A winning L&D strategy looks like this (how to build and create yours)

August 20, 2021
June 26, 2023
Learning And Development

Who knew that skills were perishable? It’s one of those uncomfortable truths we overlook, but the competencies and knowledge we build have a shelf life. And with work changing fast and technology moving even more rapidly, we find ourselves in a constant need to upskill, learn new things and innovate.

Research shows that perishable skills (those related to tech or processes) have a half-life of about two and a half years, while the more durable skills (like frameworks) last twice as long.

And all of this has become a perfect storm for learning and development! Amid all this change, it’s the lifeboat that helps you build skills continually, encourage people to develop and drive you towards business goals. At HowNow, we always say that the fastest learner wins. But without a roadmap to get you there, you might end up lost or lagging behind – that’s why a learning and development strategy is so important.

What is an L&D strategy?

A way to capture how learning and development is going to help the business reach its goals and have a meaningful impact on performance. Typically through empowering and enabling people to build new skills and get better at their job. It’s always a way to formalise your learning culture…

Breaking down what this really means for L&D teams

Learning and development strategies are the documents or plans to build the skills, knowledge and competencies needed to keep your business and people going, growing and achieving goals. Typically, that means considering where you are right now, where you want to be, and the skills or knowledge gaps between the two.

When you picture strategy, you’re probably thinking of a uniform and consistent approach for everyone. Your strategy sets ground rules, outlines an overall approach and the tools you need to get there, but there needs to be room for personalisation – for you to build custom pathways for each individual in your team.

What an L&D strategy isn’t is simply sending people off for a training course or forcing them to use budget for an event that might help. And the metrics you’d measure for that tell us why! Old-school organisations only care if someone’s attended or completed that course, but they’ve got no interest in or method for measuring how much knowledge they’ve transferred into their role.

A learning and development strategy should be measurable and achievable, you should have clear goals and an understanding of how learning has made people better at their job.

Stakeholders in your learning and development strategy

L&D departments need to be smooth talkers, they’ve got plenty of people to win over! C-suite, leaders and those pulling the purse strings hold the power when it comes to giving sign off and releasing the budget to put your development strategy into action.

It’s probably why a lot of L&D leaders are changing their roles and relationships with those decision-makers. They’ve rebranded themselves from order takers to performance consultants, having conversations that help them understand the core problems the business and departments are facing. Understanding and aligning with business goals allows your learning and development strategy to impact performance and help the company reach its goals.

In the past, the sales director might have asked for seven reps to head off on a training day, and L&D might have just said yes. But the better approach is to understand why that director thinks training is the solution, the issue or results that led him to the point and truly diagnose the problem before offering a remedy.

Then you’ve got the learners, who need winning over in terms of why this should matter to them. Fortunately, many employees are motivated by progression and recognition, and pitching L&D in that sense could help get them on side. Especially if your strategy research involves speaking with them and understanding their motivations or concerns before delivering anything concrete.

9 things to consider when you’re building a winning learning and development strategy

How to align with the business strategy, goals and mission

What is the business aiming to achieve, over which time period, and how can you support it? We already spoke about L&D budget, and proving your learning and development strategy is having a positive impact on the bottom line is a great way to demonstrate a return on investment.

Typically, departments within the business will have metrics and key performance indicators they’re aiming to achieve. If you’re able to have those consulting conversations to understand their why and incorporate their metrics into your thinking, you’re better placed to move the needle. For example, if the marketing team is frequently behind on website updates and it’s due to ongoing tweaks to the layout, perhaps building UX design skills could help you close that time.

It’s not just about where the company wants to be in the future, what’s at the core of its success now? If it’s a particular product, service or department, your L&D strategy should consider how it can support that crucial function to continue functioning.

And it’s when you’re demonstrating that learning is a key part of how those goals are achieved that you’re aligning yourself with wider business success.

The wider business environment and culture

Is the company culture one where learning can thrive? For example, is curiosity a core value, or is collaboration something that’s baked into the way people work? You’re far more likely to get people on board if you go with the flow of their existing learning behaviours rather than swimming against the tide of change.

That means considering where people go in search of new information, where they communicate with their colleagues and how they do it. The more you can harness that momentum or incorporate the tools people already use, the more you can empower them to learn in the flow of work. Which is a fancy way of saying that they can find information they need when they need it most.

You also need to accept that learning is happening with or without you! Whether it’s Slack messages, podcast recommendations, sharing key takeaways from a recent podcast, there will already be some kind of culture in place. As you build your learning and development strategy, your job is establish how, where and to what extent. Then, you can leverage the existing behaviours to drive engagement with your L&D initiatives.

Your performance and skills gaps

A learning needs analysis is your best friend at this point. It’s a step-by-step process that helps you understand the skills needed to progress, assess where you are right now and establish the gaps between the two.

Your L&D strategy is the bridge between the two, building pathways that help people shuttle from one side of the skill valley to the side where the grass is greener.

But how do you measure skill levels in your team? It’s not enough to decide for yourself or ask someone to complete a self-assessment – that’s why a 360-degree review is so useful in painting an accurate picture. In HowNow, we help you build a skills profile for each person, through a combination of peer and self-review alongside manager insights. We also allow you to benchmark against more than 500,000 live job roles to understand in-demand traits and talents.

Assess all your existing L&D activity, content and strategy

It’s time for a learning and development audit. Before you even think about building out your L&D strategy, you should assess EVERYTHING you’re already doing. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • What works and doesn’t work about our current development strategy?
  • What do people like and dislike about it and the tools we use to deliver it?
  • How often are people logging in and using our learning technology?
  • Which content are people engaging with and finding useful?
  • How much of it is relevant to the current skill gaps we’ve identified?
  • What metrics do we have on the current learning performance, and what can they teach us?

Are you curating, creating or crowdsourcing content?

Content audit complete, now what? A lot of L&D departments simply don’t have time to create all the content they need, and that often means bottlenecks for learners – who might find that moment of need’s gone by the time content is available. A learning and development strategy feels like a long-term exercise, but it’s important that you’re being agile and reactive to move swiftly when content needs creating.

For example, the Customer Success team need the latest product support guidance now, not in five months time. And that presents two equally helpful solutions: curating existing content from third-party sources and encouraging internal experts to create resources.

Third-party resources are ideal for the things that aren’t necessarily specific to your company but are a great fit for your industry or someone’s role in the team. Whereas a subject matter expert in the company has a wealth of extremely relevant experience that you can harness in creating learning content.

As you build out your resources, job aids and knowledge bank, you’ll understand where each content lever sits and can use that to guide your learning and development strategy in places.

BUT, you have to avoid becoming a bottleneck in other ways! We simply can’t approve every piece of curated and internal content and keep up with the pace of change. So, we have to consider the guidelines we’re going to put in place as part of our overall learning and development strategy. Otherwise, we end up creating a content landfill – where we’ve curated and created too much content, without verifying its relevance and that it’s still up-to-date.

Integrating with other technology and platforms

Information is most useful in the moments and places where work is taking place. Learning shouldn’t be pulling people out of the workflow, and that’s why you’ll need to consider which tools it’s crucial people can find content in.

For example, if you’re using a customer service tool like Intercom, it’s more helpful if reps can access all of your guidance and content within that platform. It’ll help them find and apply knowledge in crucial moments while improving response time and customer experience.

At HowNow, our mission is to integrate with all the tools you use every day, enabling you to search for and surface knowledge in the flow of work, everywhere you already work.

Creating a mission/vision/value proposition

You want people to connect with your goals, to understand the value of investing in your learning vision and turn them into learning and development strategy advocates, but how are you going to do it?

For many, they choose to build a learning brand – something tangible that portrays values, creates a connection with people and improves the presence of learning within the business. For others, it’s enough to simply create a mission and vision statement, communicating the shared goals, aligning with people’s values and presenting a culture that people are likely to buy into.

Designing personalised learning pathways

One size fits nobody when it comes to learning and development! The tools you’re using, the overarching strategy and approaches will be structured, but there needs to be flexibility to customise pathways for every person in the team.

It comes back to our skills gap idea and applying it on a personal level, where is that one person aiming to be, and how can learning get them there? You also need to consider the types of content that person benefits from, which colleagues can help them through social learning and their overall career goals.

The role of self-directed learning

When we talk about flexibility, we mean it! Learning’s not a nine to five activity, it’s something that people should have the freedom to do on their terms. And the way you can do that is by considering the role of on-demand content and self-directed access in your learning and development strategy.

One of the biggest barriers to most people is finding information, especially when it’s scattered across loads of different platforms and systems. HowNow could be your collective brain, one place to bring together all of your knowledge and make it easy to find, all at the end of one search.

From 2 hours per day to 25% of the working week spent searching for information, research findings might differ, but they all show that finding knowledge is a challenge.

A good learning and development strategy paired with a platform designed to drive engagement can help you beat those discoverability and engagement. We’ll talk care of the second, you just need to book in for a demo of our learning experience platform.

Check out our other learning and development resources