How to Achieve Alignment Between Learning and Business Units

Richard Posluszny ·

Mar 03, 2021

The Northpass team spends a considerable amount of time discussing the importance of strategic alignment when it comes to rolling out learning programs. This is because it’s where we kickoff any engagement when taking a Learning Ops approach.

The pioneers driving this shift away from traditional, stand-alone systems to fully integrated, “always on” learning programs are those who realize well-developed training initiatives are the solution to many operational and growth challenges. We’ve taken notice of these professionals. We call them “Builders” as they’re particularly hands on with technology, responsible for delivering on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), and they’re no strangers to data and understanding its importance. 

Through our experience working with builders, we’ve picked up a thing or two. And, today, we’re going to share some insights to highlight what’s possible when teams work in sync. 

Related reading: Why Yesterday’s Learning Technology is Falling Short Today.

The Importance of Strategic Alignment 

Due to very real — and perceived — operational challenges associated with gaining buy-in from the top down, siloed learning programs tend to yield unsuccessful results. Looking across industries and different types of digital transformation initiatives though, it’s actually a common thread with failed projects. 

Just ask the leadership of any high-growth company “What are your biggest challenges,” and likely you’ll hear answers related to culture or alignment. 

Broadly speaking, strategic alignment means that everyone at your company grasps the overall mission and vision of your business. Once this is understood, prioritization can waterfall down as it relates to planning, resources, and the execution of projects and initiatives. 

Can you imagine setting departmental KPIs without properly understanding the key drivers of growth for a business? It’s impossible.

Related reading: Alignment — What All Successful Learning Programs Have in Common.

A Fish Stinks From the Head

Misalignment most often starts at the very highest levels of an org chart. Hopefully this doesn’t give any of you flashbacks, but this is when the executive team isn’t in agreement over elements like a business’ mission, value proposition or other competing top priorities. If this lingers for too long, BUs eventually cultivate their own agendas, which results in a decoupling. Teams then become entrenched in siloed efforts that are not in line with a business’ interests.  

And this is where problems begin to rear their ugly head.

Aligning Learning Programs to Business Goals

A 2014 study by the Brandon Hall Group found that 70% of companies that align their training activities with business goals see a significant increase in profits. 

Statistics like these are what propelled the Northpass team to focus on transforming the way businesses deploy learning-powered initiatives. 

Getting to a place where alignment is possible can be difficult without any guideposts. This is especially true if you’ve never implemented a learning program before. While there’s no shortage of information out there about how to achieve strategic alignment for a business, overall, there’s a lack of breadth and depth on the topic of aligning learning initiatives to business goals. 

This is why we developed our three-step framework, Learning Ops. We’re bridging the gap.

One Small Step for Man, One Giant Leap for Learning

As the first step of our framework, alignment is the most crucial part of the process. Before it’s even possible, however, you need to intimately understand the priorities of the business and each BU leader. Spend some time with the head of each department. Tune into their respective challenges and note their KPIs. 

Once you understand their focus, you can better partner across departments to identify opportunities where learning can drive business outcomes. 

Let’s make this real. Check out some common challenges that learning can rectify for a business:

    • Workforce performance is inconsistent due to inefficient or ineffective training
    • Knowledge retention is slipping due to a lack of engaging, personalized and integrated learning programs within an existing technology stack
    • Customer satisfaction (CSAT) is cratering because frontline workers in the field are not meeting customer expectations
    • Churn is rising as customers don’t know how to get the most value out of a product

The most important prerequisite to alignment is obtaining leadership’s buy-in. Once you have an executive sponsor, you can roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty. This is when you understand exactly where opportunities exist based on data from legacy learning-based initiatives. 

Once you’ve uncovered the opportunities, it’s a matter of prioritizing business outcomes. Business outcomes describe the impact your learning program will have on the company’s performance goals. These metrics are measurable, set by BU leaders and tend to look something like this: 

Increase/decrease/improve _______ (Insert: onboarding time, productivity, compliance, conversion rates, retention, revenue and/or profits, etc.).

Alignment is Never Finished

Alignment is a part of an iterative loop that requires consistent effort, accountability, agility and collaboration. When this is built into the fabric of your company’s culture and ethos, great things can happen.

But, please note: It will not happen on its own. The good news is the hardest part is getting started.

To learn more about Learning Ops, download the eBook.


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About the Author

Richard Posluszny

Richard Posluszny oversees Northpass' marketing efforts. When Richard isn't spreading Northpass' gospel, he can be found driving something sporty, at an art gallery or learning more about American history.

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