Focus on Corporate Learning Strategy

by A. Bouzo, M.A.

The role of LnD (Learning and Development)

Strategies are developed to support targeted developments. Type and application of strategy tools influence the strategy design and the result. LnD (Learning & Development) is highly relevant on an interdisciplinary level, as transformations always imply learning processes for individuals and organizational units. Increasingly dynamic and complex surroundings question the efficiency of classic strategy concepts. This text discusses some aspects of tools and methods from which modern strategy concepts might profit.

LnD - Leveraging Strategy


If LnD is to be a strategic partner and co-designer, learning professionals be capable or applying and providing strategic knowhow and competences. Implementing tools and methods for development of learning and education strategies is not enough. LnD is to anchor modern strategy tools, methods, and competencies within (preferable all levels of) the organization.

Not only the business model, but also implemented technology, organizational culture and capabilities must be developed.

We can assume that even extremely different enterprises are after the same goal: economic success, which at least enables the organizations to survive. Prof. S. Sackmann, leading expert in leadership, organizational culture and development and intercultural management, has evaluated the influence of central cultural elements on corporations' success in a widespread meta study.

The identified success factors are closely connected to the concepts of learning organization, what stresses the scope of LnD as enabler: „Organizational learning occurs when members of the organization act as learning agents for the organization, responding to changes in the internal and external environments of the organization by detecting and correcting errors in organizational theory-in-use, and embedding the results off their inquiry in private images an shared maps of organization." (Argyris/Schön, 1978).

Prerequisite to success is a basic consensus between management and employees concerning goals and internal organization (Faulstich, 1998). Central are the employees' personal and organizational competences to act planned and flexible in a changing world. Sackmann's research stresses, that not the same, singular characteristic is the key to success for all companies, but the individual development of a set of authentically relevant markers.


Qualitative Monitoring of Strategy Development

Related to substantive success factors also relevant quality measures have been identified to support development. These are:

  • strategic relevance
  • multidimensional direction
  • consistency between normative claim and actual behavior.

Again, these qualitative aspects stress the importance of LnD, organizational development and culture. They illustrate the status of the strategic scope of the related professions in LnD, staff / organization's development and leadership and especially the relevance of a (digital) corporate education strategy.

According to Miller "Configuration [of success factors] is likely to be a far greater source of competitive advantage than a single aspect of strategy”(Miller, 1996) as a single characteristic is easily copied. In consequence the authentic adjustment and alignment of single elements is the determining unique factor for success.

According to the Cynefin-framework benchmarks can provide orientation to some extent. 

A successful digital transformation (of or towards a learning corporation is at the and also a learning process, thus a strategy is mandatory (Iffenthaler/Egloffstein, 2021).



Classic Strategy Development Classic Strategy Development

Classic models of strategy development usually distinguish strongly between a phase of strategy development and implementation. Planning and development of strategy development consume the biggest part of time and energy whilst implementation is reduced to the information of to employees (and sometimes not even that) and demanding results.

These type of strategy concepts are short lived, usually unsuccessful and disappear in a filing cabinet without any impact.

Focus on Analysis

We will neither discuss classic methods (such as SWOT, PESTEL, Porters 5 Forces…) or agile techniques (e. g. Design Thinking, Scrum, SWOT3, Sustained Change Readiness Indicator, Lean Start-Up, Beyond Budgeting…) nor introduce various ways of digital strategy development. Instead, three aspects should be introduced, which have to be considered with any digital strategy development, as there are

  • degree of complexity
  • capability to change and
  • digital maturity.


1. Degree of complexity

Complexity is a core characteristic of the VUCA world, but what does that entail? "Complexity is more than the lack of order or the opposite of triviality" states Schöneberg (Schöneberg, 2014). There are many definitions. Complexity is also described with "variety, connectivity and dynamics" (Klabund, 2003). Sargut/McGrath stress the number of influencing elements (multiplicity), their interdependence and diversity (Sargut/McGrath, 2011).

Size of corporation, diversification number and density of organizational interfaces as well as product range are seen as hard drivers of complexity but also softer factors such as intransparency, potential flexibility and capability and willingness to adapt to changes (Schuh, 2005).

To deal appropriately with complexity Wildemann names as basic strategy to avoid complexity, reduce complexity and master complexity (Wildemann, 2021). To do so a thorough analysis of the driving forces is a mandatory prerequisite.

But how do you recognize a complex system?


Degrees of Complexity Characteristics of Degrees of Complexity

In order to deal appropriately with the phenomenon it is important to get some orientations.

Ulrich/Probst have developed a four-field matrix classifying the intensity of changes / inherent dynamics and number / multitude of involved elements.

The pragmatic Cynefin-Framework (Snowden, 2000) offers orientation for the strategy development. It also comes down to a four-field matrix analyzing the situation, but deducts ideas for strategy design according to the respective situation.

Today IT-departments and HR usually agree, that managing complex situations requires collaborative systems. Form the IT perspective these consist of collaborative enterprise architecture, the interorganizational view focuses collaborative knowledge management systems (Brente, 2014). Both aspects can not be ignored when enterprises strive for digitalization or concept and implementation of digital education strategies.


2. Potential of Changes

There is no doubt today, that the ability to adjust and innovative potential are the core capabilities of long term successful systems. At the same time the list of enterprises, which could not adjust and have therefore dissolved, is growing longer.

The goal of strategies is to implement targeted changes. Core of strategic development is to analyze the capability and wilingness to adjust within the complete organization, across hierarchies and disciplines, to reflect and support. This includes to anticipate resistances and take them seriously. Change competence is part or any corporate educational strategy.

The Sustained Change Readiness Modell (SCR) (Joseph/Dah, 2019) is a tool to check on the capability and willingness to adjust. It is split in two phases. First analysis, than evaluation in a workshop. The result is a multidimensional matrix, which is supporting the identification, analyzation and development of those skills, which the organization requires for it's transformation.

The areas strategy, personnel, organization and technology/processes as mandatory perspectives are examined concerning the issues dynamic skills, corporate culture, learning organization and collaboration technology. To complete the analysis another eight bi-leveled factors are considered, resulting in a 4x9 diagnostic indicators, which are the basis for realistic assumptions.


3. Degree of (digital) Maturity

To analyze the current situation is the classic starting point of any strategy development. The maturity degree of a learning organization entails more than lists of employed technologies. Capability to change and the detected necessity to learn are major parts of all targeted measures, which will later be deducted from the strategies. When designing a corporate education strategy the discussion of maturity of the Learning Organization, the responsible management and the digital/technological support are unavoidable.


Degree of strategic maturity of LnD

The degree of maturity of strategy in LnD is one of the most defining clues. It is the quintessence of integration between business strategy and learning concepts. Deiser describes five levels, from the initial focus of individual skills across organizational change up to focussing strategic change as the master discipline (Deiser 1998). In ambitious enterprises this type of organizational development is not even assigned to a certain department, but integral part of the corporations DNA.



LnD's Degrees of Maturity Degrees of Maturity

Organization's digital Maturity

To determine the digital maturity of an organization the HR Digital Status Check21 (Wahler, M., & Busch, M., 2018) has provided a multidimensional concept. Various perspectives (strategy, leadership, organization, Processes, digital skills, mobile apps, big data, staff & data protection , HR architecture / systems / interfaces and data) are organized in four levels (HR without digitalization, beginning digitalization, advanced digitalization and completely digital). The concept can be applied to the individual departments to draw conclusions (and resulting actions) accordingly.


Focus on: Strategy Implementation

The time and scope technical literatures and practise apply to strategy planning and analysis enormous, whilst implementation in theory (and real life) is hardly discussed. The assumption is that only the discussed measures have to be applied over the next period and there is hardly anything to it. But is that really the case?

The elements organization, corporate culture, personnel management and controlling are named as relevant leadership-independent factors of successful strategy implementation (Raps, 2008). Processes for feedback and reflection during realization and occurrence of obstacles are hardly ever anticipated. The organizational hierarchy of responsibilities shows the same imbalance between development and realization of strategies, especially if communication is only mono-directional (top-down). It is an open secret, that organizations thrive and are more productive, if employees have a clear understanding of corporate goals and leaders are excellent communicators (Kaplan/Norton, 2001).

It is hardly surprising that the efficiency of communication channels depend on the degree of personal exchange and possible interaction (Miniace/Falter, 1996). It is incomprehensible, if not careless, if a well thought out and appropriate strategy fails, because the organization has spared time and effort or is just not able to communicate.


Agile Strategy Development = Organizational Development

Changes of general conditions of the own position and resulting changes of strategy are the reality as Mintzberg states in his Model of Emerging Strategies.

This suggests that the numbers of emergent strategy impulses resulting in modified strategies rise, due to the increase of dynamics and complexity of the VUCA world. Strategy definition methods already anticipating change will therefore gain in importance. According to the research of Schallmo/Lohnse classic strategy development concepts and measures are still relevant (Schallmo/Lohse, 2020). However rigid multi-year plans with exact budgets and target-values are obsolete, just as strategy development as closed-stop events of a perceived elite management and annual strategy reflections.

The capability to adjust to changed surroundings is an undisputed success factor, increasingly so, the more dynamic changes occurs. This also applies to the development of digital education strategies in corporations. Even more as especially skill changes are result and trigger of cultural changes (culture drives business drives strategy drives culture..). Strategy development should right from the start be driven by agile methods as they feature the following attributes:

  • applicable across-phases
  • cross-functional and hierarchy-free discussion
  • multidimensional and higher level of scaling
  • possible application on short-term and event-related
  • result with degrees of freedom (result span
  • simplicity (Those/Wistuba, 2019)


New Paradigmas of Strategies

According to Beinhocker conventional strategy concepts are based on two prerequisites: 

  1. a relatively stabile predictability of the future
  2. the ability to keep competitive advantages over a longer period (Beinhocker, 2006).

Nowadays competitive advantages can not be kept up long. And considering the high dynamics in innovation and competition within the much invoked VUCA world it must be questions, if these two conditions still apply to any organization and it's environment. The ability to learn faster than the competitior has sometimes been declared as being the sole sustainable competitive advantage.

According to Beinhocker conventional strategy concepts are based on two prerequisites: 

  1. a relatively stable predictability of the future
  2. the ability to keep competitive advantages over a longer period (Beinhocker, 2006).

Nowadays competitive advantages cannot be kept up long. And considering the high dynamics in innovation and competition within the much-invoked VUCA world it must be questions, if these two conditions still apply to any organization and it's environment. The ability to learn faster than the competition has sometimes been declared as being the sole sustainable competitive advantage.

Corporate Success


The approach of Strategy Design (Walter, 2019) starts with solving distinctive, small challenges within the organizational field of tension and transfer the gained knowledge to a bigger scenario. This is only possible if the strategy is not enforced top down by the C-level, but impulses from various functions and hierarchy levels thrive.

Prerequisite is a high degree of participation, collaboration, and openness to avoid effects of cannibalization on one hand and make use of synergy effects on the other. Interdisciplinary resources must made available and assigned intelligently. During strategy implementation agile project methods are employed more frequently and feedback and experiences are reflected in short cycles and event based.

This only works, if the organization has already achieved a certain level of maturity, an appropriate corporate culture and required skills. Again, this stresses the importance of HR, LnD, People & Organization.


The Method and Technique-Potpourrie

Schallmo / Lohse introduce many techniques and methods, which are applied to the various ways of developing digital strategies (Schallmo/Lohse, 2020). There is no hard and fast rule, which of the mentioned techniques in what combination of methods is the best solution. The more complex and dynamic the environment proofs, the more important a cross-hierarchy and interdisciplinary discussion of the respective methods should be declared as a strategically relevant educational goal.

Design Thinking, Business Modell Canvas, Scrum and Lean-Startup are the ones most frequently applied. All these approaches require a digital and agile mindset and encourage discussion within the organization, which is why the mediation and acquisition of the respective skills and the possibility to apply belong now to the basics of any corporate educational strategy. The same applies to the access of various digital tools of knowledge management, which also support learning processes (Mittelmann, 2019). Employing an extended method / technic potpourrie enables holistic strategy development.


Supporting Growth with Learning Technology

The implementation of an educational strategy is effectively supported through the use of a Learning Management System (LMS) and training portals.

Through the LMS, content is provided to explain the new strategic objectives. In personalized access points (training portals), the expected impacts are practically explained for each job domain, job profile, and individual employee. When there are changes in job scopes, often new knowledge and competencies must also be acquired. Newly defined processes need to be practiced.

This competency development is organized, tracked, and optimized through the Learning Management System via appropriate training and education for the employees.

The following steps are relevant for the implementation of the educational strategy:




  1. Creating and Uploading Content: First, content is created or revised to explain the objectives of the new strategy. These contents may include texts, videos, presentations, and other resources. They should clearly and precisely explain the changes in job domains and processes.
  2. Individual Customization: The content is customized for various job domains and job profiles to illustrate the specific impacts of the strategy on each employee. This may entail providing different training materials for different groups of employees.
  3. Needs Analysis: A needs analysis is conducted to determine what new knowledge and competencies are required to achieve the strategy's objectives. This helps in developing targeted training and development programs.
  4. Organizing Training Programs: Based on the results of the needs analysis, training programs are developed and organized. These may encompass in-person training, online courses, webinars, or other learning formats.
  5. Integration into the LMS: All training materials and programs are uploaded into the Learning Management System (LMS). The LMS allows for structured content delivery and easy management of training participants.
  6. Progress Tracking: The LMS enables tracking the progress of employees during training. It displays which courses have been completed and which are pending. This helps ensure that all employees undergo the necessary training.
  7. Optimizing Training Programs: Based on data from the LMS and feedback from participants, training programs can be continuously improved and adjusted. This allows for enhancing the effectiveness of training.
  8. Communication and Support: Clear communication and support are crucial during the training process. Employees should be able to ask questions and provide feedback. The LMS can also be used for communication and exchange.
  9. Measurement of Competency Development: At the end of the training process, the competency development of employees is measured to ensure they have acquired the necessary skills to achieve the strategy's objectives.

The implementation of an educational strategy through an LMS and training portals allows for the targeted preparation of employees for the execution of the strategy, ensuring that they develop the necessary knowledge and competencies, and clarifying the impacts of the strategy in various areas. This contributes to supporting the success of the strategy and ensuring that all employees actively contribute to achieving the goals.


Conclusion: Strategic Strategy Development

The challenges of digitalization imply increasing dynamic developments of environment, changes of consuming culture, higher demands concerning willingness and capability to adjust to change and a complex global competition across industry sectors. It seems that mostly Learning Organizations will master the age of digitalization.

Targeted transformation projects imply individual and organizational learning processes. They are closely related to corporate educational strategies, including the active involvement of LnD within the strategy process as well as an interdisciplinary ability to deal with tools and methods. Designing successful transformation depends on a realistic action plan, especially a digital corporate education strategy.

During digital transformation also the corporate educational strategy must also be digital. Digital educational strategies require a technical basis for educational processes and target the acquisition of digital and strategic skills. Educational strategy and content in detail may vary widely, as the goal is a market differentiation.

Conventional strategies rely on predictability and long-term competitive advantages, which are both debatable prerequisites today. These approaches might not be sufficiently promising nowadays. Successful strategy development and implementation are no isolated, chronological phases anymore but affect the organization directly.

strategic development

Thus, strategy development is active organizational development. Viable strategies within complex surroundings are not developed behind closed doors and then rolled out top-down. A corporate educational strategy is always part of a business strategy to provide the appropriate skills.

To develop a suitable corporate educational strategy a consideration of the complexity of the challenge and the environment, the capability to adjust and change as well as the degree of maturity of the organization, especially LnD, is mandatory.

Developing and honing the appropriate skills to manage transformation, must be a core part of the educational strategy. This implies the continuous inclusion of staff, LnD, corporate communication, HR, management, and consideration of culture.

During implementation of strategies agile methods and digital tools are often employed whilst strategy development operates with conventional tools.  To overcome this asynchronicity, to enable consistent communication and mutual understanding is a central strategic challenge for LnD.

Independent of conditions and corporate goals it is necessary to approach the design of (educational) strategy strategically and develop appropriate skills accordingly. The professional educational canon today requires classic and modern tools as well as experimentation with agile methods of strategy development. Organizations which can reflect their experience are Learning Organizations (Helbig/Hofhues/Egloffstein/Ifenthaler, 2021) or at least on their way.


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