In the second of my series on alignment, I’ll be looking at the three key components necessary to achieve alignment – starting with clarity.
Clarity is the bedrock of alignment. Without clarity it’s impossible to be aligned. In my earlier post I talked about the importance of seeing eye-to-eye with your business. As learning and development professionals, this means two key things:
- knowing and understanding the plans and priorities of the business, and
- ensuring the business knows and understands how the L&D function is supporting these plans and priorities.
As L&D professionals you absolutely, without question, must thoroughly understand the plans and priorities of your business. This means far more than just taking a cursory glance through any strategy document that happens to be lying around; rather it’s a deep and questioning approach to what your business is focusing on, the direction in which it’s heading and the challenges it’s facing.
As L&D professionals you must totally understand the issues your business is facing because if you don’t you can’t begin to address them. You need to understand thoroughly the strategy of your business and understand how that applies to and impacts on you. Clarity of the business strategy is essential, because without that you’ll never achieve alignment. This was highlighted in a Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) online poll conducted in November 2007, where 46% of respondents said that in their organisation the overall strategy was unclear and therefore difficult to align against.
Once you have a thorough understanding of the business strategy you’ll naturally need to develop a response in support of it. In earlier posts I looked at how to develop a great strategy and within your strategy you’ll naturally need to consider how to develop and deliver appropriate interventions that support it.
Unfortunately, this is where things can become unstuck. L&D professionals need to develop interventions and solutions that the business believes will have an impact. If not, then the business will look upon you as being “out of step” with the business and therefore not aligned.
I’ve seen just about every fad imaginable aimed at making people better at what they do. Some of these have been based on scientific research such as psychometric tools and some have been much more “fun-based”, such as drumming workshops. Regardless of the interventions you select, your business must completely understand the reason why these interventions were selected and the benefits they will bring. I’ve seen interventions fail because L&D hadn’t spent enough time engaging with the business and explaining why they were adopting various approaches and the benefits they would bring.
Stop right now!
Go back a few paragraphs to when I talked about the CIPD online poll. If for any reason you’re not totally clear about the strategy, strategic direction, goals or aims of your organisation then go and find out. Do not under any circumstances attempt to move forward until you thoroughly understand the following:
- the vision of the organisation,
- its goals or aims for this year and the next three to five years,
- operational challenges e.g. cost pressures, new plant and machinery, mergers, acquisitions, new markets etc.,
- pressure from competitors,
- value proposition of the organisation or its products, and
- high-level financial information such as income, expenditure, margins etc.
Clarity needs to occur at all levels within a business. In my experience, the further you travel away from senior management, both in terms of status and physical distance, the less clarity there tends to be. I’m sure that most of you reading this post will at some point have played the game “Chinese Whispers”, where the message is altered slightly from person to person until the final message bears little, if any, similarity to the starting message. A classic example of this is the old army message of “Send reinforcements, we’re going to advance” which, by the time it’s travelled to its intended recipients, has become “Send three and fourpence, we’re going to a dance”. Distance and changes in status are major causes of key messages becoming distorted and two of the reasons why large organisations invest so heavily in internal communication teams – because they need to ensure that the right messages are reinforced in the right way, always.
The first step in achieving alignment is all about achieving clarity. If L&D don’t know the direction of the business then they can’t begin to supply the most appropriate learning solutions – it’s as simple as that!
Call to action
Take some time to review your organisation’s strategy – I mean really take some time to understand it. Assess your current activities against the needs of the business. Are they aligned and do they help deliver the strategy – and if not, why not?