in your organization.

The Towards Maturity Benchmark™

The Towards Maturity Benchmark is a useful tool to help you understand how effective your Learning and Development strategies are and how you compare to peers and top performing learning organizations.

If you are keen to find out how effective your Learning and Development team is, make sure you benchmark this year: it’s open until 31 July. More than 4,000 organizations have taken part to date, so there is plenty of data for you to benchmark against.

Start Your Benchmark