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4 Essential Questions to Drive Strategic Alignment on Learning Programs

Thursday, January 25, 2024

While there’s no magic formula to guarantee success, strategic alignment is one of the key differences between organizations that perform well and those that don’t. In fact, research from Brightline found that strategic alignment is what the top 10 percent use to hit their business goals.

Here, we’ll explore four questions companies can ask to determine their current level of strategic alignment, specifically around learning programs. But before we dive in, let’s think about what strategic alignment is and is not. Strategic alignment should not be confused with return on investment (ROI), and if you’re simply using financial measures to evaluate projects, chances are you’re not aligning them with strategy.

What Is Strategic Alignment?

"Strategic alignment means that all elements of a business—including the market strategy and the way the company itself is organized—are arranged in such a way as to best support the fulfillment of its long-term purpose,” according to Harvard Business Review .

Put simply, strategic alignment refers to the process of ensuring that an organization’s goals, strategies, and actions are coordinated and consistent with each other. It involves aligning the various parts of an organization, such as its business units, departments, teams, and individuals, toward a common mission and set of objectives.

The Importance of Strategic Alignment

As basic as this sounds, many learning programs are deployed to impart some skill or knowledge. While these programs may indirectly contribute to business goals by improving sales skills or ensuring compliance, they are often not directly tied to these goals. Whatever the learning initiative, it should be based on business needs. Yet, just 38 percent of companies say their business objectives are strongly tied to development objectives such as specific competencies and skills.


How to Achieve Strategic Alignment

We recommend using the following questions, especially in the run up to new training initiatives, to encourage alignment on expected outcomes and value.

What Are the Key Learnings From the Training?
Leaders often expect learning outcomes outside of the program’s scope. Asking this question early in the process creates an ideal opportunity to tie it back into the specific objectives and goals of the program.

You may need to work with the leader to help them understand why their expected outcome doesn’t align with the overall objectives
What KPIs Would You Expect to See Improve?
Anchoring to key performance indicators (KPIs) can help determine if learning was effective. For example:

  • A demonstrable knowledge of a new sales technique
  • Ability to identify all the features of a new product or service

Identify the leading and lagging indicators of the program. For example, if you’re developing sales training, the leading indicators may be activity metrics and pipeline generated.

Can You Demonstrate That the Program Has Been Successful?
By discussing this question, leaders will hopefully gain a better understanding of which outcomes will be easy to demonstrate, and which might be a little more subjective. This question can also help you plan what you will need to communicate after the program to demonstrate success and reinforce alignment across key stakeholders.

How Would You Determine a Positive ROI for the Program?
Demonstrating the ROI of any learning program is especially challenging without stakeholder input. This question removes the guesswork by asking them directly what a positive ROI would look like for them.

We’ve found that the answers to this question can sometimes be surprising. For example, we recently launched a training program that required a significant investment of resources. And while all the stakeholders wanted to see the KPIs improve, the main ROI they wanted to achieve was cultural—they wanted our team to enjoy their roles and feel successful.

While strategic alignment doesn’t guarantee the success of your learning initiatives, it should be a goal of your learning programs. Make sure you develop a learning strategy where performance is the outcome, not just learning itself. By including the questions in this post within the process, you can increase support from leadership, improve learner satisfaction, and set your organization up for future success.

About the Author

Aisling MacNamara is a senior learning and development manager at LearnUpon. She has designed and led the implementation of innovative learning solutions for hundreds of learners through her experience in fast growth technology companies. Aisling is passionate about creating learner-centered programs that help drive company objectives.

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thanks for your helpful question! It is a good way for reflection.
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