David Caulfield

Learning+dev Mastery: 1. Understand the Business Objectives

This is a post from a larger series entitled A Path to Learning+dev Mastery.

As mentioned before, the path to mastery looks something like:

  • Understand the business objectives and strategy - we will explore this here.
  • Develop a learning+dev strategy that supports the business strategy.
  • Consult and receive feedback from stakeholders.
  • Define the programs to meet the strategy including success criteria.
  • Execute the programs and track success.
  • Retrospect on progress and change based on feedback.

Understand the business objectives + strategy

North Start

The world of business is breakneck. 6 months is a lifetime in business, sometimes quite literally. Companies have collapsed in the short timespan of a few months because they were unable to adapt to changes. Some famous examples are Blockbuster, Kodak, Toys R Us. But to adapt and change the business direction quickly, we first need to know which direction we are currently facing. Without a clearly articulated business vision accompanied by objectives, nobody knows where they're going. They don't see the north star. And if they don't see the north star, they can't juggle their tasks and prioritise work to move towards it.

Let's say a SaaS business CEO wants to expand to a new region - Eastern Europe for example. He has thought about this in his own head and sees lots of potential to grow. But he has failed to communicate this idea to his heads of departments. So now, instead of paying closer attention to Eastern European trends and clients, the SaaS employees simply focus on whatever problem is in front of them. Nobody talks to the Eastern European clients, nobody keeps an eye out for new opportunities. So the business doesn't grow. The CEO has become his own worst enemy because he has failed to communicate his idea to his business.

Why does learning+dev need to understand the business strategy?

Aligning Learning+dev

Now imagine you're the Learning + Development manager. Without understanding the need to expand in Eastern Europe, how can any of your initiatives meet the needs of that expansion? Maybe the Eastern European market requires specific new skills. Maybe the market is focused on a particular niche for us to learn about. Maybe you need to include Eastern European languages in your learning+dev initiatives!

If we don't know the business objectives and the strategy created to meet the objectives, there is never going to be a moment where we are maximising our value to the company. Our initiatives could even contradict the direction of the business. By understanding the business objectives and its strategy, learning+development can support and attach itself to that strategy. By attaching ourselves to tangible business outcomes, we can track progress, metrics and successes that matter to the people around us. The value of this is incomparable to traditional learning+dev which focused on class attendance and training programs.

I don't know the strategy!

Figuring out the strategy You might ask yourself, "Where can I find the business strategy?". It's not publicly available on the website - external people don't need to see the internal strategy. If you are not already participating in monthly or quarterly strateegy meetings, it will be difficult to get the insights you need. Or maybe your company doesn't have any strategy meetings (this often happens in smaller company). If you don't have the information and you don't know where to find the information, how can you learn how to support with learning+dev?

The first thing is to find out if there is a regular strategy meeting and get added to it. Being at the table when the strategy is being discussed is the most valuable place for learning+dev. If you are not invited or there is no meeting, the next step is to talk to the people who engage with the strategy. These could be C-suites, directors or other managers. Second-hand information is not 100% reliable (because people absorb only the things they need to absorb), but it is a lot better than no information at all. At least the people you are talking to hopefully have actions and responsibilities to update at their next strategy call. Ask to see and discuss their actions and figure out how you can help with specific actions.

Over time, by talking to multiple people across multiple conversations, you build up a picture of what the short-term and long-term goals look like. As you build the picture, you can progress from helping with individual tasks to proposing grander solutions.

Nobody else knows the strategy either!

The Strategy Gap Worst case scenario, there is no clearly communicated strategy. Actually, that's not worst case. Worst case is if there is absolutely no strategy at all. But this is rarely the case - your company was not built by accident. The strategy might simply be in your leaders' heads.

There are many problems that stem from not having a clearly communicated strategy, but the bright side is there is plenty of room for suggestions! So break out powerpoint start building grand initiatives. Use the strategy gap as an opportunity to excel and promote your own ideas - don't complain there is no strategy! (Unless of course the company is going under...then it might be time to look elsewhere.) Figure out what the leaders of the company want and translate it into proposals that can be rolled out across the company.

For example, let's say you have spoken to the leaders and a few people mention the need for more expertise in AWS migration. Scratching beneath the surface, you ask "Why is this expertise important to you?". You find out that many managers across the company are leading AWS migration projects and all have similar problems.


Now you can propose initiatives such as a cross-project community of practice, curate resources, hire consulants and so forth. And now, you have created a small strategy - do this enough times and people start to notice.

So don't resent the fact there is no strategy. The biggest opportunities lie in the gaps.

Strategy - Figure it out or build it

In conclusion, figure out the business strategy by getting to the table where it's discussed, talking to the people who are at the table, or building your own. As long as learning+dev's part involves solving people's biggest problems, you will provide a huge amount of value.

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