All executives face pressure for greater business impact, and chief learning officers are no exception.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:
Alpha Inc.’s CLO had a problem on his hands. His L&D programs were getting rave reviews from the participants, but business leaders were complaining that their teams weren’t performing much better—at a time when the business needed increased performance more than ever before. He was concerned that his team could not deliver on these heightened expectations.
Alpha’s CLO is not alone. Nearly all line managers (85%) identify employee development as critical to achieving business outcomes, and L&D staff members consistently receive high satisfaction scores from the line for their support.
The disconnect between high satisfaction with L&D solutions and insufficient business impact is not due to a lack of motivation on L&D’s part. In fact, our analysis of over 1,500 L&D professionals at 50 organizations shows that L&D staff are proactively trying to drive business impact.
The truth is that the majority of L&D teams lack the skills required to be successful. This is clearly a matter of L&D staff effectiveness, not willingness.
In response, organizations typically invest in sophisticated processes and systems and an improved L&D organizational structure to better enable L&D professionals.
However our research shows that these tactics only nominally help the line achieve its business goals. Crafting an effective L&D strategy is, of course, important, but it comes second to building L&D staff capability. After all, the ability to define and deliver the L&D strategy rests with L&D professionals.
The Profile of the Highest-Performing L&D Employees
The most important capabilities L&D professionals need to deliver business impact are L&D expertise, business expertise, and the ability to be an effective advisor.
Because most L&D professionals already have strong L&D expertise, the greatest opportunity for improvement is to complement traditional L&D know-how with business expertise and strong advisory skills.
The best L&D professionals proactively influence talent and business decisions, not just build employee capabilities.
These “Learning Advisors”, as well call them, are rare: less than one in four of all L&D professionals worldwide are proficient in all three skill sets.
The good news though is that you can secure a significant payoff by increasing the number of Learning Advisors on your team through targeted development and support.
3 Steps to Build a Team of Learning Advisors
CLOs should take three key actions to build more Learning Advisors on their team:
First, clarify what “good” looks like. “Be more strategic” is something that L&D staff members have been told for years without a tactical plan of what that means for their day-to-day work. It’s not always obvious to an L&D employee which of their many activities has the greatest business impact. Provide clarity by first identifying critical Learning Advisor skills (e.g., understanding and explaining ROI, handling objections, managing timelines and resources) and then mapping them to the L&D professional’s day-to-day activities, like engaging learners and implementing learning solutions.
Second, redefine how L&D makes an impact. Many L&D staff members believe that quality of the individual learning solutions they own are their only opportunity for business impact. CLOs must reframe the L&D staff mind-set to focus on driving business impact through all of their interactions and the entire L&D portfolio.
Finally, develop Learning Advisor capabilities on the job. L&D professionals know that on-the-job learning is one of the most effective learning methods, especially for business and advisory skills. Unfortunately, few L&D functions take the direction they prescribe for their line customers. The best CLOs are providing relevant development opportunities for their teams.
With the line increasingly expecting and even requiring the L&D function to demonstrate business impact, and with L&D professionals eager to respond, L&D functions must take advantage of this opportunity.
To become Learning Advisors, L&D professionals need to develop the right capabilities, and CLOs need to enable their teams to practice these skills and properly incentivize them to demonstrate and perfect these new behaviors.
Furthermore, L&D functions need to reposition themselves to challenge and shape the line’s understanding of skill and learning issues, and extend their influence beyond traditional L&D activities to impact work itself.
If your organization has a membership with CEB Learning & Development Leadership Council, you may login to your members-only website to access the full “Learning Quarterly” magazine article on which this blog is based, as well as our full research study, “Driving the Business Impact of L&D Staff”. We also encourage L&D staff to access our Learning Advisor Development Portal and e-learning modules targeted to the most important Learning Advisor capabilities.
Non-members can access a complimentary copy of the “Learning Quarterly” magazine entitled Building a Team of Learning Advisors.
Also available for download at cebglobal.com is a complimentary research report on Learning Advisors, featuring insights and case studies from Cargill, Pepsico, and Shell.