Business-Aligned Learning: Three Design Tips

Actionable Learning Must Align To Business Goals

The way we do business is constantly changing, shifting, and accelerating due to digital advancements, demographic shifts, and of course, the pandemic. Designing and curating learning that aligns with business goals is one of the most critical challenges Learning and Development (L&D) professionals face today. According to research published in MIT Sloan, one in four Fortune 500 CEOs are concerned with the quality of learning for their talent, because what the talent is learning is not aligned to their business needs. Moreover, research by McKinsey highlights that the market capitalization of publicly traded companies depends on intangible assets, including skilled employees and knowledge. Upskilling and reskilling are now more critical than ever. As a Learning and Development professional, you need to address and eliminate upskilling and learning that is not aligned with business goals. This article offers three tips to help you begin.

1. Ask Questions

Almost everyone in Learning and Development has a story to tell where a business unit manager approaches you and shares a business challenge followed by “we need training.” Before prescribing a learning solution, you must ask a few critical questions, like an investigative reporter. Who are the beneficiaries of this learning? What are their roles and years of experience? What is the business problem they are trying to solve? Which business units are the learners in? When is this training needed? How much time do the learners have, and what is the budget?

The answers to these questions will help you clarify the real business problem, who the learners are, their managers’ business need(s), the business unit(s) where the training is requested, the urgency of the training need, and the available resources. The answers to these questions will also help you determine whether you need to design new learning or curate existing learning. If you are designing new learning, you will be able to discern the modality, the urgency of the training, the duration of the training, and the level of customization needed and afforded. Keep in mind that nowadays, most organizations prefer to deliver microlearning, so you will have to curate short microlearning modules.

2. Define The Business Need And The Business Metric

Next, you must define the business need that the business unit that requested the training is looking to impact. It is best to decide in advance how the data will be collected, by whom, when, and how it will be presented. I recommend that your L&D team collaborate with the business unit to define these parameters at the outset. Collaborating will help strengthen the coalition between L&D and the business unit and underscore L&D’s support and commitment to achieving the business performance goals.

For example, suppose the business needs to improve the User Experience (UX) by five basis points on the Net Promoter Score. In that case, you will need to decide when and how the business unit will collect data on the Net Promoter Score so that you can time learning deliveryly. While it may be difficult to pinpoint that the learning alone impacted the Net Promoter Score increase, you can undoubtedly highlight how the teaching you designed or curated influenced positive changes in the Net Promoter Score.

3. Design or Curate Learning

After you understand the business needs and work with the business unit to define the business goals, you will need to assess the learners’ understanding of the problem they are trying to solve and consider any previous learning experiences they may have had on the topic. Let’s expand on the UX example from earlier. What worked well and what didn’t with the previous training? The learners will need to rapidly upskill on UX, practice their learnings, and internalize that their work will influence how the users see the organization and its products and services and, accordingly, influence their vote on the Net Promoter Score. Now, you can design a meaningful and relevant learning solution. You have the answers to all the critical questions about the learners and their business needs, and you have defined the learning gap preventing the learners from meeting their business goals.

You have arrived at the magical moment where you add value by aligning the learning you will offer with the business need. Here, you will need to decide whether you will design new learning or curate existing learning. You typically want to curate before launching into the new design, primarily because there is a rich supply of ready content in all modalities that you can curate to meet the needs of your learners. You can curate several learning experiences, including microlearning modules, articles, videos, podcasts, and online learning.

If you are designing the learning solution, you will need to set the learning objectives to answer the business needs question you identified in the first step above. You must do a one-for-one match. You should have no more than three learning objectives for each business need you are addressing in the learning solution you are designing. Anything above that becomes unwieldy for you to track, for the business unit to manage, and, importantly, for the learners to learn. Of course, the amount of time available for learning also affects the number of learning objectives. In one hour of learning, you will likely be able to tackle no more than three learning objectives thoroughly.

Conclusion

These three tips can help you get started in curating or designing business-aligned learning. Of course, after the curation or the design, you will have to implement additional steps, including the actual curation, development, roll out, and evaluation of the learning delivered. You will need to measure the results against the business goals identified earlier and use both quantitative and qualitative data to show the impact with numbers and soundbites from learners. The key in designing learning that aligns with business performance results is to spend time up front engaging and partnering with the business unit requesting the learning, understanding the learner and the business need, and helping to define the business problem they are trying to solve.

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