How do you start?

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I saw a post by Donald H Taylor on LinkedIn the other day where he invited comments on how a new learning leader might approach their role:

You’re new in post as a head of L&D. Your boss gives you one week to submit a strategy and a detailed annual budget. What should you do?

Donald H Taylor

There are a few things that the person might so, and lots more they shouldn’t.

The primary activity is to identify the business issues and develop the principles which will underpin the approach to learning. It’s pretty impossible to design a strategic plan in this timescale; you can however, work on understanding the underlying qualities which will form part of your design processes.

For example, if you can get a sense of the learning culture which currently exists (and one will exist) you can to use principles to support this culture – if positive – or against this culture – if negative. If you felt social learning would be beneficial, will the existing culture support or challenge you?

What are your principles of design? What of evaluation? What of reporting, compliance, and engagement?

At a strategic level, this is what you should be able to discuss with a boss, functional leads, influential people and bodies in the business, unions, work councils, HR teams and everyone who will engage with your work. After you’ve had these discussions, you’re now able to start talking about a strategic plan. Until you’ve consulted, you’re imposing a plan. To work on a plan, you need to have clear understanding of the 3 B’s:

  • Build – what is missing? What infrastructure do you need? What needs to be improved? What exists already which can be improved?
  • Borrow – what is good practice elsewhere? Who is doing good things within and without which can be adopted? Who has influence with decision-makers who you can engage with for good ideas?
  • Buy – what requires investment? How much investment? How long will this investment be expected to last?

As you can see, producing a detailed annual budget would be incredibly difficult in this scenario.

I’d be negotiating with the boss about their expectations. What are their principles around learning? Is it a cost or an investment? Have previous funds been well spent? Their attitude to these questions will supply some clues, but you would need agreement on the underpinning principles first.

Too often I hear of L&D people doing this the other way round – focusing on the budget over the strategy. If you do that, you become transactional and operational. Remain strategic and work tactically.

Your boss will appreciate it.

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