How L&D Can Discover Problems And Align With Business Goals

Gary Stringer
August 21, 2023
August 21, 2023
Learning And Development

"My first objective was for L&D to be seen as a strategic business partner, rather than an order-taking, training creation function.” - Danielle Dziurun.

Sound familiar? It’s an age-old L&D dilemma!

And one we can solve with two actions:

1. Getting better at problem discovery.

2. Building a better understanding of business goals and aligning with them.

Having done this when she joined DT Consulting, we asked Danielle Dziurun, Learning & Development Manager, to share the secret sauce and proven tactics that helped her tick both those boxes.

1. Speak to as many people as possible (aiming to identify personal and business goals/challenges)

“I spoke to everyone from our most junior consultants to the leadership team to really talk about their pain points, and it makes it easier in a smaller business because I literally could meet everyone.” - Danielle Dziurun.

The goal was to get aligned to as many people across the business as possible! 

And if you’re new to a business, the first few weeks offer the perfect sweet spot. You’ve got a clean slate and no associations, so people are likely to be open and share their unfiltered thoughts and concerns.

Danielle used a consistent set of ten questions to ensure the qualitative data she was gathering was comparable:

  1. Tell me about yourself and your role in the organisation?
  2. What are some of the challenges you face? 
  3. Describe for me the current L&D activity in the business?
  4. Of that activity, what's the most valuable to you? What has helped you the most in improving your practice?
  5. What would you like to see less or more of? 
  6. What do you think the role I'm here to do is about? 
  7. How can I add value to what you do? 
  8. What one thing could I change that would make the biggest difference for you as an individual? 
  9. What are the capabilities you need in your team?
  10. And what should the role of L&D be in this organisation? 

This mix will help you understand the current perception of L&D, identify quick wins and build a platform for long-term success.

If you’re looking to build your own list, Danielle shared the initial article that inspired this list of questions: The First 100 Days, Ramblings of a L&D Professional - Helen Louise Bailey

And that leads us to another great tip from Danielle: leverage the L&D community! There are so many people out there sharing great advice based on their experiences:

“There is so much out there to help your thinking, we are an incredibly sharing and supportive profession. Tap into your networks and communities of practice!” - Danielle Dziurun

2. Map that out: It’ll help you visualise and spot patterns

“Then I started to create different maps in Miro of things like: What are  our Leadership Team's top concerns and priorities? What gaps are our Managers seeing? What are our peoples’ perceptions of their own training needs? 

“I wanted to discover what skills we have, which we don't have that we want, and what we need to achieve our organisational objectives. And what are the things that people are saying over and over again - from these conversations, and through the mapping exercise, patterns began to emerge.” - Danielle Dziurun.

This will help you spot common problems among people’s responses, identifying potential priority areas and which problems would have the biggest impact if you solved them.

At the same time, those maps will help you spot glaring gaps!

👉 What things are missing?
👉 Nobody in your business is currently talking about X?
👉 Do we need more insights on Y to make informed decisions?

And it doesn’t have to be a tool like Miro, it could simply be a spreadsheet or writing them on sticky notes and physically mapping it out. 

The goal is to organise the information in a way that enables you to spot connections and common themes, which will allow you to make more informed decisions about your priorities.

“This process also helped us form the first draft of our skills map. I was basically mapping out capabilities as I went through the current training resources.

"And talking to people to understand exactly what it was that our people needed to know and be able to do in order to perform successfully in their roles.” - Danielle Dziurun

3. Try to map out your current tech and tools too

“From an L&D perspective, it’s super important to have sight of what sits where within your organisation’s digital landscape because your learning ecosystem lives across multiple platforms - not just the ones designed for learning. 

“I’d advise forming close working relationships and collaborative working groups with the owners/admins of the various platforms.”- Danielle Dziurun.

We need an understanding of where people are going to solve problems and where all the content that influences their performance lives.

Typically, you’ll find different tools have an owner, and your goal should be to speak with them, agree what should go where, and make your learners aware of how they can get to it with minimum friction as they move around the ecosystem. 

The problems people are explaining to us could be a result of tools failing to integrate or too many tools being used, and that adding layers of friction or complexity.

Adding clarity and removing those barriers allows you to drive more engagement and impact.

If you can map out your tech stack alongside the feedback, you’ll get an even better visualisation of where L&D is now and the current journey learners take.

4. Build a commercial understanding of the business

“I think it's really important as an L&D professional, if you want to be a strategic business partner, to develop your own business acumen.

"Being able to think and speak the language of a business person is as important as being an expert in your field.” - Danielle Dziurun.

Danielle recommends gaining insights into the financial side of the company overall, but also which areas are profitable and which offer growth opportunities.

Knowing this helps you connect L&D efforts to the overall business goals and revenue more effectively.

"When a business leader says they need training to solve a pain point, it's your job to gain insight into the actual root cause of the business problem and find an L&D solution that is actually going to move the dial.

“To do this effectively, you need to have a deep understanding of the business, how it makes money, and its internal and external environments." - Danielle Dziurun.

5. Use that as a starting point to say: do we have the skills to support this?

This could be the perfect starting point for skills mapping and identification. 

We know what the goals are, and the next logical question is: which skills will be needed to get there?

L&D doesn’t overlap with the X-Files often, but the truth (and data) could already be out there! 

There’s a likelihood that a lot of what you need might be in your existing data and reporting, so use that as your first port of call.

Danielle explained that she used data gathered in a cross-organisation levelling exercise when implementing a new career framework to help her build that business capability understanding. 

Alongside existing industry frameworks and collaboration with internal experts, it provided the platform for success:

“It is likely that a lot of the information you need is 'out there in the wild', so go on a treasure hunt across your organisation to discover what data already exists and pull it all into your analysis.

“I would also recommend looking at existing frameworks and adapting them to save time - for example, the SFIA for digital skills and roles. And then eat the elephant one spoonful at a time - we started by looking at differentiating skills in relation to project roles for our consultants because this would have the greatest impact for us. 

“The next phase for us is to articulate core consulting skills, in line with developing core programmes, to support our consultants' career development. 

“Do what makes the most sense for you - but chunk it up and get people involved in the process. If it's co-created and validated internally, it'll gain a lot more traction than if you try to do it by yourself.” - Danielle Dziurun.