“Learning in the flow of work … recognizes that for learning to really happen, it must fit around and align itself to working days and working lives.” With this statement in a Harvard Business Review, analyst Josh Bersin suggested a new way for learning to happen, which he coined “learning in the flow of work.”

In recent conversations with learning and development (L&D) leaders, two things became clear: The return from a transformation toward learning in the flow of work can be high, but the success rate to secure executive sponsorship and start the transformation is low.

L&D leaders often struggle to gain C-suite sponsorship, resources and budget to invest in a learning transformation program. Why? Their biggest challenge is proving the value of learning in a language that makes sense to business executives.

Your Seat At The C-suite Table: The Strategic Value of L&D

Since the term was first launched late 2018, much has been written about the concept and applications of learning in the flow of work. Promises include increased efficiency, optimized effectiveness, a stronger company culture of continuous learning and professional development, and an improved workforce experience.

Anyone who can bring valuable insights to the C-suite table has a shot at being heard. Here are your four tickets:

1. The Link to the Business Strategy

Bringing the business on board is essential to the success of a learning transformation. Organizations are now transforming learning as an answer to the disruptive business changes driven by the redefinition of work through technology innovation, a growing demand for new competencies, changing employee expectations, shifting labor demographics, diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategies, transitioning to new workforce models, and the evolving business environment (e.g., regulatory changes).

Give clear and compelling proof for the learning transformation business case through real examples from other companies, leading trends, and research benchmarks. You will not find an organization that is just like you, so seek elements in others’ stories that resonate well in your own organization.

2. The Culture Conversation

Linked to the competitive talent difference of your organization, the business case conversation shifts into a culture conversation that enables individual and organizational agility through learning in the flow of work. Changing a culture is fundamentally about changing habits, and change management practitioners should understand the mechanisms underlying habit formation to help the workforce adopt a continuous learning mindset and to help the organization support a modern learning culture.

Promoting a continuous learning culture requires understanding how your organization can offer an environment of trust, of reflection and less reaction, of empowerment, and of open and transparent knowledge-sharing. An impactful learning organization reinforces these behaviors by making space for learning and creating an environment where learning and growing is part of day-to-day work.

3. The Workforce Experience Lens

Deloitte research has found that “84% of organisations who took initiatives to increase employee engagement believed there was a strong correlation between employee engagement and productivity.” Organizations must move away from thinking of workforce experience as a human resources (HR) process and think of it as a journey that connects all sub-functions and activities to create a seamless experience for the workforce.

Where HR stumbles when improving the total workforce experience, by enabling learning in the flow of work, L&D teams might be among the first ones to realize an improved experience. Ask employees what they like, formally via surveys and focus groups or informally. Encourage the sharing of ideas and experiences to collect real stories that can help convince executives that you solve a real pain point or that the benefits of a learning transformation are applicable to your workforce.

4. The New Work Context

Your last ticket is linked to the new work context due to COVID-19, which resulted in a shift in team working behaviors and practices. Executives have, themselves, now experienced the challenges and benefits of remote working, collaboration and learning. Therefore, the opportunity presents itself to keep up these new habits — which will require leaders to step up, lead and support the new reality.

Many organizations have developed tools to support employees in the COVID-19 remote working context. Now is the time to keep supporting employees, teams and leaders in these new working behaviors and practices, such as digital learning.

These four strategies will help you gain the ears of the C-suite, who are looking at learning in a much more focused way to see what they can do to drive more productivity and performance across the organization.

Seize the Opportunity Today

Key success factors in unlocking the strategic value of learning include:

Executive sponsorship: A learning transformation requires a mandate from the highest level of the organization and leadership input and support throughout the process. Learning transformation will touch many parts of the business that historically are considered “off limits.” Only through executive sponsorship can L&D achieve change and alignment.

Business involvement: Business representatives must be involved throughout the process to align the learning strategy with business objectives and build buy-in along the way. The approach will impact daily business operations, and change will happen in the context of ongoing business.

A surgical approach: Transformation should be viewed as a journey; the need for speed must not compromise the ability of the organization to perform its usual business. The implementation process should balance speed and business continuity.

Deep analytics capability: Develop a deep analytics capability to analyze the vast amount of data involved in learning transformation. Using sophisticated models to test hypotheses and then visualizing data is critical to supporting pilots or experiments.

Extensive network and research reach: To truly understand leading-edge learning, it is important to be able to draw upon external best practices and research learning and talent management capabilities.

Now is the time to gain executive commitment for your learning transformation vision and tie the discussion to a digital transformation. Are you ready for the future of learning?