Monday, 8 June 2015

Company strategy as the driver of learning and development

Amid much talk about the increased emphasis on training in the new South African Broad- Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) scorecard, there is a danger of overlooking the fact that Learning & Development (L&D) is key to successful corporate strategy implementation.

This article explores ways of restoring the strategic focus of L&D.

Corporate survival strategies

For many of us, the characteristic approach to training is that it is “a good thing” and to be supported as long as it doesn’t cost too much or divert focus and energy from the business imperatives at hand. In this climate of survivalism it is also one of the first things to be sacrificed on the altar of cost savings.

At the same time as the current environment is not very optimistic, it is also one characterised by rapid change. In the 2015 Barloworld supplychainforesight survey, 89% of participants identified “Identifying and managing change” as a strategic business objectives over the next 5-10 years. What is very interesting is that nobody identified the development of the human capital required to take advantage of the opportunities and minimise the threats posed by these changes as one of their strategic priorities. Elsewhere in the report however, 75% of respondents identified a lack of relevant skills/talent as a key strategic business constraints over the same period.

So this is where we sit: whilst being fully aware that the way in which we manage change will be key to the well-being of our businesses into the future, we have recognised that we do not have the talent to achieve this, whilst at the same time training is seen as an expense which needs to be minimised. There seems to be a disconnect somewhere.

That disconnect is heightened when we take into account the amount of SETA money available for training.

Culture of learning- attainable vision or cloud cuckoo land?

A speaker at the recent SAPICS Conference put forward the opinion that the administrative burden imposed on companies in complying with SETA and B-BBEE scorecard requirements related to training had reduced this function to an operational one which has little or no relation to the overall company strategy. In other words, corporates are training to comply rather than to meet strategic needs.

If this is the case it is clear that urgent change is needed.

A corporate culture of learning will only succeed with the direct involvement and ownership of top management. This is more a matter of winning hearts and minds than presenting a logical case. Once the executive team have experienced a portion of the program by being asked to introduce it, to contribute some of its content or to preside in leaner presentations and graduations, they will be more likely to play a key role in this function.

Creating a culture of line manager involvement in training is key, and, as in the case of top management, there is no substitute for getting them directly involved in taster events, program launches, as stakeholders in simulations or dialogue partners.

Companies who link executive compensation to their support for and personal involvement in talent development are also more likely to succeed in creating this culture.


In a tough economic climate with unrelenting pressure on training budgets, learning and development professionals are constantly challenged to demonstrate the value, ROI and business impact of training initiatives. The way to increase the value and return of training is to design it in a way that is clearly aligned with corporate strategy – i.e. to increase the relevance of training to the business need.

Are you experiencing a shortage of relevant skills in your organisation? How are you strategising to meet the training targets of the new B-BBEE scorecard?  Can you reposition your organisation through training?