Consider the following scenario:
A learning and development (L&D) leader, let’s call her Kyra, sponsors dozens of L&D initiatives each year. Some of them are leadership related, others are cultural enhancers and others are technical in nature. Kyra is easy to work with, leverages her team to create engaging content and implements program after program. The participant feedback is always positive, yet she spends much of her time trying to get a seat at the proverbial table to get ahead of development needs within the organization and she can’t figure out why it’s so hard. One day Oscar, a new leader of the commercial team, sits down with Kyra and shares feedback she needs to hear: “When you build program after program,” he says, “It’s like you’re doing it because you think we need it, not because we think we need it. It’s a fun break in the day to attend a class, but since it’s not aligned to anything we’re doing in the business; it’s just seen as a distraction.” Ouch!
Every L&D leader has a moment like this — a moment when we realize we can build the greatest learning experience ever created, but it will only be viewed as entertrainment if it’s not aligned to a greater cause. The challenge is figuring out what’s going on in the business, so we have something to which we can align all our amazing learning experiences. How do we go from being a distraction to an imperative?
Fight for Time
Everyone is busy, but if you truly believe you can help your organization achieve its goals, you deserve to be prioritized. It won’t happen on its own, though. Figure out whose support you need the most, and make sure to meet with them: Don’t be afraid to fight for calendar time. Get your elevator pitch ready for why it’s important to the business that you’re a part of the conversation and do whatever you need to do to be there. Once you have the time, use it effectively!
This is the most important part of building relationships with business leaders. Maybe you like to be the center of attention. Maybe you have some of the world’s craziest experiences to share. Cool! Just save it for later. First, focus on learning all you can about the other person —their experiences, their stories, their struggles and their successes. Then, and only then, will you know how to leverage your experiences, stories, struggles and successes to help them and their teams.
Since you were curious, and you know about what’s going on in the business, get involved. Ask how you can help and offer suggestions. This is when you show them what you’re capable of: Just remember you’re doing it for them and for the success of the business, not to get accolades or credit.
Be open to other people’s suggestions. Although you’re the learning expert, your idea may not be 100% perfect right out of the gate. Truly be open to feedback and ideas that maybe you didn’t think about. Try something new. You never know — you may be the one who learns something.
Lastly, to really show alignment to business needs, focus on results. The extent of the evaluation varies by project and organization, but don’t wait to be asked for the results. Early in the project identify what you want to accomplish and how you will know you’ve done it. Then measure it and share the results.
Although entertrainment can be fun and keep you busy, if your work doesn’t align to the organization’s priorities, is it really worth doing? If you’re not sure what reputation your L&D team has within the business, just ask around. Find your Oscar — the business leader willing to tell you what you need to hear. Discover the deep-rooted problems within your organization and your impact can be limitless.