One of the high potential & high impact areas for L&D contribution is in developing strategic capabilities. Strategic capabilities increase a company's ability to implement its strategies effectively and make the necessary market moves.
Many L&D Managers and their teams are aware that “developing capabilities” is an area they can have an impact on. Yet, there are very few clear examples out there about how this looks like in practice.
This article aims to fill a bit of this gap. Together, we will explore an example and reflect on how you can contribute to developing sustainable capabilities for your company.
In the first part, I’ll walk you through a case study involving a large program meant to develop the Product Development capability of a mid-sized Tech company. Once we gain clarity around all the factors impacting our goal, we will zoom in on the streams that benefit from L&Ds’ contribution.
For example: for the clients, for the whole organization, for the Sr. leadership team: CEO and Directors, for the people who are currently working in product development roles, for the people who are currently collaborating with colleagues in product development roles, for the people who will work in product development roles in the future;
Before detailing the 8 work streams from the roadmap, it’s useful to mention that a capability is an ability in a specific context.
An organizational capability is the ability of an organization to do certain activities. You can check my previous article about organizational capabilities for a deep dive into the topic with an example from a Retail company.
When developing a capability, these are the 3 key elements to consider:
The capability of a company to sell depends on the skills of the people involved in the sales activities, the tools they have available for doing the sales activities, and also on the right setup (e.g. clear processes, communication, and mutual support between colleagues, a proper bonus system, etc.).
The challenge of building capabilities goes beyond just having the right skills in place, whether through hiring, training, or external help.
Building capabilities is a complex project that also involves the development or purchase (build or buy) of the proper tools that are needed for performing in that specific area of activity.
Additionally, it’s about adjusting and evolving the organizational design of the areas adjacent to the activity area in scope, to create the proper organizational setup for performance.
In simpler terms:
Coming back to the case study, the 8 work streams from the roadmap have been defined like this:
L&D Professionals can be key contributors to most streams and lead some streams that are closer to their core activities.
For example, in a capability development program like the one detailed above:
S1: Steering - they can contribute with updates on learning-related indicators (e.g. new behaviours that are already put into practice in various teams) and the effectiveness of learning interventions. Also, they can propose adjustments to the approach for the whole program, adjustments in resource allocation, and even new streams that are needed to achieve the program’s goal.
S2: Inspiration and Mentality - they can design, prepare, organize, facilitate, and/or host the large group sessions. Also, they can partner up with other colleagues that work on evolving the company culture and connect the dots between this program and other cultural endeavours inside and outside the company (e.g. with external communities of practice or professional associations).
S3: Developing skills - they can lead this stream, effectively architecting how the learning interventions work in concert to achieve the desired learning outcomes linked to skill development. They can review the progress, manage the resource allocation, and adjust the mix of learning activities on the go based on real-time feedback and all the L&D magic.
S4: Delivering value for existing products - they can contribute or lead the creation of job aids needed to create the needed deliverables: templates, guides, how-tos, cheat sheets, micro-learning, etc. Also, they can lead or help design effective working sessions that achieve the desired deliverables in a limited amount of time. They can facilitate knowledge sharing across teams, so they learn from the progress of each other, offer feedback, and review how the other teams have done their work.
S5: Individual support for leaders - they can lead the matchmaking between the leaders and the helpers (e.g. mentors, coaches, advisers, sparring partners, etc.), they can review the progress the leaders are making, they can contribute to crafting the leadership tools that are needed.
S6: Communication and Stakeholder Engagement - as communication materials are also learning vehicles (through which stakeholders learn about the program, the activities, the progress, the challenges, the lessons learned, etc.), L&D professionals can contribute to the design and creation of these materials, so they are effective in reaching their intended learning outcomes for stakeholders.
S7: Recruiting and Onboarding new colleagues - they can facilitate the sessions in which open positions get prioritised, and they can lead the (re)design of the onboarding process - given the fact that the onboarding period is mainly focused on learning and getting up to speed with the role, the team, the organization, the stakeholders, etc. They can also deliver various learning interventions that accelerate the onboarding process, along with monitoring the effectiveness of the onboarding activities across teams.
S8: Sustainability of the new capability - they can lead the career pathing efforts,
along with connecting the dots between roles (e.g. in this case, redesigned Product Management/Design roles and adjacent ones that exist in the company). As all the other streams are producing lots of lessons learned along the way, they can lead the integration of the lessons learned and knowledge management, so the new capability becomes stickier and more sustainable in the long run. Additionally, they can lead the efforts of creating development plans for the people in the roles in the scope of the capability development program.
There are lots of leadership and contribution opportunities, even in the examples above. The guiding principle is around matching what’s valuable for the progress of each work stream with what the L&D professionals are good at (or want to become good at).
As I recently mentioned to one of the L&D Managers that I’m closely working with, there is or should be a “learning” stream in any strategic program. Strategic programs come with change, by design. Change means that people need to learn: new skills, new tools, new ways of working, new behaviours, and so on. This means there is a huge opportunity for contribution and leadership from L&D professionals in the company. Capability Development programs are just one example of such strategic programs.
The key idea is that when you’ll have to develop capabilities in your organization, you might want to take into account the 3 essential aspects:
These go hand in hand with developing the capability of a team or organization, and not only the ability of a person or group inside the company.
This is why developing capabilities is not done only by organizing courses, workshops, etc. (activities that develop skills), but also through activities that enable the other two key aspects as well.
In the case study, developing skills was just one of the 8 streams of the program.
We had to work a lot on evolving the right context, through:
Equipping people with the right tools was done mainly through the job aids and templates that helped create the deliverables for S4: Delivering value for existing products. Formal and informal leaders were equipped individually through the activities in S5: Individual support for leaders.
Finally, S1: Steering ensured the integration between the activities and outcomes created by all the other streams and the coherent development of the overall capability.
A recommendation that I make to the L&D teams that I work with is to start by intentionally developing capabilities for the L&D team in the first place.
For example, these days many teams are developing better Consulting capabilities, as this accelerates progress on their L&D strategy and better positions the L&D team.
Developing the consulting capability for the L&D team translates to:
Enjoy developing capabilities and making more impact on how the company executes its strategy!
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