How L&D can Step up to be Strategic


At last, it appears that the economic pressures that every organisation has faced are lessening. It is now time to look to the future. Managers who are leading their organisations need to renew their organisation’s sense of direction, and do this as quickly as possible. We believe that learning and development professionals have got a valuable role to play in achieving this, if they are willing to step up to be strategic. This involves not just implementing the development component of a strategy, but helping to facilitate the formulation of the business plan. Traditionally, external strategic consultants are brought in or internal specialists undertake this role. However, the particular skills that learning and development professionals can bring could make a difference.

So what can learning and development professionals bring to strategically contributing to the organisation?

• A focus on the longer term and the talent bank of your organisation through the development of individuals
• An ability to see the changing nature of the organisation
• The ability to facilitate and gather together thoughts, opinions and direction
• A broker between various parties and an understanding of the overall health of the organisation
• An ability to see the human side of the organisation and the consequences of its actions

The advantage for L&D to become involved in the development of strategy is to be become much closer to the business, and to be seen to be part of the process of thinking ahead, not just responding.

Reformulating your strategic plan

One objection from L&D is that they don’t know how to gain entry to this process. In response to this, we have laid out below a process of questioning in a structured way for L&D assist the management team come to a sound conclusion on whether the strategic plan needs renewal. The learning and development professional can help facilitate some high quality conversations with stakeholders –customers, suppliers, marketers and finance people, for example. They can facilitate business meetings of the senior management team to discuss future direction and strategy.

Two examples of the outcome of strategic questioning are as follows:

IT company Dell is reorganising to focus the business on sales.  It is looking to refresh its brand, moving away from its image as a provider of cheap entry level computers to one of a “cool” brand.  A more colourful and edgy marketing campaign is supporting this approach, together with initiatives such as making XPS and Inspiron products available for purchase at Tesco stores, to gain significant exposure for the company’s brand and products.

At hotel chain Premier Inn, analysts believe that owner Whitbread’s relative success has been down to having a “well-defined value proposition” at a time when hotel guests are looking for cheaper accommodation. Its emphasis is on value for money.  It is looking to add 4,000 rooms to its chain, it has carried out a refurbishment programme, improved booking systems and tailored marketing efforts to boost weekend trade.

Typically a strategy review dialogue can focus on your strategic position in relation to:

• Competitors
• Customers
• Supply chain
• Cost base
• Capabilities

This questioning will encourage a revisiting of the assumptions behind the business strategy. Perhaps some of the most telling questions come from seeking an external perspective. For example, what do your customers think? Do new hires have a different perspective? Does recent data support this?

With this challenging mindset, we suggest facilitating a structured process of asking EXTERNAL questions:


• Who are our competitors? How substantial are they? Have they got deeper or shallower pockets than we have to take advantage of the recession?
• Do we understand what customers think of our competitors’ services or products?
• Do we know our competitors’ costs bases, particularly in relation to ourselves?
• Which competitors therefore are the biggest threats and why?
• How do our products and services compare?


• Do we have up-to-date information on our key customers in particular?
• Does our view of how much we add value align with our customers’ views? Does this vary by type of customer?
• Do we know enough about our customers’ changing buying patterns?
• Do we know to what extent customers are using technology?
• Do we understand how our customers are weathering the storm: how strong are the competitive pressures they are under, how much are their costs rising?

Supply Chain

• How close are we to our suppliers?
• Do we know how our suppliers are faring and their business pressures?
• Do we have a contingency plan if a key supplier fails?
• What opportunities are there to build better alliances with our suppliers?

INTERNAL questions should cover:


• What are our distinctive core capabilities?
• How have we made use of these capabilities, by line of business?
• How can we better capitalise on these?
• How can we enhance and develop our use of resources and capabilities?
• How engaged are our people in the business?


• What are the main variables of our costs and how we can better control and manage them?
• How are our cash flow trends?
• What are the short, medium and long term prospects for our costs?
• What actions can we take for the longer term which will help put us on a stronger footing?


Business renewal, post-recession, offers a valuable opportunity for learning and development professionals to help their organisation deploy its resources strategically, with a keen eye on future trends and understanding and exploiting the changing needs of the customer. When an organisation has come through difficult times, it needs skill and imagination to take people along a new path. The strategic questioning approach we have outlined serves as a guide for learning and development professionals to give senior leaders insights into what organisational strengths you need to draw on and what you need to tackle to maintain customer alignment.

Addressing these issues in a facilitative way by engaging with keu stakeholders will help to provide the basis for developing a clear future direction, which will serve your changing customer needs well. Along the way, L&D will become much closer to their organisation and its future direction.

Sarah Cook and Steve Macaulay. Sarah Cook is Managing Director of the strategic leadership and customer management specialists, The Stairway Consultancy. Steve Macaulay is a Learning Development Consultant at Cranfield School of Management, Steve can be contacted by email   on;  tel. 01234 751122. Sarah can be contacted by email on; tel. 01628 526535.

You may publish this article in whole or in part. The only requirement is that if in print the article must state - article by Sarah Cook, Stairway Consultancy Ltd,

If you use this article in whole or in part electronically, the requirement is that you inlcude the following code on the page:

Article by Sarah Cook of the Stairway Consultancy. Specialists in <a href="">Leadership</a>, <a href="">Customer Services</a>, <a href="">Team Building</a> and <a href="">Personal Effectiveness</a>.

The code should look like this:

Article by Sarah Cook of the Stairway Consultancy. Specialists in Leadership, Customer Services, Team Building and Personal Effectiveness.

If you do not do this you will infringe our copyright

image description

"Over the years The Stairway Consultancy has become a key partner to our business. Their services have proved an invaluable tool in taking individuals forward in their careers and thus developing the organisation. Their approach to working in partnership has certainly helped us to achieve our objectives, and we value the contribution Stairway makes to the business. I always look forward to working with their professional, open and warm consultants, and would highly recommend The Stairway Consultancy to any business that is seeking to grow, inspire and develop their teams."

Learning and Development Business Partner
- Southern Housing Group
Looking for high impact training material?

We have a wide range of Training Games, Activities, Toolkits, Books and DVDs.

Training Shop