In my previous two posts, I have discussed the importance of a Vision. The Vision helps a company or team gain a shared view and understanding of what they want to achieve and how they want to be viewed.
If you are looking to create a Learning and Development (or Training) Strategy, you may have created your own Departmental Vision if your unit is large enough, or it may be that you have a company Vision which you use. This is a helpful starting point for your Strategy.
Here in England, just north of where I live and about 100 miles from Scotland, there is a road junction called “Scotch Corner”. Most people hardly notice it now, but in years gone by it was a hugely significant junction. Before getting to this point, the traveller needed to have planned their journey and decided whether they would be going up the east coast or west coast of Scotland. The decision had to be made a long time before reaching Scotland. Once they had decided which way to turn at Scotch Corner, it was expensive, time consuming and complicated to change course. The same is true of a strategy.
So before you go any further, why are you creating a strategy? The dictionary definition of a strategy is, “a long-term plan for success; a plan to achieve an advantage”. Nowhere does it suggest its definition is, “a paper exercise; the ticking of a box”. Sadly though, too many strategies are created for this second purpose – and such an approach can also become a millstone, or worse – a stick with which others can metaphorically beat you.
For a strategy to give you this long term plan and a competitive or organisational advantage, you need to put time, thought and energy into its formulation. It should enable you to clearly express where your function is heading and most importantly how it will support organisational performance, improvement and success. Once you have achieved this, you should be able to gain support and acceptance for your approach from your organisation’s senior management. This ‘sign off’ gives you further clarity, and can be very useful if you need to ‘challenge’ other parts of the organisation if for any reason they do not support your activities or seek to alter your direction.
So far I have referred to the document as a ‘Learning and Development’ or ‘Training’ Strategy, however, I would suggest that you really think hard about what you call it. Its title will set the tone for what you do and how you are seen. I have previously set down my thoughts on what can happen when a person is called a Trainer (“Sell your crunch, not your apples“), and how this can be unhelpful. As an aside, since writing that post, I have been on a course where the attendees were people who coach, train and develop others. The job title of one delegate was “Performance Improvement Consultant” Music to my ears! Having said that, the person worked at a group of hospitals in Orlando, Florida and so my concerns as to whether the title would be understood in the UK still exist.
Put yourself in the shoes of your senior operations manager – or similar – for a moment. Do they want a function that provides ‘Training’, ‘Learning’, ‘Development’, ‘Performance Improvement’, or something else? I see this as a continuum to which you could potentially add other words or phrases.
I’m pretty sure that the majority of senior operations managers would put themselves towards the right hand end of this continuum – they want performance improvement. That’s how they are measured, that’s how they demonstrate success, that’s what keeps the business competitive or the organisation successful.
Why then do so many people have ‘Training’ Strategies? Possibly because that’s the way they have always been done, or possible because of where the function sits within the organisation. Often this function is part of HR. Within the HR profession, ‘Training’ is still an all too popular generic title. If this function was moved to be part of the Performance Management arm of the business, would its primary purpose still be seen as Training? I think not.
Consequently, this Strategy is far more than a piece of paper. It will say what you are about, and how you are positioned within the organisation. It should make you think long and hard about what impact you intend to make. So before you even start to write it, think about these crucial questions.
Will you be having a ‘Training Strategy’ or a ‘Performance Improvement Strategy’? This is your ‘Scotch Corner’ moment.