The title of this post hopefully provokes some thought. Why would individuals at the top of the organizational chart, who have a view across the entire enterprise and all its machinations, not value L&D as a strategic source of talent? For many learning leaders and L&D professionals, this may seem like the million-dollar question.
But I’m pulling your leg. Recent data from a sample of executives shows the exact opposite: There is a positive relationship between the tenure of an executive and the likelihood that his or her company relies on L&D as a source for competitive advantage. In other words, when company leaders have been in their positions longer, they are more likely to see training as a means of building the skills the company needs for success.
For learning leaders and L&D professionals, there’s your million bucks: Executives with some years behind them see training as strategically important to the great war for employee talent.
What’s interesting, however, is that an executive’s tenure isn’t related to anything else we measured related to training. How long an executive has been in their role has no relationship with the effectiveness of training at their company. Nor does it have a bearing on whether the company has a learning culture. Or whether there are appropriate levels of funding for L&D. Or how many development opportunities are available to its employees. Or the number of challenges faced by its L&D function. See the pattern? (Rather, the absence of one?)
Unsurprisingly, however, tenure was related to other demographics about executives and their companies. An executive with a longer tenure is more likely to be older and work at a larger company. That’s not shocking, given career progressions, job hopping, etc.
Let’s take a step back and examine what the lack of other relationships implies. For L&D professionals, the battle still points uphill. Although the executives at your company may value training as a source of competitive advantage, it doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily find more budget for it. It doesn’t mean the company culture and the layers of management underneath the C-suite similarly value training. It doesn’t mean the avenues for developing employees will be wider and better lit. It doesn’t mean you’ll face fewer roadblocks on these avenues. The fact that all these relationships in the data weren’t trending in a negative direction means little more than that the executives at the top aren’t getting in the way of L&D. You’re not any more or less likely to find an ally in the corner office based on whether he or she is newly minted or has been there for decades.
What does this research ultimately mean? Learning leaders need to engage with executives with the understanding that they may believe in the value of training, but nothing else is guaranteed. L&D professionals still need to drive effectiveness through every means available to them. They still need to use analytics to make the case for expanding budgets. They still need to identify the challenges facing learning (and by extension, the company as a whole) and find ways to connect current initiatives to long-term strategic goals. Training may be valued by stakeholders in the abstract, but not necessarily in practice.
To restate the question we began with, why do executives with longer tenure shy away from L&D? They don’t, but the onus is still on L&D to bring the value to them rather than assume they’ll come to you.
To learn more, check out Training Industry’s new research report, “Executive Perspectives on the Business Impact of L&D.”