Strategic Alignment: What All Successful Learning Programs Have

Richard Posluszny ·

Feb 24, 2021

A quick Google search on “Why learning programs fail,” returns no shortage of results. 

And, it’s backed up with plenty of data and opinions on why companies can’t seem to build learning programs that actually work. A range of reasons for failure are offered: Outdated modes of delivery; irrelevant subject matter; poorly designed curricula. So much of it is obvious. 

The dark cloud of pessimism looming over Learning and Development (L&D) is nothing new. We’re so used to this negative outlook on training and its effectiveness that it doesn’t surprise us to find so many pages about why learning programs fail, and only a single result on why they succeed. 

The fixation on failure comes from a good place. Learning occurs on the heels of failure and people want to avoid that when possible. 

According to Chris Collison, an established knowledge management consultant with over 20 years of experience, “Learning from success is rarer because there is less of an requires a more strategic, proactive mindset.” 

Today, I’d like to offer a different perspective. One that focuses on the high value, repeatable and predictable activities employed by the world’s most successful learning teams. 

Successful Learning Programs Exist

Training success stories don’t fill our feeds the way training’s failures do. At every turn, we’re bombarded with disappointing statistics like the following:

    • A McKinsey & Co. survey revealed that just 25% of respondents believed that training improved people’s performance at work.
    • Three-quarters of the nearly 1,500 senior managers at 50 organizations interviewed by CEB were dissatisfied with their companies’ L&D function.
    • And only 1 in 4 senior managers reported that it was critical to achieving business outcomes.

Despite the constant stream of statistics like the aforementioned, there are many businesses experiencing the unparalleled benefits of successful training programs. And, it might surprise you to learn, a large number of these successful programs are managed by business unit (BU) leaders with no previous L&D experience. 

Take, for example, Shopify who achieved a 491% increase  in monthly customer academy usage and Upland Qvidian who earned a 2x year over year increase in revenue for Qvidian University

All Successful Programs Start With Strategic Alignment

After working closely with leading companies on cutting-edge learning programs, we can say definitively that strategic alignment is at the foundation of every successful program. 

We’re tired of seeing depressing learning statistics, especially when we know what it takes to build successful programs. That’s why we developed Learning Ops, a new framework that facilitates an organizational shift. Its purpose: To align learning programs with measurable business goals. 

Ultimately, a cultural shift needs to happen from the top down for learning-powered initiatives to deliver measurable results. That’s why the first step of our approach begins with aligning teams and outcomes, and prioritizing for impact

So what exactly does strategic alignment look like? Let me show you. You need to:

    1. Garner support from the business.
    2. Understand the opportunities.
    3. Prioritize business outcomes.

Garnering support from the business

The impact of a learning program is larger when it has executive sponsorship. 

For example, in order for learning to boost a field service team’s customer satisfaction (CSAT) score, the head of field operations needs to buy in. It’s critical to gain consensus on which teams will employ the use of learning programs and ensure that leadership embraces the initiative, end to end. 

Understanding the opportunities

It’s important to take inventory of what’s currently working and what’s not

Review data about learner engagement, satisfaction and confidence. Then, speak with BU leaders about their challenges. From there you can partner with leadership to identify new opportunities where learning can move the needle. 

Prioritizing business outcomes

Business outcomes describe the desired impact that learning programs will make towards a company’s performance goals. They’re measurable and BU leaders establish them. 

One example: A field operations manager at a delivery & logistics company may seek to reduce the number of customer complaints about damaged packages by “X”%. 

Prioritize results that are most important to the business. 

There’s More to It: Go Deeper With Learning Ops

Globally, today’s businesses spend $100 billion annually to train employees. And here’s the catch: Most are unable to prove their programs are making an impact effect. 

Why? Primarily it’s because they never invested the time, upfront, to get aligned.

There are a number of other best practices shared amongst top-performing learning programs. While strategic alignment alone isn’t enough to guarantee a learning program is a success, it is clear: Misalignment is the number one reason learning programs fail when they do. 

To take a deeper dive into the Learning Ops framework to see how to roll out a successful learning-based initiative at your organization, download our supporting eBook, called          “How Do You Actually Do Learning Ops?”


Download the eBook

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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