Using Learning Maps to Design better Leadership Development Programmes

Article by Ken Thompson, last updated October 2021

This article introduces Learning Maps and explains how you can use them to quickly design (or check) learning programmes for any kind of organization. You can also use Learning Maps to design custom learning sessions anchored around key organizational priorities. The Learning Map approach guarantees your development programmes address the most important areas for the different learner groups in your organization.

Learning Maps can be used to design any type of development programme (face-to-face or virtual) including:

  • Induction Programmes
  • High Potential Programmes
  • Development Centres
  • Management Development Programmes
  • Senior Leader Programmes

You can quickly adapt the example Learning Map shown below as a template to create an overarching design for your specific organizational learning programme.

See the end of this article for how to obtain an editable version of the learning map.

The Four Territories on a Learning Map

There are 4 key “territories” on a Learning Map:

  1. Key Behaviours / Values and Conflicts
  2. Mission Goals and Core Dilemmas 
  3. Operational Priorities (12-month Horizon)
  4. Key Skill Areas

In the figure below we show an example Learning Map for a major Consulting Organization

Example Organizational Learning Map

All 4 territories need to be covered in your learning programme (obviously not all at the same time) if it is going to provide the learning your colleagues need. Sadly, too many learning programmes focus only on the Key Skill areas and Operational Priorities and omit the Organisational Goals and Key Behaviours and Values.

Note Key Behaviours and Values underpin everything on the Learning Map whereas Key Skill Areas support specific areas of the map such as the Customer aspect.

Let’s explore each Learning Map Territory in more detail.

1. Key Behaviours / Values and Conflicts

These are key positive behaviours that the Organization has decided they wish to see and promote in each person who works there. They are usually highly specific to each Organization and typically cover 5-8 specific behaviours. Your Organization has probably already defined them! 

It is also important to identify any potential conflicts between these values as this can be an on-going source of problems which should be addressed in development using appropriate scenarios. Values conflicts are often totally necessary in real life - they can't be avoided - but staff need to develop skills in managing them!

For example, when might “Working Together” take precedence over “Re-imagining the possible” and vice versa. An example of the first case is avoiding an overly siloed or “solo run” approach to an opportunity whereas an example of the second case is avoiding "groupthink" in creatively addressing challenging problem.

To better understand the inevitability of "values conflicts" just reflect for a moment on Marianne, the motto of the French Republic, "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité" and all the possible conflicts which arise between these 3 important values in French society.

2. Mission Goals and Core Dilemmas

Any commercial enterprise can define its Mission Goals in terms of just 4 dimensions:


Some commercial enterprises may decide to split CUSTOMERS into two separate dimensions - CUSTOMERS and STAKEHOLDERS. STAKEHOLDERS cover important parties such as Shareholders, Regulators, Community and the Environment and may merit their own category in certain types of regulated industries.

This CUSTOMER-STAKEHOLDER split can also be important for non-commercial enterprises who may also rename the COMMERCIALS dimension as OPERATIONS to better reflect their core outputs.

Core Dilemmas

Core Dilemmas are a direct consequence of the Mission Goals. Managing these dilemmas well is often the difference between success and failure for the individuals in the Organization. And yet, amazingly, they are often totally absent from organizational learning programmes. 

If you have 4 dimensions you have 6 Core Dilemmas (and if you have 5 dimensions you have 8 Core Dilemmas). It is very important to create a set of concrete examples of real Core Dilemmas as a source of rich learning scenarios – here is a set of examples for the major consulting Organization:

Core Dilemma Example TableThree important skills in managing Core Dilemmas are:

A. Dilemma Recognition

If you don’t recognise the dilemma then you are unlikely to be able to address it successfully.

B. Creative Dilemma Resolution

This is where you try to design a solution to the dilemma that is more creative/co-inventive than the obvious compromise response.

Creative Dilemma Resolution Process

Figure - The Creative Dilemma Resolution Process

(from "A Systematic Guide to Business Acumen and Leadership Using Dilemmas")

C. Values Debt Management

This is where you always try to acknowledge where you have “short-changed” one of your key values or mission goals and develop concrete plans for paying back the "values debt" as quickly as possible. 

Here’s an example – imagine a Cruise ship – a common Mission Goal Dilemma is between Guest Satisfaction and Crew Morale. Often crew morale gets sacrificed to address unexpected issues in guest satisfaction. This results in leaders accumulating debts – in this case you are now in debt to crew morale. Good leaders repay these debts as quickly as possible but weak leaders build up “bad debts” in certain values which eventually come back in a way which can be no longer ignored and can have seriously consequences.

Note also that some of these Core Dilemmas can turn into “Tri-lemmas” e.g. COLLEAGUES-CUSTOMERS-COMMERCIALS making it even more difficult to navigate them successfully.

Hopefully you can see now why the ability to deal with Values Conflicts and Core Dilemmas are so critical to the success of leaders and managers in any Organization and why these tensions need to be addressed explicitly in staff development programmes!

3. Operational Priorities (12-month horizon)

This is exactly as it says in the title – operational/organizational urgencies which are being addressed within the current fiscal year and which may have implications for staff development.

4. Key Skill Areas

Key Skill Areas are now derived by identifying what skills need developed to support the other three dimensions of the Organizational Learning Map, namely:

  • Key Behaviours / Values and Conflicts
  • Mission Goals and Core Dilemmas 
  • Operational Priorities (12-month horizon)

Create your own Organizational Learning Maps

You can create a unique set of Learning Maps for your Organization if you follow the 5 steps below:


Review and edit the 4 territories and 4 dimensions of the learning map to reflect your own organization.


Identify the different learning groups / communities in your organization and their skill needs.

For example, team leadership means different things for a junior project manager compared with a senior manager (whose team members may all be leaders of teams themselves). Each learning group needs its own version of the Learning Map – at least in terms of the Key Skill Areas.


Prioritize and phase how you will package up the different learning components for each learning group.  You can’t deliver them all in one go so which ones do you need to address first.


Prepare a 1-page map for each learning group.  Each group's map may have a different set of priorities and phasing plus different content levels for key skill areas.


Plan/Design the different learning delivery modes, mechanisms and methods.

This will depend on various factors such as the size of each group, their work patterns and their roles in the Organization. You will also have to consider the most appropriate modes (individual, group or team) and mechanisms of development (Classroom, eLearning or Simulation) and methods (self-directed or facilitated) for each learning group.

The Benefits of Learning Maps

Learning maps are a fast and effective tool for designing new learning programmes and sanity checking existing programmes for gaps. Learning maps are also extremely useful to fast-track design specific programme element using scenario-based learning tools such as configurable Business Simulations.

Counter-intuitively it is the conflicts between the Key Behaviours/Values and the conflicts between the Mission Goals which often provide the richest learning scenarios which can provide the most valuable development opportunities in organizations.

More information

If you would like an editable version of the example learning map in this article, just get in touch.

We can also provide information on tools for converting learning maps into online Business Simulations to enhance your Leadership Development Programmes.

Let's Connect

And a member of our Team will be in touch


We have 150+ articles on a wide range of Business Leadership Topics
Explore articles

Innovate Simulation

Want to know more about INNOVATE?

More about Ken Thompson

Ken Thompson

Ken is a practitioner, author and speaker on Leadership, Collaborative Working, High Performing Teams, Change Management, Project Management and Business Acumen. His work has featured in major publications including The Guardian , Wired Magazine, The Huffington Post and The Henry Ford Magazine. Ken has also spoken at many international events including TEDx, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), Learn Tech (London) and NASA.

Ken is Founder of Business Simulations Ltd.

Contact Ken

Want to know more about this topic?

As well as starting the conversation we will also send you a FREE copy of our White Paper:

Discovery Learning with Business Simulations


We transform Leadership Development using Business Simulations, guided by three principles:

Goals, Roles & Souls

Why Choose Business Simulations?

We champion Business Simulations as an effective and engaging form of Leadership Development. 'Learn by doing' hones skills in a safe and controlled environment.

More about our simulations

Let's Talk Business Simulations

We would love to tell you more about what we can do for your Business.
Feel free to give us a call on +44 2896 237253

Close App
Request a Consultation