One of the two best books I have read in my career is Peter Block’s Flawless Consulting: A guide to getting your expertise used. One of the key ideas I adopted from Block is that we in learning and development (L&D) are not often thought of as consultants, but we share plenty of the same challenges.

Are we seen as experts whose job is to solve an immediate problem as defined by a manager? (“We need to teach our people to be more responsible! Make it so!”) Or are we seen as “a pair of hands” whose role is to carry out the plan a manager has devised? (“What our supervisors need is a six-week leadership development program. Start teaching it Monday.”) In neither of these scenarios is collaboration regarded as part of L&D’s role.

As L&D practitioners, we can influence senior leaders to see our work as a vital, collaborative, consultative element leading to organizational success. Bringing that vision about is an objective of the Learning 2023 pre-conference program, “3 Pillars of Learning Leadership.” In this article, I discuss those pillars in a way that I hope you will find complementary to the themes of that program.

Learning is a strategic part of success

Learning is a critical component of any organizational strategy for thriving in today's rapidly changing business environment. As new technologies emerge and markets shift, organizations must continually adapt and evolve to remain competitive. Successful execution of the learning component requires collaboration between L&D and the organization's leadership and stakeholders. This requires a strong commitment to learning at all levels.

At the organizational level, leaders must foster a culture of learning that encourages innovation, experimentation, and knowledge sharing. Resources should be dedicated to training programs, leadership development, and opportunities for employees to gain new skills. Learning organizations embrace change, they don't resist it. Challenges are opportunities to grow stronger.

At the team level, cross-functional collaboration and idea exchange help create synergies across departments. When teams learn together, they can better leverage their joint expertise to solve problems. Team building activities that incorporate learning and skill development also promote cooperation and breakthrough thinking. Team-building requires support from the top down, the elimination of silos, and collaboration between leadership and L&D.

Finally, at the individual level, learning new things stretches a person's capabilities. As employees enhance their skills they become more engaged, motivated, and valuable over the long-term. Workers should be empowered to drive their own development through job rotations, stretch assignments, and continuous education.

In today's world, organizations cannot afford to remain static. By making learning part of their strategy, companies can unlock the talent, innovation, and performance needed to adapt and lead in the future.

Adopt data as a basis for performance-based learning strategy

Data analytics plays a pivotal role in shaping performance-based learning strategies. By gathering and examining performance data, organizations gain valuable insights that can inform training priorities and development opportunities. There are several important ways data can guide learning strategy.

First, data from performance reviews, sales numbers, quality metrics, and talent evaluations provide clarity on skills gaps. Analyzing performance data exposes areas where employees are struggling or plateauing. This enables learning leaders to target training on the highest leverage areas to bridge those gaps. Ongoing skills audits should provide updated data to adjust strategies over time.

Second, user data from administrative learning platforms (learning management system analytics, learning record stores, and learning experience platforms) reveal engagement levels, knowledge retention, and even simple course completion rates, among many other measures. This shows what content resonates so learning teams can double down on similar formats. Data also uncovers problem areas where more support may be needed.

Third, employee survey data gathers feedback on the experience of the learners. Evaluating post-training surveys reveals strengths and weaknesses in instruction methods, course quality, and relevance of material. Feedback data is crucial for continuous improvement.

Fourth, retention and promotion data demonstrates the business impact of learning programs. Correlating learning data to talent outcomes provides accountability for L&D investments.

As you can tell, performance data is indispensable for shaping learning strategies, monitoring progress, and proving ROI. With robust analytics, organizations can adjust their strategies to maximize upskilling, productivity, and results. A data-driven approach ensures learning objectives tie directly to business goals for optimal alignment.

Communicate with stakeholders about learning and business enablement

Effective communication with stakeholders is vital for ensuring that learning and development programs align to business priorities and deliver value. To gain buy-in and resources, L&D leaders must connect with stakeholders in meaningful ways.

First, understand stakeholder motivations. What business goals do they have? What challenges are they facing? By linking learning initiatives to stakeholder needs, they become more invested. For example, show how sales training will increase revenue and by how much.

Second, speak their language. Avoid excessive L&D jargon and tailor messaging for each group of stakeholders. Executives care about ROI. Managers want competent team members. Employees want growth opportunities. Frame outcomes accordingly.

Third, have strategic business conversations beyond training requests. Discuss organizational objectives and consult on how L&D can enable the business strategy. Offer innovative ideas versus waiting for direction. Proactively propose value-add partnerships.

Fourth, provide regular communications through meetings, email updates, and reports. Share progress on learning programs, highlights on participant feedback, and success stories of training outcomes. Consistent communication fosters engagement and surfaces ongoing needs.

Fifth, collect feedback from stakeholders. Ask what they need to achieve goals and how L&D can better support them. Incorporate this input into learning plans and curriculum design.

Finally, position L&D as a strategic business partner versus a functional training provider. Demonstrate how learning, leadership development, and talent strategy enable business performance and competitive advantage. Effective stakeholder communication ensures L&D has a seat at the table.

Learn more

Join Christopher Adams, Amber Boyd, and Frank Nguyen December 4, 2023 at an all-day seminar on the "3 Pillars of Learning Leadership" Examine the role of strategic thinking and planning, business enablement, and data to drive performance—and hone your skills in these key areas. Learn more and register today.