ATD Blog

How to Align L&D to the Organization’s Strategy

Friday, May 7, 2021

Everything starts with strategy. It’s your guiding light.

Those without a clearly defined strategy spend time trying to make an impact everywhere while usually experiencing success nowhere. On the other hand, defining a strategy gives you the guardrails to focus, learn, and make the impact that you want and that your company needs.

Your strategy will define everything—from your budget to the level of executive sponsorship you need, the skills you need to prioritize, and how you measure the impact those skills will have on organizational performance.

Complicating matters, different departments have varying projects, ideas, and stakeholder needs. Clashing priorities mean it’s easy to get pulled in different directions and lose sight of broader organizational goals.

When it comes to strategy, L&D teams encounter several common problems:

  • Problem 1: L&D teams don’t operate like a business within the organization.
  • Problem 2: L&D teams are perceived as order-takers.
  • Problem 3: L&D teams do’nt have an executive sponsor to fight for them.

To overcome these barriers and create an L&D strategy that aligns with your organization’s strategy, you need to answer several questions.

Question 1: Is there evidence of need within the business?

It should go without saying, but if a stakeholder’s request doesn’t align with a business need, it’s okay to decline that request.

The next time you receive an L&D request, pause for a second. Resist the reflex to jump in and immediately fulfill the request. Instead, ask “What is the evidence of need?” By keeping this question in mind, you will ensure any requests you fulfill are aligned with a broader organizational need.

The positive news for L&D teams is that this simple step can lead to huge improvements. According to Emerald Works’ 2020 Back to the Future report, 94 percent of high-impact learning cultures (defined as the top 10 percent of companies) say their L&D activity is fully aligned with the strategic goals of the organization.


By comparison, only 49 percent of other L&D teams say their L&D activity is fully aligned with the strategic goals of the organization. As such, high-performing teams reap the rewards of aligning learning and organizational goals.

Question 2: What are my organization’s needs?

If your stakeholder doesn’t have an answer to the question “What is the evidence of need?” then other departments in your organization can be excellent resources to identify business needs.

It’s a good idea to speak to teams like IT, internal communications, and marketing because they already track employee behavior and offer rich streams of data that can give you the evidence you need. For example, they may have insights into the “help” subjects that people are searching for on the company intranet, details of performance goals, or results from employee engagement surveys.

Only when the data shows clear evidence of a need, your next step should be to drill down to discover the strategic value of this intervention to the business.

Question 3: What is my stakeholder trying to achieve?

Once you’ve identified a clear business need, it’s time to find out what your stakeholder is truly trying to achieve.

Ask yourself if they are trying to:

  • Reduce risk.
  • Save money.
  • Improve performance.
  • Lower attrition rates.

Remember, the request must be tied to a business goal.

If you need help locating your organization’s business goals, you can always access resources such as recent company reports. Failing this, it can be helpful to ask the project management office to see what areas of the business they’re investing in or even speak to HR and people looking at strategic workforce planning to see what skill gaps they’re facing.

Above all, don’t be afraid to ask. L&D must use all the information available to align itself with the desired business outcomes.

Question 4: Who is my representative on the executive board?

Identifying a business need and clearly defining your stakeholders’ goals is essential. However, without representation at the executive level, you will likely spend most of your time running into internal blocks and quickly getting nowhere.

Gaining executive buy-in is still a challenge for many L&D teams. The 2020 Go1 State of Learning Report identified executive buy-in as the “final hurdle,” with 42 percent of executives either neutral or actively not supporting their L&D teams.

Still, getting a seat at the executive table is essential to your L&D strategy, and it all starts with aligning learning value and business value.

About the Author

Dom Murray is content coordinator for GO1, an established leader in online learning and education.

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