You Cut Costs: Now Build a Long Term Roadmap

This week we met with the head of L&D from a large financial services institution. This company, like many others, has just completed a wrenching reorganization and redesign of its global learning organization to save money. In this particular case the company is also integrating the L&D teams from several acquired companies.

(I know this will sound familiar to many of you.)Map to Buried Treasure

We discussed the organization structure, governance, use of shared services, technology strategy, business alignment, and measurement strategy. The new Federated model (actually built around our High Impact Learning Organization® research), is very well designed and has strong senior leaders in place.  In fact this particular organization, like many very large companies, has assigned multiple “CLOs” who work hand-in-hand with the business leaders in each major line of business.

As we discussed the rapid transition which had taken place and the tremendous cost savings the company had achieved, the learning executive mentioned that senior leadership wants to know “what’s next.”  In fact, I have heard this comment from many of our clients:  the L&D team undergoes a major transformation with the goal of reducing costs and building better alignment, but in the process did not build a long term roadmap.

Since many of our client organizations and readers are in this precise stage of evolution, let me give you some thoughts here, so you can make that while you deal with the near-term issues of consolidation and cost reduction you also start to build a long term roadmap as well.

1.  L&D transformations take years, and go on forever.  The first thing I want to reinforce is that L&D, like other areas of HR, must be continuously transformed.  There are two real reasons for this:  external and internal.  Externally, the L&D organization must continuously transform itself to deal with new technologies, demographic changes in the workforce, new learning modalities and approaches, new skill sets and disciplines, and new research in HR.  Internally, of course, every time the company embarks on a new strategy, you must quickly adapt.

High Impact Learning Organizations like the Defense Acquisition University, Caterpillar, and others are reinventing themselves continuously.  So one of your jobs as an L&D leader is to build and regularly update your 3-4 year roadmap.  And this roadmap, as I will show you, should include organization, governance, tools, technology, processes, measurement, and business planning areas.

2.  Your transformation will likely go through four stages:

A)  Building efficiencies: initially designing and implementing an organization which is efficient.   Most companies, during their growth periods, spawn training and development teams all over.  Small training development and delivery groups appear in sales geographies, manufacturing plants, customer services groups, and other functions.  Leadership development, management development, and technical development teams work independently.  Many vendors are hired and many technologies are purchased.  And the whole function becomes complex, costly, and somewhat un-aligned.  So in most L&D transformations the first goal is to “save money,” build a highly efficient model, and put in place processes which maintain and continuously improve efficiency. (Remember, L&D is a cost center, regardless of what great work you do.)

B)  Developing an Enterprise Learning Strategy: The second phase of the roadmap is building a true enterprise learning strategy.  This rather grandiose phrase means standardizing the governance model, making sure business leaders have fully visiblity into plans and budgets, putting strong business alignment in place, defining the true learning priorities in the company, and implementing what we call a “learning architecture.”

The “learning architecture,” which we discuss in detail in The High Impact Learning Organization and upcoming High Impact Learning Practices® research, is your organization’s constrained set of design criteria, tools, and program elements to deliver learning solutions.  Will you build training that uses Second Life?  How will you implement informal learning?  What forms of collaboration will you adopt?  How will you run and operationalize instructor-led training and when will you use it?  What techniques will we use for performance consulting?  How will we measure our programs.  There are many aspects to this topic – and the key is to try to standardize your tools, approaches, and then underlying disciplines.

This whole area takes time, and we often work with companies on an advisory basis to help you make these important decisions, benchmark your approaches against other organizations, and implement the solutions.

C)  Focus and Integrate Learning into Business Strategies: The third phase of a long term roadmap involves the integration of L&D into broader business strategies.  How will you embed learning into specific business strategies in each business unit?  How will you build deep skills and specialization?  How will you integrate L&D programs with talent management strategies?  How will you support or build career development models?  What are the “critical talent pools” in the organization and where can you put more money to generate the greatest return?

In this phase you may find the organization refocusing resources on a few major projects:  revamping the first line leadership model (one of the 7 Keys to Transformative Change in my IMPACT keynote);  building a deep skills assessment and specialization program (another of the 7 Keys); or perhaps implementing a very strategic measurement program which measures learning adoption, utility, effectiveness, and culture.

D)  Building Executive Support and a Culture of Continuous Improvement: Finally, the fourth and most interesting phase in the evolution is something you must do all along – but often does not happen for a few years:  you elevate the L&D function to a senior role in the organization, and you make sure you are considered and involved in all major business decisions in the company.  This stage is highly dependent on your own leadership and ability to affect change in your own team.

Our research here shows that companies who reach this stage have very strong learning leaders and can “endure” rapid and massive changes in the company in-tact.   Textron, for example, has such a strong investment in corporate learning that the COO sits on the advisory board of the corporate university.   The Textron L&D function is highly integrated with HR, yet also leads the business-unit L&D strategies throughout the company.

The Specific Roadmap Issues you Should Address

But within this broad context, what really belongs in the long term roadmap?  Let me list a few of the things we discussed with this particular company:

  • Implementing a standard measurement strategy – one which not only delivers actionable information to the L&D team but also gives senior leaders a “dashboard” they can use to evaluate and advise you over time.
  • Implementing a sound technology strategy – are you in the middle of an LMS implementation or upgrade?  How will the system integrate with talent management?  Will you have an informal or social learning platform?
  • Implementing an informal learning strategy – how will you build on-demand, social, and embedded learning into your programs?  What coaching models will you use?  How will you transform and update instructional design to meet today’s organizational learning needs?  And how will you standardize these approaches?
  • Developing a deep skills strategy and underlying competency models – as we discuss in much of our new research, today’s enduring organizations focus on depth.  How and where will you build deep competency based learning programs, how will you build them, and how much of this will be shared across the organziation?
  • Developing a career development strategy – High Impact Learning Organizations are more than three times likely to have some form of career models in the organization. Do you need to revamp, improve, or implement career develpment models in various organizations? How will this integrate with talent management and development planning strategies?
  • Developing a global learning strategy – How will you standardize your globalization processes?What tools, approaches, and strategies can you build and standardize to support the global needs of the organization?
  • Developing a We-learning strategy – how will you implement knowledge sharing in the organization? What forms of social learning and collaborative approaches and tools will you need?

I could go on and on.  As you can see from this article, there are many exciting things to work on, and our research will help you understand these areas.

Ultimately, building a long term roadmap must be your “next step.”  It will build internal alignment, engagement in your team, and executive support.   And as I mentioned in the very beginning of this article, once you go through this process, you can interate and revise it on a regular basis.

The economy has been a challenge for nearly all L&D and HR organizations today.  Remember that as you work to save money and reduce inefficiencies, you must also look ahead and build for the future.  I hope these thoughts help you through this important part of building an enduring High Impact Learning Organization.

Josh Bersin