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How to Align Your Learning Strategy to Business Goals

— by Bill Cushard

Business goalsSocial learningTraining

Your role as a learning leader exists to drive an organization to achieve or exceed its business goals. Nothing else matters — anything else is a waste of time and resources. If you then want to develop and implement a social learning strategy, you have to understand the strategy and goals of the business. If you don't — and you don't know for certain that your social learning strategy will help the organization hit those goals — drop the social learning strategy and find another solution.

Learning professionals struggle with this. It sounds complex, but it is really quite simple. Decision makers struggle with aligning social learning strategies to business goals precisely because it is difficult to believe it can be so simple. For example, if the goal of the organization is to grow earnings by 15% per year and the business strategy is to become the low cost provider, increase client retention to 95%, and increase customer satisfaction to 78%, then the social learning strategy you create should be laser-focused on delivering learning experiences that enable customer satisfaction and innovation. Anything else is a waste of time and will threaten your credibility as a leader in the organization.

Let's look at a specific example to demonstrate the point. The long term goal of Cisco, the IT networking giant, is to grow earnings by 12% – 17% per year — no small feat for a company worth well over $100 billion. The strategy for achieving this goal is called One Cisco and means that Cisco is reorganizing its business to break down silos among business units so that when a customer deals with Cisco, they deal with one Cisco person or team, no matter what product they purchase. In other words, in today's Cisco, if a customer wants to buy a router, it deals with an entirely different group of Cisco employees than if it wants to buy video conferencing services. This can lead to confusing and frustrating experiences for customers who want to buy multiple products from Cisco. So the strategy is to create One Cisco in the eyes of its customers.

Obviously, we are not inside Cisco and do not know the specifics of the business strategy, but knowing what we know from this brief description, what would your social learning strategy be if you were defining it? Would you reorganize the learning organization into a single unit like the rest of Cisco? How would you design learning experiences so that you would help people break down silos and work together in teams? What goals would you set for your learning department that would support Cisco's earnings growth goals? Think about these questions and add your comments below about what type of social learning strategy you would develop at Cisco.

Your social learning strategy can only be determined with a thorough understanding of the business goals and strategy because your role as a learning leader exists only to drive the organization towards achieving its goals.

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