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ATD Blog

Gain Strategic Alignment Through Forward-Focused Learning

Friday, August 13, 2021
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I have been working with senior leaders and executives in talent development for nearly a decade. I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing CTDO magazine—featured executives, learning from progressive thinkers in the CTDO Next consortium, and facilitating panels stacked with ATD BEST Award winners. These conversations inevitably turn to learning leaders’ greatest pain points. Throughout the years, regardless of how the job market is faring, whether learning design is skewing in person or virtual, or which is the emerging technology du jour, one theme remains top of mind for TD leaders: how to align learning with the business.

On the one hand, I’m surprised that we haven’t yet figured out the alignment piece. On the other hand, I understand how difficult it must be to operate with excellence while continually feeling the pressure to prove your function’s value to the C-suite.

Current Challenges With Alignment

According to ATD’s 2020 research report Strategic Alignment: Orchestrating Organizational Success, only 42 percent of respondents indicate their organization’s talent development and business strategies are aligned to a high or very high extent. This number decreased from 2013, when similar research indicated alignment for 49 percent of organizations. The latest report describes several best practices for high business alignment including upholding organizational values, reporting talent development performance to top leaders, fostering strong relationships with business leaders, treating talent development as a business strategy, and using talent development data to optimize business strategy.

The new workplace can complicate matters for many learning leaders. If you find yourself in the role of “order taker” rather than business partner, the post-pandemic world of work can be difficult to navigate. But it is also an opportunity to show learning’s worth. Cracking the alignment code is about solving your business’s greatest needs as (and even before) they emerge. Those learning organizations focused on driving business outcomes are able to pivot in the midst of chaos. They have honed their foresight skills and can drive a fluid learning strategy as business priorities change.

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Learning From Award-Winning Leaders

Forward-focused leaders paved the way toward greater alignment. Their award-winning learning functions are leading by example, and there is much we can absorb from them like how to cast a vision for aligning with your company’s core business goals, gain buy-in from key stakeholders, build high-performing learning teams, and become more resource efficient and agile along the way.

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Later this month, I’m moderating a panel of top talent development thought leaders who have built exemplary learning organizations during their careers. They will share their insights and experiences as we explore answers to these questions:

  • Why is it critical to be business leaders first and learning leaders second?
  • How can we move beyond managing a learning function to managing change, planning strategy, and understanding organizational systems design?
  • What does it look like to cast vision for a learning strategy that drives innovation, guards culture, and delivers business results?

Join me at ATD 2021 on August 29 at 1 p.m. to learn how you can begin your journey toward building a forward-focused and award-winning learning organization.

About the Author

Community of Practice Manager, ATD  Ann Parker is senior manager of the Human Capital Community of Practice and the Senior Leaders & Executives Community of Practice at ATD. Prior to this position, she worked at ATD for five years in an editorial capacity, primarily for TD magazine, and most recently as a senior writer and editor. In this role, Ann had the privilege to talk to many training and development practitioners, hear from a variety of prominent industry thought leaders, and develop a rich understanding of the profession's content.

1 Comment
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Really useful article, Ann - kudos. I, too, have been surprised that we haven’t yet figured out the alignment piece. I believe it would also help to cultivate the best practices mentioned in paragraph 3 at the individual talent development professional level, too, so that each person sheds learned helplessness, cultivates a more strategic mindset, and begins to think like an owner. Even in the most hierarchical, bureaucratic organization, much that could be done is not being done - yet.
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