Part III: Adapting your Learning Strategy to Maximize the Performance of your Organization

In part one of this series, we discussed various strategic learning levers learning teams can pull to drive performance for the business. In part two, I shared how using the strategic learning levers maturity model helps you assess where you are today and define the vision and desired future state for your team to be successful in meeting the goals of the business. In this blog, I’ll share how to go from maturity assessment to bringing your learning strategy design to life. 

The strategic learning levers help drive the process to design your strategy. In Phase 1, you build understanding first. In Phase 2, you define the future. Phase 3 is about shaping the strategy execution plan. From there, the focus will shift from creating the strategy to executing it in Phase 4.

I highly recommend working in collaboration with a strategic consultant to shape the future of learning and your strategy. They bring an outside perspective, insight into best practices and experience doing strategy design that will save you time and effort, and accelerate arriving at your desired future state. 

Phase 1 – Understanding First

In Phase 1, supplement the qualitative input you gathered from making your maturity assessment (see Part II of this series) by collecting relevant data to assess the current state across each of the learning levers. Apply a systems thinking approach by integrating the learning levers to assess not just course content, but the way learning is developed and delivered to employees to get a holistic view. In preparation for data collection, use standard templates to ensure the types and source data are accurate. (Contact Us if you would like more on what data to collect.)

After you collect the data, create a current state assessment, showing both gaps to close and existing best practices (so you don’t lose them). Taking the top gaps, conduct an analysis of the leading causes to ensure your learning strategy addresses the source of the problems, not just the symptoms. Thinking like a “Data Scientist” can help you get in the right perspective, your strategic consultant can also play this role if it is not your strength.

This evidence-based diagnostic process enables you to assess the current state of the business, determine the root causes for the gaps, and recommend opportunities for improvements that are tied to performance. You can produce an interrelationship matrix of leading causes and the issues and gaps. Let the data lead you, look for the big opportunities. From this integrated view, strategic initiatives begin to emerge that you may not have seen if you assessed business areas or learning levers in isolation. You want to look for specific barriers preventing you from performing in an agile and nimble manner in response to organizational and customer needs.

In most organizations, typically no one single person has ever seen this comprehensive view of learning before. It is a huge discovery in and of itself, which enables a vision for the future. In my personal experience, it is inevitable that the data reveals “Ah Ha” moments. Revealing things that are usually hidden to the organization. 

As you finish Phase 1, you will see where there is strong alignment, opportunities for growth in maturity on the levers, and recommendations that will inform your strategy.

Phase 2 – Defining the Future

Phase 2 is all about figuring out how to achieve your goals for the future while challenging what is possible. By the end of this phase, you will have a shared vision and a high-level strategic roadmap. To get there, I highly advocate going through a highly interactive, collaborative workshop. 

The most important part of shaping the future is having the right people “in the room”. So you’ll want a good mix of folks from across your organization, including the CLO, Learning Managers, business leads and learners. This blend offers leadership commitment while engaging the wider organization for shared ownership in the strategy.

You will also need a good blend across functional areas. A mix of levels, from senior decisions makers, supervisors/managers to front-line employees. You want the ultimate experience to be learner-centric so you need to have a few learners in the room. You also need the learning organization, HR, talent development and anyone else who influences performance in the business.

If you haven’t engaged a strategic consultant by this point, now is the time! You need to participate in formulating the strategy, which is almost impossible to do if you’re also the working session. This session is about bringing non-traditional thinking to the strategic planning process by looking at the world through different lens. The facilitator needs to enable them to look into the future and see themselves as a high-performance team.

Let’s walk through the development of this strategic roadmap. The group will define strategic initiatives that are aligned to the learning levers. 

For a global energy client, the critical strategic initiatives included Learning Governance; Learning Management and Effectiveness; Career Path Development; Curriculum Content Process; and Learning Technology and Infrastructure. (Click here to read the case study.)

For example, you may decide that ‘making the development process agile’ or ‘adjusting the learning organization for greater efficiency’ are the strategic initiatives you’ll measure, track and improve over time in support of your vision.

Through inclusive facilitation in the workshop, every voice will be heard in shaping a shared vision. Together, you will articulate the criteria for success, and set the compass towards the future.

Develop the vision and future state for each of the strategic initiative for the next 12 months, as well as the next three to five years. Ask what has prevented your organization from achieving this before now. These challenges will require a different type of thinking than any you have used in the past. The facilitator helps the team think differently about these challenges by employing divergent and creative thinking techniques to help you dream and challenge what is possible. This is the fun stuff!

The outcome of the workshop feeds the strategy execution plan in Phase 3.

Phase 3 – Strategy Execution Planning

I feel strongly that it isn’t enough to create a high-level strategy roadmap; you will need to convert that into a detailed plan enabling a transition into execution. Phase 3 is where you will want to tap into your team, or your strategic consultant, for deep expertise in project management. 

Bring that expertise to bear in fleshing out the high-level agreements on the Strategic Initiatives you identified in the workshop, into detailed charters for those transformation initiatives. Again, these Strategic Initiatives and charters tie back to your areas of focus in the learning levers

Defining these initiatives is a partnership; this is a joint effort across the collective team. The transformation team will need to own and sponsor these initiatives as you shift to Phase 4, so their fingerprints need to be all over these documents, so collaborate closely in their definition. 

The culmination of the first three phases will give you a roadmap to transform the organization! While the strategy execution planning deliverables may seem like the ending point, in reality this is where the work begins. 

Phase 4 – Strategy Execution

Phase 4 is all about execution. It’s where you will do the work to turn the strategy elements into reality.  This requires overall program management of the transformation. Assigning someone to own that role is key to keep all initiatives on track, managing the interdependencies is critical to successful achieving the vision.

The ability to drive transformational change — such as moving from good to great performance, cutting costs, or turning around a crisis — is a key source of competitive advantage. Yet, despite the 25,000 books published on the topic, one in three change programs fail.1   

Helping people through transformation and change involves a lot of thoughtful communication to build excitement for what is coming, and to get real with people about how you will manage through the shifts. 

Another aspect critical in this phase, is setting up the governance board for learning. Developing a governance model will create an ongoing connection and relationship to the business leadership, learners and their managers. Governance will also give you strategic direction going forward, as well as oversight, and execution of the plan.

What experience do you have in strategy design? What lessons would you like to share? What areas would you like to explore more to gain a bigger impact on business performance? Please share your thoughts below or connect with us on LinkedIn, or at @RaytheonRPS using hashtags, #learning, #workforcedevelopment, and #learningstrategy.

Reach out to RPS

A data-driven, systems thinking approach is what separates Raytheon Professional Services from our competitors. The Performance Consultants at RPS have decades of experience in strategy design. We bring industry best practices, methodology for strategy design, diagnostic process, data scientists, collaborative and creative vision planning facilitation, strong project management, change management, communications and governance planning- to help you succeed

RPS offers end-to-end services across all the learning levers as a trusted consulting partner, and also as a service provider or by managing the service for you.

Contact us today! Learn more by visiting us at RPS.com.

Footnote

1 McKinsey. Culture and Change. Retrieved from, https://assets.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/how-we-help-clients/culture-and-change#.