Fortune Favours the Bold! How L&D Can Open New Conversations with Business

by | Jun 22, 2015 | Articles

Aligning learning with business is the hot topic in learning and development. L&D leaders have got a vision for modernising learning and achieving great things, but many business leaders still think we are there to take orders for courses. Armed with new models of learning and new tools proven to the do the job, it is time to challenge their assumptions. This article explores how we can summon the courage to do it.

For the past few years, attention has been firmly fixed on urging learning and development to adapt and change in order to keep up with the rapidly shifting world of work. We have been (rightly) presented with a case of do or die. Since 2013, Donald Taylor has been urging us to rise up out of the Training Ghetto. Earlier this year, David D’Souza even invited us to attend our own post mortem! In times of change, it is critical that we are challenged to look at ourselves and to really reflect on whether just taking orders and delivering courses (live or online) should be our only role in today’s work environments. These are tough messages that we need to hear.

L&D needs to wake up to the fact that our job is to use our skill to deliver value, not just courses. So if we are to get our house in order, we have to be challenged, painful as it may be. There has been an industry-wide wakeup call to modernise learning: to align more closely to business needs; to be able to respond to and predict the needs of individuals; to develop new skills in areas such as content creation, content curation, the ability to facilitate collaboration; to have the ability to really demonstrate our impact on learning outcomes.

The benchmark research that Towards Maturity conducts with L&D leaders shows that in the last few years we are starting to see a real turnaround in attitudes. Nine-out-of-ten L&D leaders now have their eyes fixed on new goals that go beyond course delivery. Their priority is to directly impact productivity, support performance, improve talent, respond faster and align to business needs. They are using more technologies than ever before to help achieve results and two-in-five are starting to embrace new models of learning. Done well, these approaches make a significant impact on the bottom-line results of business, but despite our internal desire to do things differently, L&D leaders fail to connect with business leaders. Two-way alignment seems to be our biggest priority and our greatest challenge.

A significant image gap

Numerous recent studies show a lack of confidence in L&D teams from the business. A Capita study revealed that fewer than half of business leaders felt that their L&D teams were able to provide adequate training to weather the downturn into recovery. Released last month, a Censuswide study commissioned by Skillsoft released just last month showed that only 20% of business leaders use L&D to cultivate future leadership talent or to multi skill individuals in order to grow the business. It seems that business leaders’ expectations are limited to a “we value you” buzz for their staff.

Whilst confidence may be lacking, today’s business leaders and L&D leaders who are passionate about modernising learning share an increasingly common agenda. Both have a clear focus on improving productivity, increasing agility and prioritising the talent agenda. One of the biggest challenges is to get business leaders to see L&D in a new light. They expect L&D to deliver courses rather than offer solutions to the problems they are tackling day-to-day.

What can we do to change business leaders’ perceptions?

We need to speak the same language. This means no more L&D jargon! That’s a given! We also need a business-like approach to our own business – practical, proactive, methodical, systematic, outcome-driven.

Too many of L&D decisions are knee-jerk, “I need to ‘cut costs now”‘ or “me too ‘I need a game, an app, a model for that’.” This is not how business leaders conduct themselves. They make decisions based on evidence, not intuition. They use all kinds of proof to persuade, plan, prioritise, predict and improve. To change perceptions, we’d do well to take a leaf out of their book.

Developing an evidence-based learning strategy will capture the attention of business leaders through three ways: It will rebuild our confidence. It boosts our credibility. It equips us to challenge preconceived ideas with insightful new solutions.

Rebuild confidence

Great L&D leaders are innovative but lack the courage of their convictions. We need to reconstruct our own confidence, and benchmarking will help. It helps to know that while you might not yet be a top performer, comparison with the best confirms whether or not you’re on the right track. In the past, we have used benchmarks to quantify issues such as the number of training hours, completion rates, or budget per head or per course. It’s been about delivering courses and saving money. No wonder we struggle to prove bottom-line value. Since 2003, we’ve produced a learning benchmark that looks at the outcomes most important to business leaders. This resource covers the extent to which an innovative, technology-enabled learning strategy will meet expectations. It confirms if your strategy is heading in the right direction and provides a credible basis on which to change the internal conversation.

Boost credibility

Taking an evidence-based approach helps us to boost our credibility. The latest
thinking about neuroscience helps in the push for change. Organisations conducting Learning Landscape Audits build a powerful picture of how their staff are learning. This helps to build a stronger case for L&D to deliver more than just a course. Evidence also helps to link new learning solutions back to the core needs of business leaders. However, credibility is not solely reliant on our ability to demonstrate ROI. The ability to speak with authority about value-add solutions is crucial. The trouble is that many of us don’t have internal examples of the impact of new learning approaches and this saps our courage. We need to get our hands on
some trusted data. This is where new learning benchmarks are useful. Over 400
L&D leaders have helped establish credible evidence base as to the value of a
modernised learning strategy:

  • 10% improvements in revenue
  • 23% faster roll-out of new systems/processes
  • 14% improvements in productivity

Equip to challenge

Armed with the evidence from our own learners (not just assumptions) and from top performing learning organisations, we are equipped to challenge business leaders. When next asked for a course to solve a problem we can say, “there may be a better way”. We can bring new insight to the situation. The conversation may go something like this:

Business leader: “I need you to provide me with a course to help us roll-out this new initiative.”

Learning leader: “That’s great that you’ve asked me and I’d like to explore what we want to achieve. However, I’ve been doing some research around just this issue. Other organisations (possibly our competitors) are taking a different approach to learning, one that goes beyond the course and they are implementing these types of initiatives up to 20% faster. Is it worth considering doing something different here if we could achieve a fraction of this success? At the moment, our external benchmark shows we’re a little way off from being positioned to deliver, but it clearly shows what we need to do together to achieve results like these.”

Fortune favours the bold – are we ready?

This is a simple conversation but one that takes courage. We are tired of hearing how little the business values L&D when there is much evidence that proves otherwise. Use the evidence to prepare and take courage. It’s time to be bold and take action.

Review your L&D strategy and see how you compare with peers around the world with the Towards Maturity Benchmark:

This is the largest independent benchmark of L&D activities, worldwide. It’s completely confidential and your views contribute to a compelling evidence base that L&D leaders around the globe can use in order to make decisions that bring the right results.



End notes:
[1] Don’t just take my word for this – see Modernising Learning: Delivering Results to see how these are calculated.

This article was originally published by Inside Learning Technologies Magazine<href=”# rel=”nofollow” target=”_blank” data-mce-href=”″>.


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