Five Key Best Practices for Creating Your Learning Strategy

Nov 6, 2017 11:32:58 AM / by Larry Durham


Creating your organization’s learning strategy is so much more than sitting in a room with your closest learning and development peers and writing a “learning manifesto” for the coming year.  Here are five key best practices to use when developing your annual learning strategy.

1. Know Your Business

Know how your business operates, competes, and generates revenue.  Make sure your strategy aligns with your organization’s critical business initiatives.

Nothing will kill a learning project quicker than misalignment with the critical business initiatives of the organization.  For example, let’s imagine that part of your company’s important initiatives for the year are bringing four new products to market in the second half (H2) of the fiscal year.  You want to make sure your strategy includes readiness and training solutions, which will support:

  • Design
  • Development
  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Customer Service for those new products.

If you add a bunch of non-strategic, soft-skills into your strategy for H2, there is a good chance it won’t be approved.

A great place to start to identify your organization’s critical initiatives are on your Web site, your Intranet, and in the case of publicly traded companies, the Investor Relations portion of the company Website, including Annual Reports.

2. Create a Governance Council

It’s difficult to go it alone if you want to create and “sell” a learning strategy in your organization.  So, create a governance council, full of well-respected leaders in the business, who also have a passion for learning.  This council can catalyze the needed support across the organization for the learning strategy, provide sage advice on business initiatives and high-demand learning projects, and help remove any roadblocks.

To help ensure success of the Governance Council:

  • Develop clear definition of mission and charter for Governance Council and specifically define its purpose in support of your organization.
  • Confirm existing members and determine if additional members need to be added, such as Learning Champions from each business unit.

Develop clear roles/responsibilities for members, specifically define items such as:

  • Time commitment
  • Governance Council member role
  • Learning Champion role
  • Prioritization of learning needs & other key decisions
  • Approve annual budget and project-specific funding
  • Participating in defining overall success measures

Structure and facilitate a session to define the Learning Strategy & Governance Model.

3. Avoid the Echo Chamber

Many learning strategies are doomed to fail because they are created in silos, vacuums or echo chambers.  To garner the right support and get buy-in (read funding and resources) to develop this strategy, it must resonate across organizational boundaries, not just the learning and development team.

You can validate your learning strategy approach before you start by:

  • Gathering data and information that likely already exists within your functions and business units
  • Conducting organizational surveys (SurveyMonkey, Google Forms, Zoho, etc.)
  • Conducting business function and organizational interviews with the right stakeholders
  • Interviewing Governance Council Members
  • Working with internal and external experts on learning strategy projects
  • While your organization might document strategic goals for learning once a year, professional service firms focused on workplace learning and strategy conduct dozens of these annually and can bring that expertise to bear

Want to learn more about St. Charles Consulting Group’s Organizational Learning Strategy Solution?

4. Develop Your Learning Strategy Roadmap

You have identified the core business initiatives for your company, created a Governance Council, conducted the right upfront needs assessments, but you’re not done if you stop there.

Never create a learning strategy without a strategic roadmap.  A strategy without a roadmap is a road to nowhere.  If you remember, the Governance Council is going to want to know what learning strategy success looks like.  The owner (or team) who has responsibility for implementing the recommendations for the strategy will have to report on the project milestones, activities, and progress against critical path milestones.  Your Learning Roadmap codifies everything you (and your team and others) will be doing over the year to implement the strategy.  It’s an ideal way to report on progress and should include:

  • Approaches to tracking learning activity
  • Reporting requirements by audience
  • Frequency and form of reporting (dashboard)
  • Technology dependencies/implications

5. Review and Update the Strategy

Once you create the strategy and are progressing through your planned activities and sub-projects associated with it, you can’t rest on your laurels.  Your business objectives and learning strategy continually evolve, so the strategy should be reviewed and updated as needed, adjusted to align with the current organizational landscape.

For example, maybe instead of taking four new products to market in H2, the company increases that to ten, that will have serious learning strategy and implementation implications.  Questions that might arise for the learning strategy include:

  • Will we have enough resources to complete development of six additional learning projects in the same time frame?
  • Should we outsource some external resources to help build learning solutions?
  • What adjustments need to be made to the Learning Strategy Roadmap, etc.?

Make sure you take overt measures to review your learning strategy against your business goals regularly.

In Summary

Developing a learning strategy for your organization doesn’t have to be burdensome and all-consuming if you keep these five best practices for learning strategy development in mind.

  • Know Your Business
  • Create a Governance Council
  • Avoid the Echo Chamber
  • Develop Your Learning Strategy Roadmap
  • Review and Update the Strategy

Written by Larry Durham, Partner, St. Charles Consulting Group

Larry Durham

Written by Larry Durham