Business leaders don’t want us to have that seat at the strategic table. We could spend time talking about how we’re misunderstood, how we’re brought into conversations too late to be effective, or how leadership just doesn’t understand the value of learning. But that would be passing the blame instead of dealing with the issue head on.
As an industry, we have done our profession a disservice in our march to be relevant. Why do we let ourselves be nothing more than an afterthought, relegated to feast on table scraps and leftovers?
We have a problem that needs to be addressed. Once we begin to take ourselves seriously as businesspeople who deliver business results, the rest of the organization will do so in kind. We must first accept that no one in the business cares about cognitive load, neuroscience, gamification or any other learning methodology. Those are nothing more than tools to execute the learning and help drive end-user performance. It’s like the marketing department constantly talking about psychographics, search engine marketing, and customer experience mapping instead of how many leads they can generate and how many customers they can up sell.
Let’s begin by understanding the people who already have seats at the strategic table. Business is binary. Almost everything is driven by at least one of three things: increasing revenue, decreasing expenses or managing risks — all of which are related to increasing shareholder value.
“But what about employee engagement and satisfaction?” Well, you’re right.
Gallup 2013 research has proven that: Organizations with engaged employees outperformed their peers by 10 percent on customer ratings, 22 percent in profitability, and 21 percent in productivity. Engaged employees are also 87 percent less likely to leave an organization, according to CEB.
While we all would love to see employees skipping down the cubicle aisles and walking their unicorns to a drum circle to sing the corporate jingle, the three aforementioned overarching corporate goals are a means to an end, not the end itself. In business terms, they’re the wrong metrics. Leadership wants “end” metrics, not “means” metrics.
The learning function has been a horrible business partner, focusing on tools, methods and techniques instead of business goals and objectives. To be relevant, we must closely align with the business to identify how our initiatives to improve, change or empower employee performance drive revenue, market penetration and shareholder value. It’s time to change the conversation.
Get your house in order. What would your internal clients say about your organization? Are you easy to work with, or are you a potpourri of learning solutions looking for a problem? Assess how your organization intakes learning requests, consults with and delivers to the business, and reports on learning initiative results.
Learn a new language. If you speak the language of business, what about the rest of your department? The opinion of the greater organization is forged by your team’s ability to understand, relate to and consult with the rest of the organization.
Talk less and listen more. Learning and development is a support organization. Our job is to ready the organization for change. To do this, we need to identify business leaders’ priorities and determine which priorities the learning department can proactively own.
- Focus on results. It’s not about the number of training hours, butts in chairs or smile sheets. It’s about how you affect key performance indicators and dashboards for the project leaders you support. Focus on identifying and agreeing to success criteria and metrics to measure the business impact. Then focus on identifying performance levers to influence those metrics, and build a targeted solution. Be excited when you find that lever, and share it with the project leader and management. But remember: It’s not the lever that is exciting, but what gets management nodding their heads.
This list only scratches the surface, but it’s a good start down the path to relevancy and business alignment.
I’ll leave you with the greatest compliment I’ve ever heard from a business leader: “I have no idea what the learning department does, but when I engage them, the results are incredible.”