Developing a Learning Strategy

Developing a “Creating Value” Learning Strategy

A Learning Light consultancy approach….showing you how to succeed with e-learning 


1.  Value from Learning

Learning can provide value to the business in three different ways. This is illustrated in the following model, called the value triangle:



1.1 Delivery of Learning

At the bottom of the triangle, the Learning & Development function provides value for money when it increases the efficiency of learning activities or helps meet

compliance requirements. This may not improve customer satisfaction or help deliver business results, but it is still useful value to have. An example would be providing money laundering training in financial services firms or diversity training in US based businesses as a defence against legal claims.

Another example would be deciding whether to conduct development within business units or to centralise this, for example in a corporate university or corporate learning centre, or to outsource it.

Other important questions relate to:

•     The role of technology: for example whether to invest in a LMS and the roles of e- learning

•     A culture and environment that will support formal and particularly informal learning

•             Governance, which provides rules for allocating investments in learning.

1.2 Learning and Business Strategy

The next level is adding value. This level is about helping the business to implement its strategies by translating business objectives into people development activities. A relevant example would be deciding on how the organisation sees potential: whether the business strategy dictates that this should be seen as something which relates to leadership positions or is more general in nature. As a result of this decision, an added value action might be to introduce a new high potential programme to ensure the organisation develops enough people with a certain skill set it will need.

Business led training and development should be identified from the top of the organisation down but also from the bottom up. This requires identifying the development needs of teams and individuals and then collating these across the organisation to review whether any of these needs apply more broadly across the organisation.

1.3 Learning and Human Capital

The top level in the triangle is creating value. Here, Learning and Development generates value for the business through its own activity, rather than by how its activities support the business as a whole. So, whereas adding value provides an organisation with the ability to implement its business objectives, creating value develops new capability that enables the organisation to set different or more stretching business goals.

An example might be introducing a coaching programme to help leaders take responsibility for their own learning; to learn how to learn; and how to sponsor learning initiatives within their own departments; with the aim of transforming and accelerating the amount of learning that takes place across the organisation.

As shows on the value triangle, creating value has three important characteristics:

  • •     Driving and accelerating business strategy
  • •     Creating capability for the future
  • •     Maximising the potential of people.


Each of these is described in more detail below:

1.3.1 Driving and Accelerating Business Strategy

If organisational capability drives business strategy, this means that people development strategy does not always have to be about supporting the business strategy. Sometimes, and at least on some occasions, the business strategy should be informed by the people development strategy, rather than just the other way around.

This requirement is shown strongly in IBM and ASTD’s research (O’Driscoll,

2005) on the perceptions of C-level decision makers (CEO, CFO, COO and CLO – Chief Learning Officer) on the strategic value of learning  Example comments within this research included: ‘Learning’s role is to build the platform to enable us to change the business’ and ‘The learning function’s role is to help our company learn, adopt, adapt and grow’. These comments show these business leaders’ understanding of the necessity for two-way integration between business strategy and people development strategy.

1.3.2 Creating Capability for the Future

Creating value learning strategy focuses on the future, not the current state. The consequence of this focus on the future is that we are able to loose the blinkers, the constraints of the current state, and start to develop more innovative approaches to people management. And because we are also focused on developing the capability that is right for a particular organisation at a particular point in time, we can also start to move beyond generic best practices that apply across most similar organisations, to develop unique, best fit approaches, that would probably not look right elsewhere, but which provide a great way to develop the particular organisational capability required by one particular organisation.

London Business School professor, Lynda Gratton, calls these innovative, best fit approaches, signature processes, or more appropriately, signature experiences (2007), and emphasises the additional benefits they have in helping people figure out what the organisation is about, and providing them with meaning in their work.

Gratton gives an example of three different types of orientation programme


  •  A probationary period working with an assigned team, in which the team will vote as to whether the new joiner stays in the organisation
  • An opportunity to work on a series of fast-paced, creative projects, under close scrutiny of senior management, after which the new joiner can find a project that matches his or her skills
  • A period of intensive training to learn the organisation’s ways of working, followed by an apprenticeship with one of the firm’s strongest performers.

These three different programmes will appeal to different people depending upon their own values and preferences. They also signal something about what the organisation considers to be important which helps ensure that it employs people who are aligned with these issues.

1.3.3 Maximising the Potential of People

If we are serious about the potential of our people, we need to start treating them as individuals, not as some sort of generic human resource. Organisations need to focus carefully on their people’s skills, capabilities, experiences and learning styles and what this means in terms of how people learn best and what they can provide for the organisation. For example, Gratton (2007) lists six different ways in which work can meet peoples’ needs:


  • •     Expressive Legacy
  • •     Secure Progress
  • •     Individual expertise and team success
  • •     Risk and reward
  • •     Flexible support
  • •     Low obligation and easy income.

People who seek low obligation and easy income are going to see learning in a very different way to those whose priorities include developing individual expertise. So we need to focus activity on, and to personalise activity to, individual employees.

2.  Developing Learning Strategy

The greatest value comes from the top of the value triangle. So, while the learning strategy needs to deal with compliance requirements and the development of the competencies required to support the business strategy, its main emphasis should be the acquisition and development of skills and abilities which support the development of an organisation’s human capital.

This learning strategy needs to be part of an organisation’s human capital strategy as both of these are focused on the same future state output that the organisation wants to create: human capital or organisational capability. This output is typically described within a people vision, which sits alongside the business strategy.

The following diagramme illustrates the main stages involved in developing an HCM trategy and learning strategy from this people vision:

value 2


Within this process, diagnosis focuses on the potential capability of the people working in the organisation and the gap between this and their current capability. The learning strategy then defines the learning that will build the required capability and measures can be defined for the level of capability as well as the learning activities designed to develop it.

However, it is important to note that the development of a creating value learning strategy requires the use of creative thinking as much as it requires the use of measures and analysis. Creative thinking can supply ideas and insights that linear, logical thinking cannot provide and it opens up new opportunities that lie outside existing mindsets. After all, when people think like they have always thought, they tend to get what they have always got.

3  Measurement in Learning Strategy

Measures should be selected to support the implementation of the learning strategy. These measures should refer to the nature and level of human capital within the organisation, but also to the other elements of what I call the HCM value chain: the initial inputs and investments the organisation is making in HCM; the processes or activities which the organisation is implementing to develop its human capital; and the impacts of this development on an organisation’s business processes, its customers and financial results.

A relevant example that is included in my book (Ingham, 2006) is the BBC’s evaluation of its five year, £5,000 per head leadership development programme which is a compulsory requirement for the BBC’s 7000 managers. The programme aims to develop an intangible capability: creative leadership, which will support the BBC’s ongoing effectiveness during a period of dramatic change.

The programme blends a rich mix of development activities including 360 degree feedback, group sessions, real-life assignments, coaching, action learning and e- learning, including an online leadership wiki.

The BBC evaluates the programme at each level in the HCM value chain:

Input: What is the programme delivering, when is being delivered, who is it being delivered to, how much is it costing?

•        Activity: What is the reaction to the programme? Is it relevant to people’s roles? Can people use it in their jobs?

Output (human capital): Have skills and knowledge improved? Has there been observable behaviour change / performance improvement? What is the business climate for supporting transfer?

Business impact: What is the change to business performance? What is the change to organisation culture?

4.  Monitoring and Evaluation

The final stage of the HCM strategy implementation is reporting. This activity reviews progress against measures set within the HCM strategy and helps the organisation make any required adjustments to its HCM strategy or the implementation of this strategy. It also informs the strategy development process next time around.

5.  Conclusion

Creating value learning strategy deals with bigger and more strategic questions than a value for money, or even an adding value, oriented strategy. Creating value requires innovative, unique, best fit approaches that go beyond current best practices to ensure human capital is developed is a way that is right for a particular organisation at a particular point in time.


Gratton, L. and Erickson, T. J. (2007). What It Means to Work Here. Harvard

Business Review. March.

Ingham, J. (2006). Strategic Human Capital Management: Creating Value through

People. Butterworth Heinemann.

O’Driscoll, T., Sugrue, B. and Vona, M.K. (2005). The c-level and the value of learning. T+D. Vol. 59, No.10, pp70-77.7

About the Author

Jon Ingham leads the Strategic Dynamics consultancy ( and is a Research Associate of Learning Light. He is the author ofStrategic Human Capital Management: Creating Value through People, Butterworth Heinemann, 2006. Price £24.99.