A Learning & Development (L&D) strategy is crucial if an organization wants long-term success and growth in today’s changing business landscape.
Many organizations begin to implement L&D strategies but fall short either in their planning or execution.
Fortunately, we’ve compiled what you need to know about what learning and development programs are, what makes them successful, and real-world examples of successful L&D strategies in action.
What is the Purpose of a Learning and Development Strategy?
Learning and development (L&D) strategies outline how an organization aligns their corporate training with their long-term business goals by investing in its employees’ skills, abilities, and knowledge.
As the organization invests in their employees’ growth, the employee, in turn, add more value to the company.
While L&D may fall under the responsibilities of an organization’s Human Resources (HR) department, many companies now have roles specifically for L&D professionals. This is one of many learning and development trends.
Whether under the purview of HR or L&D professionals, they are responsible for fostering the necessary skills or capacities an organization needs in employees. They are tasked with creating, training, implementing, and leading the L&D strategy of the organization.
That being said, immediate managers should be proactive in finding out the development goals of their employees. Managers should act as champions for the learning and development of their employees by recommending L&D programs that would be a good fit for their team members.
Likewise, each employee should take ownership of their own learning and development. Employees should identify where the best learning opportunities are for them and be proactive in seeking them out and applying to them.
Employees participating in L&D programs are better equipped to add value to the company and more engaged and motivated. Organizations with successful L&D programs attract and retain more of today’s top talent.
A Framework for Learning and Development Strategies
Don't start with a blank page when creating a learning and development strategy. Instead, use the frameworks crafted by leading companies and consulting firms that have done the hard work to determine what works. A framework helps ensure efforts and money are spent in the right places and in the right ways.
Fortunately, McKinsey’s ACADEMIES framework provides a great foundation. In it are nine dimensions that contribute to a strong L&D function.
Let’s unpack each briefly:
1. Alignment with business strategy
One of the primary goals of a successful L&D strategy is to align itself with the business's overall goals, strategies, and talent composition. The L&D strategy chosen will support the professional development and capabilities of the company’s talent in a time-efficient and cost-effective manner.
For many organizations, their L&D initiatives support the implementation of their business strategy. For example, if an organization’s business strategy involves digital transformation, L&D will focus on training and building the necessary people capabilities.
2. Co-ownership between business units and HR
L&D strategies benefit most from governance structures in which leadership between business and HR share responsibility and ownership for capability-building initiatives.
Since technologies are always evolving, organizations must remain agile and ready to adapt.
L&D strategies should be prepared to rapidly launch capability-building initiatives as the needs emerge. For example, if a sudden need emerges for people trained in cloud-based collaboration tools, a training program can be rapidly created and implemented.
3. Assessment of capability gaps and estimated value
Though easier said than done, an organization must identify their business priorities.
Successful companies take a deliberate and systematic approach when assessing the current capabilities of their organization. In its basic form, this process is a competency model based on the organization's strategic direction.
For example, a key capability for a SaaS company may be “expertise in data visualization and predictive forecasting.”
4. Design of learning journeys
Traditional learning programs (such as in a classroom for a short period of time) are being replaced with Learning Journeys: continuous learning that takes place over a period of time and includes L&D interventions such as pre-and post-classroom learning, digital learning, fieldwork, social learning, workshops, and on-the-job mentoring.
The main goal of a learning journey is to help develop necessary new capabilities and competencies effectively.
5. Execution and scale-up
When it comes to L&D strategies, execution is everything. Especially if you want to stay on time, on budget, and sustain support stakeholders.
In order to ensure you have support and funding from leadership, maintain an ongoing discussion with stakeholders and start small.
How can you start small? Target a limited audience in the form of a small pilot before targeting the whole organization.
Successful execution of a small pilot can lead to a huge impact once the initiative is rolled out across the entire organization. The program’s cost-per-person declines as the L&D strategies benefit from economies of scale.
6. Measurement of impact on business performance
The execution of an L&D strategy should be measured using Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).
An organization can track several KPIs depending on priorities, needs, and what indicators are necessary to make data-driven decisions.
In general, it’s a good idea to include indicators that check for three categories:
- Business Excellence (how closely aligned all L&D initiatives and investments are with business priorities),
- Learning Excellence (whether learning interventions change people’s behavior and performance), and
- Operational Excellence (how well investments and resources in the corporate academy are used).
The most high-performing organizations focus on outcome-based metrics, such as:
- Individual performance
- Employee engagement
- Team effectiveness
- Business process-improvement
7. Integration of L&D interventions into HR processes
Many L&D strategies aren’t connected to annual performance reviews.
L&D leaders must understand the major processes of HR management and collaborate with HR leaders. The best L&D strategies combine development feedback from their performance reviews for their capability-building ideas.
It’s also a growing trend that companies are replacing their annual performance reviews with more frequent feedback.
8. Enabling the 70:20:10 learning framework
The 70:20:10 learning framework: 70 percent of learning takes place on the job, 20 percent is through interaction and collaboration, and the final 10 percent is through formal learning interventions, such as a classroom or digital training.
These percentages are just general guidelines and vary depending on industry and organizational needs.
9. Systems and learning technology applications
Learning technology has almost moved entirely to cloud-based platforms. Doing so provides virtually unlimited options to try different systems and access the most state-of-the-art tools, all without requiring lengthy and expensive onboarding and implementation of physical systems.
What Makes Learning and Development Strategy Successful?
There are a variety of things that make learning and development strategies so successful. We’ll cover the most important factors.
1. Connected to Business Goals
An L&D strategy supports the growth of an organization’s employees so they can help the organization continue to grow. That’s why an L&D strategy aligned with the business's overall goals can better prioritize the capabilities needed to reach those specific goals.
2. Offers Personalized Learning for Employees
Not everyone learns in the same manner, so it’s important to offer learning opportunities that cater to individual employees' unique needs and learning styles. Employees that are nurtured and supported to develop get more out of L&D strategies.
Take this study done on employees participating in L&D programs at different companies:
“We surveyed 247 employees, and we discovered that while employees’ satisfaction and enjoyment towards learning opportunities are high, learning and development initiatives are often not enough aligned to the individual needs as much as they are to the company’s ones.”
Therefore, when crafting learning and development strategies, you need to balance building the skills the organization needs and helping employees reach their goals.
3. Learning is Social
Social learning (observing, imitating, and getting feedback from our peers) is the most effective way we learn. Incorporate social learning into employees’ day-to-day lives, such as through project collaboration, problem-solving together, group work, etc.
Examples of Companies with Successful Learning and Development Strategies
Google offers excellent flexibility to its employees and facilitates a fun working environment. They also emphasize social learning in the form of peer-to-peer learning.
In fact, up to 80% of all their learning activity is delivered this way. They actually set up their own internal network called Google-to-Google (g2g). It’s a program where employees train and teach their fellow employees and where KPIs can be tracked to help make informed decisions on the effectiveness of their network.
One such reason for the success of Publix is through their thorough investment and support of their L&D department, which they call, the Education and Training Development (or ETD as we like to call it) department.
Since their organization is always growing, the ETD team is in charge of training and adapting to the changes so that their employees can adapt and perform their jobs. Their focus is to make sure their employees have the best learning environments possible.
The FBI has The FBI Training Division to offer L&D benefits throughout their organization. The L&D opportunities are available to all branches of their organization, from the federal and state level, international level, and even the municipal level.
Cruise Automation is a great example of L&D mentorship. They emphasize internal career development and nurturing the talent with their own organization, rather than hiring externally.
In 2019 they started a pilot program for their engineering department that numbered more than 1000 employees. Their idea was that the best way to accelerate employee development is by pairing experienced employees with the more junior ones.
Standard Chartered, a British multinational banking and financial services company, began teaching its leaders to use a perspective of investigation, experimentation, and data-driven analysis when making decisions about their own roles and parts of the organization.
They wanted their leaders to make hypotheses, then test them, assess if they worked, and ask “why” or “why not” when looking at the end result.
In this way, they focused less on hard skills or capabilities and more on developing a mindset and behaviors that can help them navigate the unknown and constantly changing needs of their organization.
Cargill, a privately held food and agricultural business, wanted to democratize learning within their organization.
They felt that their L&D opportunities were skewed so that only executives in the company could access such resources as in-person learning.
Part of this democratization meant that they completely reversed the ratio of in-person to digital learning (which was previously 20 percent in-person to 80 percent digital learning).
Although there were initial reservations about the restructuring to more digital learning, they discovered that the digital learning was so well received by their employees that participants engaged in more learning than was expected of them.
How Top Chief Learning Officers Think About Learning and Development
Successful Chief Learning Officers (CLOs) seem to hone in and focus on a few particular aspects of L&D.
In a revealing survey of CLOs from 19 large companies conducted by HBR, they identified five mindsets:
Develop growth mindsets before specific skills.
A growth mindset can be broken down into two beliefs:
- That everyone’s abilities can and must be developed in order for the organization to thrive long-term.
- Innate talent is a starting point (but it must be developed).
Strengthen data-driven thinking.
In this quickly moving world, digital awareness is key for employee job performance. One way to foster digital awareness is by getting people comfortable using data in their decision-making.
Foster a “pull” model where employees set their own agendas for learning.
A “pull” model requires an environment that sparks enjoyment and curiosity and ignites the desire to learn and grow.
Incentivize employees to teach and coach others.
One of the ways humans learn most is when they are teaching others. Incentivizing employees to teach each other will strengthen the (hard and soft) skills of all employees involved.
Tie learning to mentorship.
Learning and development is exponentially stronger when including mentorship. When done right, the value of mentorship at an organization is incredible. Mentors can offer support to newer employees, help them develop the skills they need, and hold them accountable for growing.
Pairing senior employees with junior employees and helping them have growth-focused conversations can increase engagement for both parties.
Jennifer Petrela, a mentoring expert, connected with our team to discuss inclusive mentoring. During the conversation, Jennifer emphasized that mentorship is a great way to close the skills gap between the skills new graduates enter the workforce with and the skills they need to thrive:
Mentorship is often seen as another corporate marketing gimmick, but when organizations run mentorship programs that meaningfully pair relevant mentors and mentees, the results are phenomenal. There are numerous examples of companies launching mentorship programs that drive impact across the organization.
Take Your Learning and Development Strategy to the Next Level
Investing in an L&D strategy is something that can pay dividends, both directly and indirectly. It’s important to make sure that the L&D strategy is aligned with the overall business goals of the organization.
One aspect of a successful L&D strategy is social learning, where employees learn in a collaborative environment. This can take the form of formal cohorts in classrooms, to group work, collaborating, or even brainstorming sessions. Incentivizing employees to teach and mentor each other is a fantastic way to develop key capabilities within the organization.
Together understands just how much of an impact that successful mentorship can have on both the mentor and the mentee. Together helps companies grow their Learning & Development strategies through mentorship to help reach organization and business goals. Take your L&D to the next level with Together.