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Home / Resources / 3 signs the problems with your learning are about strategy, not execution.

3 signs the problems with your learning are about strategy, not execution.


In this blog post, we explore three key indicators that the problem you're trying to solve requires a strategic approach, rather than simply delivering more learning.

Now more than ever, global leaders are understanding the value of a strong learning culture in building a high-performing organisation. LinkedIn’s most recent workplace learning report notes that ‘companies with strong learning cultures see higher rates of retention, more internal mobility, and a healthier management pipeline’. There’s a problem here, though: defining, creating, and measuring a thriving learning culture is a daunting task.

L&D teams are under constant pressure to demonstrate results, and that means thinking strategically. But here's the harsh reality: only 17% of L&D teams feel they have the right strategies in place to tackle the challenges ahead (Elucidat). Connecting learning and development strategy to business outcomes is a notorious uphill battle. Too often, we rely on delivering learning that addresses a symptom rather than a cause and use 'vanity metrics' to showcase the impact of those learning efforts.

Teams unaccustomed to creating learning that serves a strategic purpose may find themselves spinning their wheels, caught in the trap of thinking ‘more learning content = more problems solved.’ While this approach is not entirely without its merits, solutions produced with this mindset do not always address the challenge of connecting L&D to business outcomes. Developing a strategic approach to learning is vital to generate – and demonstrate – L&D impact for your organisation.

In this article, we'll explore three key indicators that the problem you're trying to solve requires a strategic approach, along with some practical suggestions for how you can move from a delivery-first to a strategy-first mindset.

1. You can’t articulate the why behind the need for learning.

If your learning initiatives seem disconnected from your organisation's overarching goals, it's likely the issue goes beyond delivery concerns. Crafting an effective learning strategy begins with a deep understanding of purpose. A good test for this is if you can explain why you are beginning a learning initiative in a single sentence: one that doesn’t include the words ‘learning’ or ‘training.' This forces you to speak to the business problem; and if you can’t do this, you're not ready for execution.

What might seem like a straightforward training requirement often masks a more profound organisational need. Understanding the true purpose behind a learning need is critical for developing effective and impactful solutions.

By digging deeper into the root causes of the issues you're trying to address with your learning, and the motivations, challenges, and desired outcomes of the wider organisation, you can ensure your learning will have a lasting impact.

But how can you get there?

Getting to the why
behind the need.

Engage with key stakeholders across different levels and functions to gather diverse perspectives on the perceived need and its broader implications.

Employ techniques like the "5 Whys" to peel back the layers and identify the root causes driving the need for training or development.

Map the identified needs to the organisation's strategic priorities, key performance indicators, and long-term goals to ensure alignment and relevance.

Collaboratively establish clear and measurable success criteria that go beyond completion rates and satisfaction scores, focusing on tangible business outcomes and performance improvements.

Get stuck into our blog covering how to get the most out of your behaviour change interventions for a further discussion of how understanding the why behind your learning will help you maximise the impact of your learning. Or view a real-world example of how keeping Kraft Heinz’s wider sustainability goals in mind helped to shape a groundbreaking sustainability procurement learning initiative in the case study: Kraft Heinz’s grassroots learning to achieve global sustainability goals.

2. Your implementation and evaluation processes feel like they’re not telling you anything meaningful. 

If your implementation and evaluation processes fail to give you confidence in your results, it indicates the need for a reassessment of how those processes serve your learners and wider organisation. While traditional success indicators in L&D have centered on output metrics, a strategic mindset demands a shift towards aligning learning initiatives with organisational priorities. From there, you can look at the best methods for delivering, communicating, and measuring your learning.

With this approach, you can transition from surface-level, siloed solutions to comprehensive, strategic implementations that directly contribute to achieving overarching business goals. By closely integrating learning initiatives with strategic priorities, you can ensure interventions are designed to maximise effectiveness and deliver long-term impact on key performance indicators.

But how can you get there?

Advanced learning initiatives
that provide strategic value.

Stay up-to-date with developments in learning design, such as new approaches to microlearning, gamification, or immersive experiences, to enhance engagement and knowledge retention. However, it's vital not to simply jam the latest shiny gadget into your learning programs – the method of delivery must be appropriate to the learning itself; a virtual reality solution might be fantastic for hands-on, health and safety learning that could be dangerous to experience first-hand but will not be appropriate for learning an updated accounting process. (Learn more about balancing innovation and learner needs here.)

Develop robust measurement and evaluation frameworks that align with the defined success criteria, enabling data-driven decision-making and demonstrating the long-term impact on business performance.

Design learning experiences accessible to all learners, fostering an inclusive and equitable learning environment.

Keen to learn more about improving implementation and measurement? Check out our blog post on the 10 critical characteristics of effective learning. Alternatively, find out how Tesco improved their compliance learning programme by refining their delivery and evaluation mechanisms in the case study: Tesco - an activated LMS for behaviour change in compliance.

3. Your learning is often a ‘one and done’ solution.

If your learning efforts tend to be isolated events rather than part of an ongoing culture of learning, it suggests the need for strategic transformation towards continuous learning. 

Transitioning from one-off solutions to continuous learning involves fostering a culture where learning is ingrained in the organisational DNA.

By instilling a culture of continuous learning, organisations can adapt more effectively to change, stay ahead of industry trends, and ultimately achieve long-term strategic goals.

But how can you get there?

Developing a culture
of continuous learning.

Encourage open and transparent communication channels between internal and external teams, creating a safe space for sharing ideas, challenges, and feedback.

Identify and apply the unique strengths and expertise of each team member, creating a synergistic effect that amplifies collective capabilities.

Implement mechanisms for knowledge transfer, such as joint training sessions, mentoring programs, or communities of practice, to facilitate cross-pollination of ideas and best practices.

Provide resources and support for employees to take ownership of their learning journeys, such as offering access to self-paced learning platforms or implementing mentorship programs.

Want to explore this topic further? Listen to the Unforgettable Learning Podcast episode Long-termism in learning – with Beth Chudley and Tom Griffiths for a discussion of the benefits of a long-term approach to learning strategy. Or read an example of continuous, community led learning in the case study: Snap Inc.’s AR training platform for an audience of 8 billion.

Adopting a strategy-first approach to learning initiatives is crucial for driving meaningful impact and aligning L&D efforts with broader organisational goals. This can be broken down into three key areas that, when kept in mind while designing and implementing learning programs, will help you create strategic interventions that resonate with learners and contribute to organisational success:

  • Uncover root causes and true motivations behind perceived training needs.
  • Optimise implementation with robust evaluation, multimodal design, and accessibility.
  • Foster continuous learning through open communication, knowledge sharing, and employee ownership.

With these strategic areas in focus, you can strive for impactful, enduring learning interventions that drive meaningful behaviour change and contribute to the achievement of organisational goals.

How Sponge can help.

Moving from a focus on learning delivery to developing impactful, strategic interventions can be a challenge – but you don’t have to do it alone.

Sponge specialises in helping organisations develop impactful learning interventions. With expertise in aligning learning initiatives with business goals, designing effective learning experiences, and fostering collaboration, Sponge can assist in unlocking the full potential of your learning initiatives, driving real business impact, and fostering a culture of continuous learning and improvement.

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