A strategic Learning & Development function is (not) important for the company’s success


With the increasing importance of personnel development and “learning” as success factors for companies, the opportunities for the Learning & Development functions to position themselves strategically are growing. The positioning via a learning strategy allows organizations to steer learning on individual, team, and organizational levels, to interconnect content, and align it with corporate culture. But how do I define a learning strategy for my company and how does it actually become effective?

By Wiebke Petsch and Katherina Bravo

In today’s rapidly changing economic environment, companies are challenged not only to adapt rapidly to external circumstances, but also to make directive contributions to new market developments. Knowledge is a decisive factor for organisations in securing competitive advantages and stabilising corporate success (Saadat & Saadat, 2016). This goes hand in hand with the increasing importance of learning in companies at individual, team and organisational level. All three levels are closely interlinked: The learning behaviour of individuals and teams has a direct influence on the decision-making quality of managers – and this ultimately has a direct influence on organisational performance (Harvey et al., 2022).

According to the latest LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report 2024, organisational learning has grown out of its infancy as a simple employee benefit and is now an important strategic component for organisational success. For example, 90 per cent of the companies surveyed use a wide range of learning opportunities strategically to retain their employees. A further analysis in the report shows that a strong learning culture leads to 57 per cent increased employee loyalty (retention) and 23 per cent more internal mobility (LinkedIn 2024).


An effective Learning & Development function is orientated towards the needs of the company and the needs of the employees


According to a study by the British Council Corporate English Solutions (2023), the importance of prioritising “linking learning initiatives to individual career paths” and “linking the L&D function to the mission, values and goals” of the organisation as a whole is increasing compared to last year.

But how does the L&D function manage to reconcile the requirements of the business environment, the needs of the company and the needs of the employees? The personnel development and learning strategy provides an answer to this emerging area of tension. Only the formulation and concretisation of a personnel development strategy or learning strategy enables the L&D function to be effective, strategically relevant, capable of making decisions and being adaptable. It can also be used to derive customised objectives, roles, processes and governance structures.


An effective learning strategy is relevant for the entire organisation


“A learning strategy seeks to support professional development and build capabilities across the company, on time, and in a cost-effective manner. In addition, the learning strategy can enhance the company culture and encourage employees to live company’s values.” (van Dam & Rijken, 2021)


Based on their experience – with over two hundred globally active organisations – Nick van Dam and Jan Rijken, in collaboration with McKinsey, have developed the ACADEMIES L&D Strategy Model. It identifies nine strategic dimensions under which the L&D function of an organisation becomes strategically and operationally effective.

In summary, the dimensions describe the need to derive the learning strategy from the corporate strategy and to set up processes and structures that enable close cooperation between the HR department and the individual business units in order to enable the needs-based design and measurability of learning opportunities in a targeted manner (van Dam & Rijken, 2021).


Definition of learning models, derivation of learning journeys, gap analyses – a clearly defined learning strategy creates orientation and transparency


The learning strategy can serve as a framework not only for the definition of a learning model (e.g. 70:20:10) and the development of learning journeys, but also for a targeted standardised process of needs assessment, recommendation and implementation between the L&D function and the rest of the organisation (van Dam & Rijken, 2021). This includes technological innovations as well as analysing whether the L&D experts themselves have the necessary skills for this (British Council Corporate English Solutions, 2023).


Three methodological approaches to define an individual learning strategy

Ideally, the directional decision for deriving the learning strategy and the organisational core competencies on which the organisation wants to build are already defined in the corporate strategy (Becks et al., 2024).

Based on this, it is important to formulate a separate vision for “learning in the organisation” and – in addition to a strategic objective and role definition – to define the fundamental core elements of a strategic initiative: Measurability, scalability, integration and institutionalisation. The following three methodological approaches serve as inspiration: the British Council’s checklist, the nine dimensions of the ACADEMIES L&D Strategy Model and the Learning Strategy Canvas by Foelsing and Schmitz (2021).



Overall, it is clear that taking personnel development seriously also means approaching it strategically. The learning strategy is the basis for aligning strategic learning initiatives with the company’s goals and employees’ needs and implementing them in a structured manner. Making learning a strategic focal point also has a positive effect on creating a conducive culture of learning within the organization. This is because it shows that personnel development is taken seriously and that the company has understood that the organisation’s ability to learn is a decisive competitive advantage.