Transforming Learning into a Strategic Business Function

Your executives want results, impact, and organizational growth; your people want content that engages them personally. It’s your job to deploy a learning program that does both. But in circumstances like these, balancing the two with inadequate tools and resources is way more difficult than it already is. 

You don’t want to be paddling the storm with a teaspoon. Do you? 

Seventy-nine percent of CEOs believe that the persistent skill-gap is hurting their organization’s future. Learning and development (L&D) leaders say that their organizations don’t value learning, and L&D barely receives any direction from the top. 

However, there’s no magic solution to turn all that around. But a solid plan with a right amount of work in the right direction can: 

  • Turn learning into a strategic function of the business, driven by top management. 

  • Get people invested in learning and make it work. 

  • Develop learning as an integral work function across the organization.  

  • Measure and judge learning’s contributions based on the impact it creates in your business.  

The solution lies within the learning governance framework.  


The whole universe and everything in it possess a tendency to drift towards chaos. And that tendency is called entropy. Any effort that we (or any heavenly body) put into controlling the chaos has a price in energy.  

It’s the same with organizations, too. Without governance, organizations of any size trend towards chaos as each person in it reacts "in the moment" and does whatever they think is necessary to solve problems and get things done.  

The primary function or duty of the Board of Directors is to govern or control the organization to make sure everything runs smoothly. The board governs:  

  • policies and objectives of the organization,  

  • annual budgets,  

  • financial resources,  

  • salary packages for the company's management team,  

  • declaring dividends to shareholders during the required annual general meetings,  

  • compliance with legal requirements, tax regulations, and compliance regulations, and  

  • ensuring prompt and regular payment of salaries and wages.  

Learning Governance  

Just like learning function requires a governing body to help it run smoothly:  

  • managing learning as a strategic business process, ensuring that the learning function meets the needs and priorities of the organization's business goals;  

  • building a shared vision for workforce development, enabling employees to fulfill the organization's promises to its customers; and  

  • establishing governance of learning processes, procedures, and the tools used to create programs linked to strategic objectives.  

To put it in simple terms, good governance will:  

  • Assign accountability  

  • Define priorities  

  • Allocate budget and resources 

  • Drive actionable decision-making  

  • Facilitate transformation   

The CEO invests the authority and responsibility for the learning mission in a learning governance board or council. You can call it anything you like.  

Learning Governance Structure and Development  

How you structure your learning governance function will be unique to your organization. It will depend on your organization's culture, maturity, and how learning gets done in your organization. The structure will grow as your learning organization develops its governance capability.  

Start Where You Are  

If your organization has not yet matured to transform learning into a strategic business function, operates as an independent service provider, or gets little or no direction from top management, your organization is not ready for a Learning Governance Council. You may want to start with a less formal structure led by HR.  

Your learning governance program's objectives may be different from those of a mature governance function. Your mission will be to build readiness to collaborate in learning and prove the value of that collaboration.  

  • Assemble a team. You will have pockets of learning excellence and good ideas across the organization. The people who drive that excellence will be excellent candidates for your learning council.  

  • Identify Common Learning Practices. You will most likely have fragmented learning efforts hidden in silos across the organization. Find out what these efforts have in common and bring them together for better efficiency and results.  

  • Drive Efficiency. Identify and eliminate duplication of effort and inefficiencies across the organization. Measure and report on the results of your efforts.  

  • Organizational Readiness. Build the organizational capability for cross-functional collaboration on learning.  

  • Drive Value. Leverage the relationships you build to focus the organization on the value of learning, not its cost.  

Identify and Satisfy Learning Objectives  

Every unit and sub-unit in your organization will have its unique learning needs and objectives. Form them into steering committees that will drive the execution of learning in their business functions.   

Bring the people who lead those units into your governance program and show them how, as stakeholders, they have a voice in how learning happens, and that you aim to support them in achieving their goals.  

The broader your organization perspective and the more involvement you have, the more your efforts will align themselves with your business strategy.  

By this stage of your development, you will have seated steering committees and learning leaders throughout your organization that understand the value of learning and how it drives business results.  

Connect to the Enterprise  

The third part of the development is the discussions with your top executives about aligning learning to business strategy. Co-opt the CEO into leading learning and development for the company.  

How you do that will depend on your relationship with the CEO. You could introduce the idea of entropy and explain no matter how well you organize it; any program will devolve unless you pay the energy price.  

The Executive Learning Council must establish and publish objectives for workforce development so that steering committees can align their efforts to it.  

The Council should measure the strategic value of learning and its impact on organizational growth, productivity, and transformation to the Board of Directors.  

The CEO should communicate support for workforce learning and take part in learning events.  

Keep the Energy Flowing  

The price for all the excellence you will create is ongoing vigilance. Keep the energy going with ongoing communications about recent developments in learning and how they can affect your organization. Keep learning top of mind and report on learning successes to everyone in the organization.  

If you are diligent about the development of your governance, learning will become a strategic function of the organization embedded in work functions across the organization, with a far-reaching impact on organizational performance.

Chasma Place, is an independent source for solutions that will help you keep pace with changes in the way your people work without ripping and replacing your existing systems.