Elevate Your L&D Strategy: Crafting a Dynamic Playbook for Today's Challenges

In this thought-provoking webinar, an all-star panel featuring Brandon Carson, Global Head of Learning, Leadership and Cultural Experiences at Starbucks, Ryan Austin, CEO of Cognota, and Ellen Burns-Johnson, Lead Learning Strategist at ELB Learning, tackled the challenge of creating an agile, adaptable L&D playbook fit for today's turbulent business landscape.

Carson set the stage with a vivid example of how the COVID-19 pandemic caught most organizations flat-footed in early 2020. As he wryly noted, "Few of us in business had a playbook for a global pandemic." Combined with the relentless march of AI, cloud, and data technologies - what Carson terms the "tech tsunami" - the pandemic has radically reshaped the demands placed on L&D to reskill the workforce at an unprecedented pace and scale.

To meet the moment, Carson argued L&D teams must "reset, rethink and rebuild" - adopting new rules for delivering learning, redefining team roles, and realigning the L&D mission to business goals. A recurring theme was the imperative to position L&D as a strategic driver of organizational transformation rather than a mere passenger along for the ride. As Carson memorably put it, "L&D is the table" when it comes to enabling the workforce and bridging skill gaps required for companies to execute their 1, 3 and 5-year plans.

Of course, earning that coveted seat at the executive table is easier said than done. The panelists emphasized the need for L&D to develop both a keen "top-down" understanding of high-level business strategy and strong "bottom-up" partnerships with functional leaders to zero in on the highest-priority learning needs. In essence, L&D must become bilingual - fluent in both the language of the business and the needs of learners.

So what are the key ingredients of an L&D playbook built for adaptability?

The panelists highlighted several crucial components, including:

  • A crisp L&D mission, vision, and operating principles aligned with company goals
  • A clear-eyed assessment of the current L&D operating model and learning culture
  • Flexible 1-3 year plans with ample room to pivot as business needs inevitably shift
  • Well-defined critical skills/capabilities needed now and in the near future
  • Proactive strategies to enable continuous learning and close widening skill gaps
  • Positioning L&D as a proactive business partner vs. a reactive cost center

To illustrate, Carson walked through an example 3-year playbook he created while at Delta Airlines pre-pandemic. In a twist of fate that would be comical if not so disruptive, the entire playbook was rendered moot once COVID hit in March 2020 - powerfully underscoring the need for adaptability. The key takeaway? "The North Star that forms the foundation of your playbook may not change. But next to that, you should have a flexible playbook that aligns to the critical programs you want to deliver on."

Austin drilled down on the often-overlooked role the underlying operational model plays in enabling an agile playbook. Is a centralized, decentralized, or federated structure optimal? How can processes be streamlined to maximize impact without necessarily expanding budget or headcount? He shared an impressive case study of how the CLO at ChenMed liberated 6,000 annual hours—equivalent to 3 full-time employees—by optimizing operations. As the old adage goes, sometimes you need to slow down to speed up.

Other tips the panelists shared for crafting an effective playbook included:

  • Embracing the discomfort of constant change as the new normal
  • Baking in roughly 20% "wiggle room" for emerging needs
  • Harnessing the same technologies (e.g. AI) internally as the business deploys externally
  • Ruthlessly aligning L&D's scorecard to the metrics that move the needle for the business
  • Leveraging predictive scenario planning to get ahead of the curve on future needs
  • Resisting the siren song of excessive pivoting to stay focused on the highest-impact initiatives

In terms of getting started, Carson and Austin advised beginning with clarifying the L&D strategy and "why" before fleshing out the playbook itself. Investing in relationships with the C-suite and functional leaders is also crucial to ensure the playbook reflects the business' true north star.

While conjuring a new playbook from whole cloth can seem like a Herculean task, Burns-Johnson highlighted how embracing an agile "product development mindset", complete with a prioritized backlog, can help L&D teams find their footing. Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither is a great playbook.

As the panelists made abundantly clear, the effort required to align on a flexible playbook is well worth it to position L&D as an indispensable partner in navigating an increasingly unpredictable business environment. In a world where the only constant is change, an agile playbook may just be L&D's secret weapon.

Watch the entire L&D strategy webinar now:


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