Alignment and Business Relevance

» Posted by Jeanne Meister  » Posted on 12.03.07

Published September 2003

In a world of limited resources and tight budgets, learning must be viewed as mission-critical to the successful achievement of business goals. This is an especially difficult task, and the strategies used by CLOs vary considerably. The goal is to ensure that whatever is next for the CLO is also the next agenda item for the CEO. This ensures alignment within the organization.

When Gillian Scholes, director of human resources at Ingersoll-Rand and head of Ingersoll-Rand University, took over the learning function, she challenged Herb Henkel, Ingersoll-Rand’s CEO, to identify his top 10 burning issues. These were then analyzed by Scholes and the Ingersoll-Rand University team to identify how learning could help solve these issues. Several were directly related to learning, such as increasing the bench strength of middle managers, and these were addressed in the curriculum of Ingersoll-Rand University.

The story of T J. Elliott, the first chief learning officer hired at Educational Testing Service, a Princeton, N.J.-based firm that designs such tests as the SAT and GRE, is a lesson in applying razor focus to the learning department. When Elliott arrived, many business managers had ideas of how and where he should spend his resources. But his focus was to consider only those that could immediately add to the bottom line. Because ETS has to go through a request-for-proposal process for new business, Elliott decided one of his first projects was to streamline the proposal-generation process. This was especially important because ETS is the receipt of more than 30 RFPs a week. Improving this process provided an immediate benefit. While this was not a learning program, it is a best practice and established instant credibility for Elliott.

Launching a strategy board is often a first initiative to develop alignment between learning and business unit managers. This board is your vehicle to obtain ongoing business input for learning programs and policies. It usually is comprised of the CEO and top leaders managing each of the business units, plus the head of human resources. The challenge here is to launch this board as a forum for involvement.

Some of the boards I have seen in action focus on a specific challenge and work as a group to propose a solution. For example one board member identified the business unit’s trigger point as the need to extend leadership development programs to the plant-manager level since these jobs face increasing complexities and require a new set of skills and competencies. This was taken up as an action item, and a team from the learning department was put into place to propose a solution.

In other words, members of the strategy board are most valuable when they are focused on a specific issue and brainstorm with the learning department to solve the issue. For CLOs, this means they must focus resources on learning programs that meet business needs but may go outside their comfort zone. Speed and flexibility become essential in ensuring relevance and alignment.

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