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The Alchemy of Leadership Blog

It is all about strategy

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Some words have literally become so overused as to be virtually meaningless.  Walking along the street I often overhear conversations littered with these nondescript words which once had very specific uses (oh, there I go, it’s catching!).

One such word in the world of organisations is strategy.  It seems to be a trump-card; use it within a resource request and it guarantees you will secure what you need.  But by using the word strategy so frequently we risk making it ubiquitous to the point where we barely notice its presence.

With a thing like strategy this is dangerous because strategies should be used to focus on the choices that need to be made in order to deliver success for your business.

In the past strategic planners interpreted historic trend data and produced directives issued from the top, for the rest of the organisation to execute.  Monitor Institute argues that in the 21st century these static strategic plans are dead.  Instead of “making a plan and sticking to it,” they say a new adaptive approach of “setting a direction and testing to it,” is what is needed.

A read of the UK Learning Trends Index, published by GoodPractice last month, reveals that some of my fellow L&D professionals are wrestling with their L&D strategies.  For example, around 70% of respondents reported that their reliance on informal learning will increase.  Furthermore, 69% say that on-the-job learning delivers lasting improvement in employee behaviour, knowledge and skills.  Yet despite this, 76% don’t have any kind of strategy for informal learning.

An L&D strategy is therefore more than a statement of intent.  It should clearly articulate the workforce capabilities, skills or competencies required, and how these can be developed.  It should provide guidance on how it will be implemented and who will translate this intent into practice.  As well as reflecting business aims, the L&D strategy should align with organisational culture and also address operational realities and constraints.  To do all this means understanding the strategy of your own business first.

You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.  Similarly only individuals can learn; only they can choose to apply their new skills to their work and daily practice.  But all of us working in L&D have a responsibility give support to allow learning to take place.

Through our L&D strategies we should promote an inclusive approach.  This means providing opportunities to learn to all employees.  Especially those who may not currently participate for reasons that may range from personal barriers to organisational structures/policies that focus development on particular staff.

The School for CEOs sponsored the Best Learning and Development Strategy at this year’s HR Excellence Awards.  Virgin Atlantic Airways were announced the winner on 30 June at a gala dinner held in the London Hilton on Park Lane.  Judges were looking for those that invest effectively in the development of their people across an entire organisation.  They were impressed by Virgin Atlantic's 'Simple but powerful' L&D strategy being 'fundamentally linked to the business proposition'.

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