While many CEOs and other executives view acquisition and development of the right talent as a marketplace differentiator, some still don’t see learning as a key business strategy enabler.
To the C-suite, the CLO’s role will only remain viable as long as learning executives think and act as strategic leaders, build credibility among their executive peers and sponsor initiatives that build organizational capability, employee competency and measurable performance improvements. To amplify their ability to accomplish these tasks, learning leaders need to enhance their influence skills.
According to Joel Garfinkle, author of Getting Ahead: Three Steps to Take Your Career to the Next Level, regardless of their current state of influence, the first step to increase it is for CLOs to be aware of specific traits that influential people have developed to a significantly higher degree than others. Garfinkle’s list of five ways to be influential includes having a solid reputation, an enhanced skill set, executive presence, superior likability and the power to persuade.
He said with influence, CLOs can move their organizations forward and change outcomes for the better. They can motivate, arouse interest and complete tasks they and others deem important. Others will depend on them, and they will be seen as difference makers with the courage to make tough and important decisions.
“But influence requires value,” he said. “If you want key stakeholders in the company and business units to see the value in learning, you have to speak the value at meetings. You need to understand how the business works, what’s important to other leaders. Once you understand the needs of other business units, you’ll be able to speak to them, influence them and provide value.”
Understanding the business requires doing some homework before meeting with top contenders. This means framing questions and presenting a business case for any recommendations. To do this, it’s important for learning leaders to understand the organization’s mission, vision, values and strategic priorities. They should understand their implications for the organization, not only from a human capital and learning perspective, but also from a broader business perspective.
Learning leaders should consider spending one-on-one time with each senior executive with a seat at the table to understand his or her functional operating plans and priorities. This will help formulate partnering strategies and contribute to the achievement of operating goals and measurable results.
“The key is to think strategy before you think learning,” Garfinkle said. “To understand your business partners, ask them how their business works, how it makes money, what’s important to them and what they’re prioritizing. Once you have the answers to those questions and can shift your mindset away from tactical learning elements, it’s going to change how you project your discussion and how influential you’ll be.”
In the future CLOs should make visible their promise to maintain an ongoing commitment to development, anticipate their organization’s future learning needs and match their work to meeting those needs. They should urge other leaders to take advantage of learning opportunities, including development courses, industry conferences and professional groups, and urge their subordinates to do the same. They should vocalize the importance of all employees proactively seeking out new projects that will help them learn, grow and expand their competencies.
“Throughout all of this, when you’re sitting at the table, remember that you are the expert. Be yourself,” Garfinkle said. “The COO across from you is the expert on the execution of business strategy and operational effectiveness and efficiencies. The CMO knows the most in the group about marketing. You’re all about learning, and you have to be influential about learning and development. Come across with confidence; you have an executive presence.”