As learning professionals, the priorities you face can often resemble a nest full of hungry chicks – each one squawking louder than the next to be fed. Chances are you usually feel as though you don’t have enough worms. They’re all important, right? Otherwise we wouldn’t call them priorities. The challenge is allocating the right resources to the right ones at the time in the right amount.

To give you an idea of what you and your peers are facing, Brandon Hall Group conducted the first of our annual Business Focus surveys to find out where companies are spending their time and money across different areas of the organization. Today I want to talk about learning and development, particularly.

But before I can dive into that, we must first take a look at the priorities for the overall business. Over the past few years, we continually ask organizations to identify their top two business priorities. In our latest Business Focus survey, we found that gaining market share is number one, chosen as one of the top two by 37% of respondents. This has been the number one priority for the relatively short time we have been asking the question. Back in 2011, 33% of companies picked gaining market share as one of their top two priorities. Let’s take a look at how the list has shifted over the course about a year and a half:

David's Blog  5-2-2013

The top three remain the same with some slight shifting, the middle of the pack jumps all around, and the lower priorities remain as is. Sounds familiar, right? Your organization’s top business priorities are probably not going to change much, especially over the course of a year. And the things that are near the bottom are not likely to suddenly become imperative. But that stuff in the middle, that’s where the chaos lives. An agile organization needs to be able to shift priorities quickly. Now granted, the respondent pools for the two surveys are not the exact same companies, but it gives you a general sense of what is happening with business priorities.

How Does Learning Help?

As agile as the business needs to be to meet these juggling priorities, learning needs to be that much more agile to help meet those needs. We asked companies in the 2013 survey to indicate the degree to which they are planning to devote time, energy and resources to an array of learning priorities. The table below shows the percentage of companies that identified these items as either “definitely a priority” or “critical to the business.”

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That’s a lot of priorities fighting for not a lot of resources. Again, chances are the top three or so will not change much over time. But the area in the middle can be critical when it comes to allocating resources. The key is to ask this question: How do my organization’s learning priorities line up with our business priorities? The learning function needs to be able to keep up with the chaos of the shifting business priorities in order to keep the organization agile.



David Wentworth

David Wentworth has been a senior research analyst in the human capital field since 2005 and joined the Brandon Hall Group in 2013. He has authored reports and articles on various human capital subjects with an emphasis on workforce technology. He has contributed to several reports published by ASTD, including authoring Mobile Learning: Learning in the Palm of Your Hand, The Rise of Social Media: Enhancing Collaboration and Productivity Across Generations, and Instructional Systems Design Today and in the Future. His work has also appeared in Compensation & Benefits Review and T+D Magazine.