all insights

What learning pros need from business leaders

For learning programs to be successful, learning and business professionals need to work together. Here’s how they can partner to create impactful learning experiences.

By Braxton Bernard and Emilie Schiller

Say you’re a business leader and you want to see a behavior change in your workforce—maybe to start using a new system or adopting a new process. So you hire a learning professional to build a curriculum full of innovative learning experiences. You don’t need to be involved. They’re professionals, and you’re paying them to do a job, right? Think again. For learning to be successful, there needs to be a strong partnership between business and learning professionals. Here’s how you can strengthen your partnership and deliver a true learning return on investment.

Setting expectations

The first step on the path to a successful learning implementation is to set clear expectations. Just like executing any other strategy, without clear expectations around all aspects of the learning initiative, issues are likely to arise. This means business and learning professionals should align not only on the anticipated outcomes of a learning experience but also the learning development process and scope. Once the parties align, the business is responsible for clearly communicating those expectations and building the organizational commitment needed to garner support and enable success for the learning program.

Developing this type of shared purpose between business and learning leaders doesn’t happen overnight. Both parties must commit to a relationship-building process that occurs and matures throughout the learning lifecycle.

For learning professionals, building this relationship often means:

  • Developing a genuine understanding of the business strategies and desired outcomes
  • Sharing expectations and needs throughout the project
  • Understanding who the critical stakeholders are and the level of input required of each of them to develop impactful learning opportunities
  • Determining the critical points to engage each stakeholder. Stakeholders should be brought together at the beginning and end of a project, in addition to critical deliverable reviews
  • Facilitating regular touchpoints that align with organizational and team culture to keep the business updated on progress and to solicit guidance

For business and functional experts, building this relationship often means:

  • Actively participating throughout the learning development process, considering the subject matter and technical complexity of the learning solution
  • Regularly evaluating the time commitment required, making team members available as needed, and relaying the expectation of availability to teams and their leaders
  • Recognizing when leaders’ and team members’ goals and needs are in conflict, evaluating the impact, and working with learning professionals to ensure that the needs of both groups are prioritized and addressed throughout the learning experience.

Contextualizing and customizing learning

Context is critical; it’s the business’ responsibility to share the underlying strategic need for a learning experience. Learning professionals rely on this information to create a learning strategy, and the strategy needs to align with the “why” from the business to be successful.  

A good starting point is a learning needs assessment, where the learning professional asks business leaders and effected stakeholders a series of questions. Answers to these questions help identify desired workforce skills and behaviors, and those intended outcomes can then flow into a learning plan that aligns with the business strategy. Learning activities can range from lean learning, to peer-to-peer group work, to instructor-led training.

The learning plan will be most successful when the business can answer the following questions:

  • What operational/business results do you expect from the learning strategy?
  • What behaviors do you expect from learners after they complete the training?
  • How has learning typically been delivered in the past? What worked?
  • How long do you expect for the learning experience and its materials to be applicable to the business?
  • Which stakeholders should be grouped together for learning activities? Which parts of the learning curriculum are most applicable to each group?

With these questions answered, the learning professional can then dig deeper by:

  • Reviewing existing materials that address the topic/training system. For example, are there user or process guides that the learning professional can leverage to develop learning content? Alternatively, could outdated training on the topic serve as a starting point? Using these existing materials can save the business time and money.
  • Understanding Learning Management System (LMS) capabilities. Assuming the sessions will be taught virtually, what video conferencing platform should the learning professionals use? Will the program require attendee registration and tracking of course completion? Knowing this information helps the learning professional build the most effective learning experiences.
  • Developing a robust learning curriculum and experience that enables the learner to grow skills and practice desired behaviors, including opportunities for hands-on application. For example, when training users on a new system, the learning professional may allocate time for hands-on practice using case studies and realistic business scenarios the user will often encounter.  
  • Identifying methods to measure the return on investment (ROI) of a learning experience. Outside of learning satisfaction surveys, learning professionals may facilitate more comprehensive knowledge tests, create employee scorecards for supervisor completion following a key learning event, or track productivity or quality metrics (e.g., average ticket resolution time, number of tickets escalated) if the business need is more technical in nature.

Learning is a team effort. Learning professionals bring the playbook and best practices; business and functional experts provide the context and organizational understanding. By working closely together—aligning expectations, communicating regularly, and contextualizing business needs—it’s a winning formula.

Slalom can help you with your learning strategy.