Who is involved in strategy formulation?

Generally, the forerunner to any strategy' formulation process is consideration of both historical and current data on where an organization operates presently, and where it wishes to go. Responsibility for these decisions will lie with members of the senior team who will come from different functional specialisms, as well as board members who will bring a range of experience to the planning table. In some cases, a specialist strategic planning unit may be established to work towards the provision of clearly defined plans which fit with the overarching objectives of the operation. In many government agencies or departments such a unit will be tasked with not only scanning the environment but also considering the implications of implementing particular government policies. In many parts of the world eg in the Middle East, where individual countries work towards established long-range strategic plans linked to country economic development, this work is undertaken by specialized strategic planning units.

Whilst the board of directors and senior management team may appear to be the key players in strategy formulation, other stakeholders, including employee stakeholders, may have some role to play as well. Goedhart and Koller (2020) consider that the creation of long-term stakeholder value requires satisfying a range of people including customers, suppliers, shareholders, and employees. They cite the example of continental Europe where broad stakeholder involvement is embedded in corporate governance structures. Arguably stakeholders might extend into the community where CSR agendas are followed, to ensure there is a strong focus on the environment in which the organization operates. Yet the interests of all stakeholders will not necessarily be complementary and some trade-offs will be necessary (Goedhart and Koller, 2020).

In terms of a learning and development strategy, responsibility for the preparation of this will fall to a variety of personnel including L & D specialists, HR professionals, and line managers who also have an important input to make. Indeed, they should know where performance needs to be improved and which job roles may be changing in response to varying business requirements. Given the strong focus currently on digital learning, IT specialists will also need to be involved to advise on elements of strategy' delivery and whether the organization has the technology to support this via learning platforms. This in turn may result in resourcing issues considered in a different way.

Developing a learning and development strategy

In addition to information such as profit and loss and other financial measures, organizations may also monitor their performance in a number of other ways, including people management and development. In terms of where the impact of such employee-related activities could be measured, these might include such things as:

  • • Employee performance - measured by productivity targets, quality targets, waste levels, customer satisfaction surveys
  • • Employee behaviours - measured by absence, sickness, and turnover
  • • Employee morale and attitudes - measured by employee surveys, number of improvement suggestions made, level of participation in voluntary activities, and so on.
  • • Employee skills acquisition - measured by levels of satisfaction with learning activities, amount of learning activity completed, level of qualifications held, and so on.

The last area is of particular importance when we consider how best to plan ahead for levels of investment in learning and development to support business strategy. What will be important is to see how business goals and objectives can be supported where appropriate with learning and development activities to ensure that such goals are achieved. A good practice organization would therefore identify learning and development priorities linked to business goals and devise a strategy around their achievement.

The CIPD (2020a) suggests that any learning and development strategy should align not only with business objectives but also with the culture of an organization. In doing so current operational requirements and constraints will need to be considered. Where an organization is striving to become such a ‘learning organization,’ where an emphasis is placed clearly on encouraging all staff to be involved in and responsible for their own development, it will need to provide adequate resources for this and emphasize and reward a culture of learning. Whilst staff are more likely to engage with learning which addresses their immediate performance needs, such development can also be linked to an individual’s aspiration to advance his/her career. Most employers would agree that an investment in learning and development helps to retain staff and engage them in not only their current but also in future role(s). However, where an older workforce exists this situation may present particular challenges of assessing levels of motivation and responding accordingly. Where a strong culture of learning exists then it will help to support individual and team learning, as well as the management of knowledge across the operation.

The management of both tacit and explicit knowledge can take many forms within an organization. Dalkir (2017) considers that the management of knowledge can be used (and reused) to improve organizational efficiencies and increase the capacity to innovate. He identifies two key benefits of knowledge management: sharing knowledge with fellow employees; and sharing it with future (and as yet unknown) staff. Organizational knowledge will therefore complement individual knowledge and will need to be collected and managed appropriately through various methods such as data bases, regular information sharing sessions, staff sharing their learning after attending development programmes, and so on. Where a specific people management and development quality standard is applied, learning from reflections on previous experiences and practices can lead to changes in such practices. Arguably there is a need to capture and manage any such learning, both holistically and amongst individual employees. By seeking methods of effective evaluation of such learning we can see an opportunity for both quality experts and HR practitioners to collaborate.

Given recent changes in global economic conditions, increasingly organizations are looking for the most cost-effective way of ensuring their talent pipeline, even at a time of economic downturn. Although learning may be perceived by some as a cost to the business, such an investment can deliver benefits in terms of productivity and opening up new market opportunities. However, costs need to be monitored to ensure that all learning and development activities, whether internal or external, are delivered efficiently and effectively. Where the management of key talent is being promoted as part of the L & D strategy, a necessary part of such a strategy' will be the identification of those individuals considered to be high-performing or high-potential, who will then be advanced by different means to ensure a pool of talent is available, using such methods as mentoring by senior leaders, external coaching, in-house development programmes, MBA programmes, and so on. When preparing their L & D strategy, organizations may decide to adopt a whole workforce development approach or take a more selective approach that only focuses on this high talent group. By taking a blended approach some opportunities may be made widely available whilst others are provided for a particular core group. How some of these approaches might be considered and applied are explored further in Chapters 8 and 9.

Another issue to consider is if and how learning and development could and should be linked to the organization’s wider role in the community in terms of its corporate and social responsibilities. Many companies now pay real attention to this aspect of their strategy, and learning initiatives may complement the work being done. For example, companies pursuing a ‘green’ agenda and seeking relevant external awards for good practices in this area may ensure that staff have access to relevant programmes of learning to enhance their knowledge and level of commitment to things like energy' savings.

Where value is perceived from an investment in organizational and individual learning by those responsible for determining an appropriate learning and development strategy, it will be easier to make decisions about which courses of action to pursue for staffs’ development. A key starting point will be the ethos and culture which the top team wishes to promote in the organization. If diversity and inclusion are seen as key drivers, then any strategy developed will need to capture those elements to ensure that everyone is afforded an opportunity for growth and career progression, no matter their age. Where an employer wishes to be supportive of ensuring older staff are recruited and retained, then the development needs of those age categories will need to be taken into account effectively. If there is a ‘social’ agenda to follow, often demonstrated through CSR activities, then L & D opportunities will need to accommodate this. For example, recent changes to apprenticeships and their funding have resulted in many employers reconsidering their approach to offering this type of opportunity.

Historically apprenticeships have been offered in a number of different ways yet the quality and accessibility of some schemes in the UK have raised concerns, when compared with some of the schemes in Europe. In particular the educational standard at which they have been offered has been criticized as much lower than the best systems on the continent, which are offered at advanced or higher levels, leading to the equivalent of a university degree. Recent government reforms to apprenticeships however towards a more employer-led system have resulted in concerns being expressed about not only funding arrangements (the apprenticeship levy system) but also the high number of new apprenticeship standards in place compared with much of Europe. So if this were to be an area of focus within a learning and development strategy, then pragmatic choices will have to be made about what types of opportunity are to be offered. Quality of provision as much as quantity will be a key driver here, as will cost. At the other end of the age spectrum, older employees may be coming back into employment without all the necessary skill levels required for changing job roles, so their needs will also require to be taken into account by ensuring appropriate development methods are used.

One useful way to help determine a suitable L & D strategy is to adopt the framework of a people management-related quality standard such as IIP or PD76006:2017.This BSI Guide is based on five key principles:

  • • Individual level learning and development
  • • Common learning methods
  • • Organizational level learning and development
  • • Learning roles and responsibilities
  • • Assessing and evaluating learning and development

When an organization decides to apply this guide and such principles, a number of organizational benefits will arise such as:

  • • The successful attraction, retention, and development of talent, making it more adaptable and sustainable
  • • Improvements in decision making by employing more capable personnel
  • • Assisting individuals to fulfil their capabilities, leading to greater job satisfaction and levels of engagement
  • • Enhancement of the planning, delivery, and evaluation of learning and development linked to the overall business focus of the operation

A further benefit will be that dealing with changes to the L & D strategy and its delivery will be easier.

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