A few years ago, ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, convened a brief five-minute virtual meeting with its over 70-person talent development team, and in that short meeting, they eliminated the entire department. Why? Leadership wasn’t informed about what the talent development team actually did. While some initiatives may have been helpful individually, they weren’t bringing the business forward or demonstrating value. Many roles and functions weren’t in tune with the strategic development plans, and, ironically, many learning events were mediocre for a company like TikTok, with content that could easily be found online.

This story is not unique: Experienced learning and development (L&D) professionals see staff reductions, even when improving employee performance is the goal. So, how do you make sure this doesn’t happen to you or your team? This article will count down the 10 ways to become trusted advisors and make the L&D team a valuable asset.

10. Deliver as Promised

If you don’t consistently deliver what you promise, don’t worry about anything else in this article. You must be dependable and manage expectations on what you and your team can do and when. You must always keep leadership informed about your progress and communicate early if a deadline is missed. Most importantly, adopt a “no excuse” attitude. Once you’ve promised something, communicating reasons why it didn’t happen just doesn’t sit well with leadership. Always keep leadership informed.

9. Balance Innovation and Production

Standards, tools, processes and the ability to manage the team’s capacity enables you to track progress and prioritize work. Using these systems builds leadership confidence in your ability to deliver. Credibility is the currency you need to implement new and innovative learning technologies or methodologies or grow your team.

8. Plan and Anticipate

Stay on top of what’s happening in the business to recommend the best solutions for enhancing employee performance. What skills do employees need? What behaviors need to be reinforced? What is needed to support the successful implementation of strategic initiatives? You must be aware and anticipate what is coming. Once you know what is needed, communicate what you and your team can do to help achieve those goals.

7. Gather Meaningful Analytics

There are many L&D analytics available today, but how do you know which ones are valuable for you and your organization? Leaders can be distrustful of training data. Perceptions count. If their perceptions of how a particular training initiative was received differ from what the training data indicates, they may rely on their perceptions or what others say (even if it is just one or two people). Be sure to learn what kind of data and reports leaders use to run the business. Align your training data and reporting to create meaning for leaders. Take the time to educate leadership on the validity of training reports and how L&D solutions are impacting the business.

6. Report on Outcomes, Not Inputs

How you manage L&D through capacity plans, prioritization and status updates is important. How many training sessions were delivered? How many people attended? All of that is what you do. But the real key to being a valued partner with the business is the “so that.” You do these things “so that” the business benefits. What is the business outcome for your solutions? Communicating and committing to the “so that” shows your value.

Remember the talent team at TikTok? This is where they fell short. Even though they may have been doing interesting things, they didn’t demonstrate a valuable return to the business. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to report on the outcomes to the business and not only the inputs.

5. Speak Business

For those experienced in our profession, this might not come as a surprise, though it’s hardly encouraging news. You are an expert in a field in which most business leaders have absolutely no knowledge or interest. Though important to us, our discussions about conducting needs analyses, creating microlearning and other professional achievements often fail to resonate with them. To these leaders, our enthusiasm can sound like the teacher’s voice in a “Peanuts” cartoon — a vague “Wah, wah, wah,” without clear meaning.

Avoid using L&D jargon because it just doesn’t speak to leaders.

Instead, spend time learning the language of the business you serve. This looks quite different if you’re working in an engineering company versus a tech company or a hospital. Once you learn the language, you also learn what’s important. Knowing the language of the business enables you to position ideas to move the business forward because you can present your ideas and solutions in the context of the business.

4. Cultivate Relationships

Don’t confine yourself to the familiar territory of your L&D team. Venture out to build relationships and your understanding of different business areas. Engage with various segments of the organization, showcasing your interest as an L&D expert and a professional attuned to the broader business landscape.

Prioritize responsiveness. When the business presents a need, be the first to offer support, demonstrating your versatility and reliability. Deliver on your promises consistently, as this dependability is key to establishing trust and reliability within the organization. Proactive and supportive behavior signals to leadership and colleagues alike that you are a trusted resource, someone who understands and can effectively address their needs. This reputation will encourage people across the business to approach you with their challenges, confident in your ability to provide solutions and facilitate positive change.

3. Deliver Fast, Cheap and Good

It’s a familiar scenario — leadership comes to us with a problem and of course, we can provide a fast, cheap or good solution — but we know it’s only possible to deliver on two out of the three. This is the inherent challenge of balancing quality, cost and speed, as having all three is typically impossible.

However, as many have learned, most leaders don’t settle for two. They demand all three: fast, cheap and good. This expectation requires us to manage our projects and deliverables adeptly, striving to find the best possible balance. While it’s important to be aware of this reality, don’t hold out hope for leaders to limit their expectations to just two aspects. Instead, prepare to navigate this complex terrain, balancing speed, cost and quality to the best of your ability.

2. Be a Problem-Solver, Not a Problem

Leaders won’t solve your problems — if anything, they may throw a new one out there to handle. Present a viable solution and seek approval to implement when you present the issue. Never make excuses and never complain. You should be viewed as someone who solves problems, not creates problems.

1. Leadership Comes to You

Adopting these practices paves the way toward the ultimate goal: becoming a trusted, go-to person for leadership. More importantly, leaders will involve you proactively rather than at the last minute. You earned this esteemed position because you’ve consistently delivered on your promises. You’ve adeptly managed L&D production and underscored the value of L&D by emphasizing outcomes rather than inputs. Your immersion in the business through active participation in operations and keen understanding of challenges and solutions make you invaluable to the organization.

Delivering great solutions is not enough, you must manage perception and credibility to become an indispensable partner in your organization, trusted to contribute to the success of the business.