Who knows your organization’s needs, gaps, and skills better than L&D? This deep knowledge, along with learning leaders’ understanding of organizational processes and the business in general, puts learning leaders in an ideal position: They can drive the growth of the organization—not only by empowering the employees, but also by supporting not-so-typical career paths. With their unique insights, the contribution of learning leaders to organizational success can prove the real value of the learning and development (L&D) team.

Moving where the opportunity is

Today’s “flat” organizations have far less hierarchy when compared with traditional organizational models. Consequently, there is less opportunity to climb up the career ladder. However, employees can still grow and find challenges and opportunities—often by moving horizontally within the organization.

No longer is one skill or skillset adequate for an employee’s entire life or career. Even upskilling does not help in the dynamics and uncertainties of the world. Lifelong learning that nurtures the primary and at least one secondary skill helps employees to be better prepared for changes and horizontal job moves, that is, moving to a different department or role at the same level. Or for possibly creating a new job or an entirely new department.

Upskilling and reskilling are no longer occasional; they are basically ongoing. “Unlearning” one skill (especially if it is already extinct) and learning something new is a key characteristic of the modern learner.

All these activities do not go unnoticed by L&D teams and learning leaders. Even more, I believe that L&D in coordination with HR can be the driver for horizontal career growth, as well as promotions.

Taking an active role in driving horizontal career changes allows learning leaders to directly demonstrate the value of L&D in contributing to employee retention, ensuring that employees’ skills are utilized, and helping employees find their place and purpose (again, with HR involved)—all contributors to the organization’s success.

L&D is so intertwined in the organizational structure and processes that its leaders have earned their “seat at the CEO table” thanks to both their key role in building skills and their ability to identify skills and talents among the employees and find the places where these skills can be best used. In short, learning leadership is ideally positioned to shape the organization for business success.

L&D knows where the skills are—and what they are

L&D professionals can accomplish this skill building and identification because they work with the entire organization. Usually the L&D is a small department yet it “employs” all the people in organization.

In content creation processes, for example, L&D works with as many contributors or subject matter experts [SMEs] as possible. In these interactions, instructional designers not only see who has which skills, they can also create relatively accurate skills maps. Furthermore, in content development and knowledge sharing processes, they often identify hidden talents and find skills and experience that no one knew existed. Or they might find skills and talents that could possibly better fit into some other department—again, L&D knows where there are “gaps” and where specific skills are desperately needed.

When a person transfers between departments, typically their skills are augmented with ones the individual has to learn or adjust to, again an area where L&D excels. The horizontal transfer of specific, needed skills, along with the person who possesses them, brings fresh air and new perspectives into departments.

I’ve seen people moving from technical department into sales, and yes, also in the opposite direction, although that is rare. Or moving from project management into marketing. Specifically, in our company we found that our receptionist had great media production skills; we moved the person to the media production team. Another receptionist moved to sales, a person from the front office moved to content curation, etc. Although these moves were not purely horizontal (and L&D was only partially involved), the cases showed us how much better the company could function when people were optimally placed to leverage their skills. These transfers also showed us how much better people feel when they do what they do best and can grow their skills and learn new things daily.

L&D knows where the skills gaps are

In addition to identifying the skills employees already possess, learning leaders look for—and fill—skills gaps. Finding the skills gaps and learning the needs of the departments and individuals can result in a great mapping opportunity.

L&D might close a skills gap simply by moving a person from one department into a different one that has a need for their specific skills: no reskilling or new hiring is needed. No layoffs; instead, opportunities are created for employees to grow and develop professionally—and internal mobility is a driver of employee engagement and retention. Along with one more proof of the value of L&D and one more reason learning leaders deserve their seat at the table.

The value learning leaders with their organizational expertise bring extends beyond closing specific skills gaps. They can identify broader aspects of business—the things that are not related to skills but to processes. With a big-picture view and a strategic focus, learning leaders know when to suggest creating an entirely new job—if they’ve identified a person with adequate skills in the organization. They might understand that such a new job could change the entire business dynamic. Or perhaps creating a new department? With tight cooperation with HR and a firm place at the CEO table, a progressive L&D can do that—and change the entire organization for the better.

Leadership demands constant attention

Instead of doing business as usual, responding to requirements of line managers or HR, L&D has to become a driving force in business success. That is where the value and opportunities for learning leaders lies: Learning leaders have to be constantly on the lookout, watching for skills and skills gaps, mapping these across the departments and within organization, and thinking in organizational terms. All while keeping the business goals in mind.

This is the way for L&D to prove its value and be embraced by the employees, who will see it not only as the source of learning content but also as a consultant and partner in planning their careers, fulfilling their personal goals, and helping achieve their missions.

Despite being typically a small department, L&D has great insights, great connections, and great opportunities to make organizations vibrant by helping employees achieve their goals inside the company, so they do not need to quit and seek opportunities somewhere else. A proactive L&D team is a true partner of all employees. By constantly paying attention to where the people are, what they know, and how they can optimally grow themselves and the company, the L&D brings the value no one can deny.

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