Nobody would disagree with the notion that alignment of learning interventions with business goals is a good thing. However, too often this connection is rationalized after the fact. That’s too late to make a difference for the organization. David Vance, former president of Caterpillar University, in an interview with ASTD, talks about the importance of aligning learning and business goals at the same time as fiscal-year budgeting is being done. He says:
It’s almost too easy to just say we need to align learning with the goals of the company. Everyone knows that is the correct answer. But in my experience, very few organizations do this strategically and proactively. Many will actually do it retroactively. They will connect the dots between the goals of the organization and the programs they ran last year. To me that is retroactive alignment, and you shouldn’t get credit for that. If you haven’t done alignment before the year began, how do you know if you have budgeted your learning toward the highest priority needs of the company? If you haven’t done it before the year begins, you haven’t given your CEO or governing body the ability to prioritize that spending and to make sure that the learning investment is being (properly) directed to the highest needs of the organization. You can only do that proactively.
I agree with Vance that budgeting and prioritizing are important reasons for aligning learning with company goals. However, those are not the only reasons for alignment. Alignment is also critical to retention and application of learning. Employees need to know that what they will be learning is valued in the organization and will help them contribute to achieving business success. They need to know the path that they will take from learning to application to business outcomes to achievement of strategic goals. Alignment that is apparent to learners is highly motivating and increases the likelihood that what they learn will be applied. If alignment is done retroactively, it cannot motivate learning nor can it ensure the application of that learning.