Sonserae Toles, director of the U.S.-based Learning Campus for Siemens, a global group of companies in industry, energy and health care, said learning professionals should be more proactive in positioning themselves as partners with the lines of business and changing the way learning is perceived.
“Learning has to be more closely aligned with the business. I can’t repeat that enough,” Toles said.
Siemens’ Learning Campus, part of the company’s corporate headquarters, previously focused on fulfilling nontechnical learning needs and providing learning resources to Siemens’ multifaceted operating companies in the United States.
“When I took over the leadership role in July 2007, we began working differently, starting by identifying program and functional owners to work more closely with,” Toles said. “It was like turning a new leaf. Once we began collaborating more directly with these key individuals on tasks including global project management, Six Sigma or finance, we got a much better sense of what their business needs were. The result is that we’re now better able to provide more relevant solutions for their businesses.”
Toles said Siemens is working toward having these business and functional owners collaborate and take full accountability directly with their business-line partners. “I think there’s now a clear recognition of the value of closer alignment and the importance of supporting a learning culture within our organization,” she said.
In order to sell these benefits internally, Toles said learning teams should develop business acumen and a strong connection between business operations and the value of learning for the individual business manager.
“Demonstrating solid business acumen and skills goes a long way in helping learning managers prove their value proposition to business-unit management,” Toles said.
In addition to understanding internal clients’ business needs, Toles said learning professionals should demonstrate greater flexibility when addressing the structural and social realities inside individual operating units.
For example, her learning team observed that Siemens project managers own their projects in different ways. Some own one or two high-value projects. Others may own several low-ticket projects. As a result, training needs to be calibrated with these and other differences in mind so the appropriate resources can be brought to bear in a timely manner.
Toles’ U.S. learning team also was charged with supporting a global project management initiative to bring a new learning platform to U.S.-based project managers across several sectors. Its success, Toles said, continues to hinge on the learning team’s ability to promote the value of collaboration with the lines of business it’s trying to support.
“To start, we had to understand the business strategy and the challenges involved. We also needed an ongoing dialogue about the specific learning needs, so we really understood the nuances involved,” Toles said. “Then we placed someone on the team who had practical business expertise. The person was versed not only in learning theory but could interact effectively with the business owners themselves from day one.”
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