My work is focused on using measurement, data and analytics as fact-based evidence for learning and development’s impact. For me, measuring impact is the process by which we evaluate training and determine its contribution to business goals and employee performance. It starts with aligning L&D strategy to business goals, and to do that, learning and development needs a seat at the table.

So, how does L&D get a seat at the table? What should we say, and not say, when we’re at the table? And how do we keep our seat there? I asked three expert leaders in learning and development for the answers to these questions. Here’s what they had to say.

Getting an Invitation to the Table: Kimo Kippen, Former Chief Learning Officer (CLO) for Hilton

When I think about getting a seat at the table, first and foremost, what we’re looking for is executive sponsorship. We’re looking for the business to be an advocate for learning. Advocacy leads to the business embedding learning into the culture as part of its internal muscle, and advocacy ultimately leads to executive sponsorship.

You must earn credibility to receive what I like to call the right to advance. If you can tangibly demonstrate that training, learning and development somehow contributed to a business goal, you’re more likely to get that seat at table and be viewed as a strategic business partner.

I envision four learning dials for measuring learning and development as an entity within the organization: efficiency, effectiveness, ROI and net promoter score. It’s all about results. The data you get from these dials show the business how L&D is running as a business and the impact it has on the organization. Results get you the right to advance with a seat at the table.

One of the things we did at Hilton was pick a program and do an exhaustive study on program impact. The results showed a 20-to-1 return on investment. The executive sponsor was extremely pleased, as we were able to show that for a $2,000 investment, there was a $100,000 return on the investment. We were able to show results and earn our seat at the table.

Executive sponsorship secures L&D’s place in the organization’s culture. Gaining credibility and demonstrating value gets L&D the invitation to advance. Results gets us an invitation to a seat at the table.

Watch Your Language When You’re at the Table: Roy Pollock, Author of “The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning”

As a business leader, I was focused on profit and loss, results, market share and profitability. When I’d meet with training leaders, however, they used language that was completely foreign to me – terms like blended learning, the four levels and delivery channels. I didn’t know what these meant, and I didn’t care.

Business-Speak L&D-Speak
  • Business goals
  • Profit, revenue and margin
  • Key performance indicators
  • Effectiveness and efficiency
  • Results
  • Strategy
  • Return on investment
  • Market share
  • Gamification and MOOCs
  • Levels 1, 2, 3 and 4
  • Learning objectives
  • Learning styles
  • Hours of instruction
  • Microlearning
  • Bloom’s taxonomy
  • Blended approach

When the training director couldn’t speak the same language as I, my tendency was to dismiss him or her as not important, not aligned and not “getting it.” Everyone else at the table (marketing, finance, operations) “got it” and could speak in business terms. The training director seemed to be on a totally different planet speaking a totally different language.

Had the training director been able to more fully engage in the conversation, show how training aligned with the concerns I had as a business leader and talk the language of the business, training would have had a much more prominent place at the table and would have been viewed as an equal partner rather than a staff function or vendor.

If training appears to be a completely separate function unrelated to the goals of the business, it runs the risk of losing credibility, not getting the recognition it deserves and having its budget cut. Training and development must align to business goals; incorporate business concepts; and use language that explains how training can improve productivity, drive for results and impact the bottom line.

Keeping Your Seat at the Table: David Vance, Former CLO for Caterpillar and Founder of the Center for Talent Reporting

Even if you earn a seat at the table, you cannot rest on your laurels; you have to keep doing the things that got you a seat at the table in the first place – things like having a business perspective, aligning with business goals and being more of a business partner than a learning partner. For me personally, during my time as CLO at Caterpillar, it meant creating a written business plan for learning that started with strategic alignment. Our plan started with business goals as directed by the CEO and the strategy for how learning would support those goals, including the measures for success.

When you think about learning, if you don’t start with your CEO and involve other senior leaders, how else are you going to be aligned to what’s important to them? If you’re simply an order-taker, you’ll have a lot of incoming requests from business units for help. You can hope these requests are aligned to the CEO’s priorities, but they aren’t always. That’s why you want to know from the CEO what his or her goals are for the year and let that drive your business plan for learning.

Once your plan is complete, you need to execute it with discipline and let your CEO know that you are managing the department to deliver the promised results. That will require the use of monthly reports showing year-to-date progress against the agreed-upon goals so action can be taken as soon as possible to get wayward initiatives back on track. Share these high-level reports regularly with senior leaders so they know that you can be trusted to manage your department with the same business discipline as your colleagues in sales and manufacturing.

To have the greatest possible impact and bring the greatest value from the investment in learning and development, you have to be a trusted business partner. Strategic alignment is key, and having a learning business plan is critical. I don’t believe you’ll keep your seat at the table without it.

Pull Up a Chair, L&D!

Learning and Development fulfills its highest purpose when it helps people use their performance in a way that helps the business achieve goals. We can do it with a seat at the table where decisions are made about the how the business will “win” and how L&D aligns to the winning strategy. We need executive sponsorship for the right to advance, tangible evidence for our value, a language the business understands, and a plan for impact and results. If we can do that, the business will say, “Welcome to the table, L&D! Pull up a chair!”