Lost: The Unexpected Truth About Misalignment

By Perry Timms, Social Media & Engagement Adviser - CIPD

A reflection on CIPD and Towards Maturity Research Report into Aligning Business and Learning ...

23rd September saw the launch of an event report following a joint venture with CIPD joining with Towards Maturity to look at the following questions:

  • The expectations of business leaders
  • To what extent L&D activity is aligned with strategic goals
  • The future of L&D in a fast changing working environment

BIG things to ask anyone of and it was the second one that caught my eye.

I did a foreword for an excellent book by L&D legend Jonathan Kettleborough called "Seeing Eye to Eye".  He talks A LOT about alignment throughout the book.

In the foreword I said "Alignment is perhaps the key new skill that brings our profession - once and for all - out of the black holes and into the white spaces of business." 

What I meant by that was that the black holes are the things that just absorb or draw in things to no discernible gain.  The white space is the value created in the margins on a piece of paper; where you make a note of the idea that's been sparked by the text.

That we are STILL showing misalignment is of real concern to me. What ARE we aligning our learning to then?  Models?  Theories?  Pet likes?  Poorly scoped micro business needs?  We people & development professionals are therefore a bit lost it would seem.  We're somewhere on our journey but where we're meant to be?  Not sure.

Perceptions form a big part of the alignment / misalignment dilemma of course and so there is always that counter: that people might not fully understand the alignment if that's not a simple linear, causal link.

Indeed the conclusion around setting expectations is vital.  How are you aligned if you don't agree what the start and end points are?  The report's call to action for L&D leaders is about influencing when setting expectations.

Use evidence to challenge outdated business expectations.

  • Build credibility - immerse yourself in the business.
  • Encourage mutual accountability - with business leaders leading learning.
  • Balance expectations - walk the line between leader and learner expectations.
  • Demonstrate the added value of L&D, not just efficiencies

This misalignment thing though worried me more.  Only 50% of leaders reported alignment and a third aligned about results/metrics that prove success.  So what are the other half doing?  Aligning to a theory in a book?

It suggests some learning is "inflicted" learning. 

Maybe this is what's going on sometimes. The Head of L&D goes on a seminar with Daniel Goleman.  Gets the book.  Inflicts Emotional Intelligence on the workforce.  There was no problem to solve.  No alignment to a business need.  Sure EQ might be needed in some areas but to just land it on people without context or application?  Wasteful.

It may be because the strategic direction being set and the activities to build skills to deliver that are not aligned because the strategic statements are, well frankly, buzzword "guff".

We will become an holistic organisation shifting paradigms of referencing points and leveraging our brand capital to influence stakeholders and create new markets.

Yes, you try and give people "leveraging brand capital" skills.

So I guess we need to take a lot more into the conversational space we call scoping and outcomes creating.

Overall this event and report helped me realise that there are still elements in our professional ranks that need "earth wiring" every now and then to get back on track with creative and dependable learning that delivers great results and inspires people.

I won't spoil the report by repeating it here - especially the future section which is a good read and helpful to any L&D leader wanting to direct their team's attention in specific areas.

So please, read this report.  Align your thinking to it.

The please, go talk to the folks you support with your learning trade.  Align with them.

Then please, keep aligned.  Aligned to the future you may not know yet, but will when it whizzes towards you.

Align with alignment!

Your can follow Perry Timms on Twitter @PerryTimms

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  • Anonymous

    Thanks for a very interesting post. Perhaps the problem with seeking "alignment" is that the very concept suggests that:

    -  there is a natural mapping between the "macro" world of corporate strategic goals and the "micro" world of employees' skills and capabilities and

    - the responsibility of L & D departments is to understand this mapping and then arrange training and development programmes accordingly.

    We have all experienced the sort of "imposed learning" you mention in the post. What if businesses were to allow employees to direct their own learning and development instead?

    Might it be that the traditional model of leadership (and the accompanying skills matrices, talent development programmes and so on), with its rather instrumentalist view of what it takes to be a leader, has it wrong? What would happen if a business was to encourage its employees to choose for themselves, individually and collectively, the training and development they think would be of most use to them in performing their jobs better, more enjoyably and more productively?