Learning strategy must go hand-in-hand with business strategy

CHRO SA webinar outlines how to ensure L&D is properly aligned to the business.

"If you are not ready to learn every day and keep up with this rapidly changing world, neither individuals nor companies can stay competitive.”

These were the words of Degreed chief learning officer Kelly Palmer, who was among the guest speakers in CHRO South Africa’s latest webinar about aligning learning and development with business strategy.  

Having spent her entire career in Silicon Valley, Kelly is a distinguished expert in learning technologies. She also co-authored a book called The Expertise Economy: How the Smartest Companies Use Learning to Engage, Compete and Succeed, which highlights the way in which work and jobs are changing and how learning needs to change along with that. Prior to joining Degreed four years ago, she was the chief learning officer at LinkedIn where her mission was and, today still is to build technology that enables people to learn organically.

“When I was the chief learning officer at LinkedIn, one of the things I did was create a learning organisation from the ground up and what was exciting about that is I could reimagine what the future of learning would be and, instead of hiring traditional instructional designers, I actually started by looking for learning experience designers,” said Kelly. “And that role is more common now than it was back then. Content creators are another big role that we're seeing a lot of learning and HR groups turn to. Marketing and storytelling are also huge. Also, because there is so much technology out there, it is important to have someone that understands the learning technology and data analytics in order to tell the organisation's learning story.” 

The most important skill of all, however, is learning agility, which Kelly described as having the curiosity and motivation to continuously learn and build skills throughout the entirety of your career. 

“No longer can people go to a higher-education institution for four years and think that will last them for their entire career. Kids coming out of university now are finding that they have to learn new skills immediately on the job and that will be true for them throughout their careers,” she said. 

Consult, collaborate and communicate

Attendees of the webinar also heard from Riana De Bruyn, group head for learning governance & assurance at Standard Bank, who outlined how the bank was designing innovative learner ecosystems that empower each individual to reach their career potential. 

Riana said building a learning strategy is not something that can be done easily. It requires a lot of research by looking at what is happening inside an organisation, what is happening in the supplier environment and engaging with the workforce about what they see for themselves and the organisation.

“Building a learning strategy is not something you do while sitting at your desk and it's certainly not something you can craft within 24 hours. If you are not clear on the reason for doing things or are just pursuing learning for compliance's sake, then you might as well copy and paste your learning strategy from the one you find on the internet and slap your company logo on it,” she said. 

Riana said creating a meaningful learning strategy meant consulting, collaborating, and communicating constantly. 

“Because you need to test your thinking throughout the process of developing the strategy, by finding people who are not within the HR team to check if that strategy is properly aligned to the business.”

Not the time to skimp on investment

The key takeaway for attendees was that learning needs to be viewed as a business strategy. It requires having a good understanding of where the business is going and putting learning interventions that will enable it to get there.

Said Kelly: “When we talk about upskilling, we've seen that a lot of companies have decided to invest huge amounts of money into upskilling the workforce. Amazon, for example, committed about $700 million to upskill their workforce while PwC is investing $3 billion dollars so this is not the time to skimp on investing in skills development. It is so critical to the future of companies.”

During the Q&A section of the webinar, one of the attendees asked about the effectiveness of providing financial incentives for learning and Riana said that was not the model at Standard Bank where they have tried to build a strong learning culture in the organisation by getting the leadership involved. They don't provide monetary incentive but they do strive to entice people in other ways.

Said Riana: You must have a growth mindset. You must be excited about learning and you must see the opportunities that come from development. It must be self-driven and your organisation must be creating a culture that promotes learning and makes learning easily accessible. But it is thereafter about you as an individual having an internal drive to embrace it. All we can do is remove all the obstacles of access to learning and create excitement around it but showing you the benefits of it. But, ultimately, it is about the individual. 

CHRO SA South Africa sales manager Nick Smith closed the event by thanking Riana and Kelly and inviting attendees to join the next webinar about Executive Remuneration in times of Covid-19,  which would be taking place at 10 am on  22 July.