Judy Owen has done just about everything one can do after 25 years with companies that provide integrated hospitality services for trade shows, conferences and special events, the last 13 of those with Freeman, a provider of services for face-to-face marketing and brand-building events, including expositions, conventions, corporate events, meetings and exhibit programs.
Owen spent most of her early career in sales, services and operations roles, until five years ago, when she transitioned into the learning arena with Freeman’s audio/visual services division. Then, just 18 months later, she was tapped as vice president of training and development for the company’s North America operation and its 4,000 employees.
Freeman received a Bersin & Associates learning leader award in 2008 and was also recognized with the 2008 Best Place to Learn award from the Dallas chapter of ASTD. In both cases, Freeman was cited for its ability to align training strategy with its overall business strategy.
Owen is convinced that she, and Freeman, are better off because she came to the job with the tools and perspectives to more effectively move “from the business and in the business” rather than working “on” the business.
“When you transition from the operations and sales side of the business, you have worked shoulder to shoulder with the business partners and have developed a credible position as being empathic, knowledgeable, having subject matter expertise, feeling their pain and understanding, what they actually go through,” Owen said.
When a business leader makes the move to learning, those intellectual and personal assets come along, too. “The dialogue with business partners continues with someone who can truly relate to the business,” Owen said. “So it’s just the application of what you do that is different in a learning executive role.”
Owen believes her initial transition from business operations to learning was less difficult because her accountability for driving performance remains the same.
“Whether it’s delivering on Freeman’s brand and differentiating from the competition or developing our people to the best of our ability and driving a profit, from my perspective, these are all the reasons you have a learning function in your company to begin with,” she said.
“At the end of the day, you have to relate to the people, your business partners, in such a way that you are their consultant to help them solve their problems because you come from that partnership perspective with knowledge of the business.”
To help make an effective transition from business to learning, Owen offered the following advice:
• Don’t try to force learning best practices on your partners. “Sometimes, these business partners just want you to listen and think about the challenge and potential solutions that are going to improve the business.”
• Understand their pain. “That’s what being a performance consultant is all about,” and it’s no different for learning leaders.
• Speak their language. “Don’t superimpose the language of the learning discipline onto the business. Operations and sales leaders are not interested in training jargon, which only serves to disconnect the learning leader form other business leaders. Listen, understand and verify their issues and respond with proposed training solutions that address their concern.”
• Start with the end in mind. “You have to understand the desired outcome. What are we trying to make happen based on the desired outcome?” If you engage them in the right dialogue, the objective should be clear.
• Set your training hat aside. “Peel back the layers of the business challenge and invest the time and thinking to understand how the business gets better if you apply training to it. If your business partner doesn’t know how the business gets better, there may be something else at the root of their business problem. Sometimes, training can’t fix what’s broken, and it’s your job to know that.”
Owen said the quality and frequency of meaningful dialogue with business partners across the enterprise ultimately will determine the success or failure of the learning leader. Helping business partners sort through how learning can and should play a role in meeting their objectives should come long before the creation of any learning interventions.Filed under: Learning Delivery