Delivering Business Value Through Learning & Development

Increasingly functioning as trusted advisors, L&D leaders and professionals have moved out of the training silo and are engaging throughout their organizations.

Learning & Development professionals face unique challenges and exciting opportunities over the next few years as changing market forces, demographic shifts in the workforce, and rapidly evolving technologies combine to assert a new set of demands for developing people.

New technologies and new platforms for delivery of learning will continue to be developed and deployed. The expectations of employees for ongoing professional development and steeper, less rigid career trajectories translate into a demand for more frequent, more challenging, and more immediately applicable training that supports rapidly branching career paths.

The report published by Deloitte University, “Global Human Capital Trends 2015,” highlights, among several issues, a pronounced performance gap that separates what executives and organizations need from Learning & Development organizations, and their readiness to meet those needs. Only a relatively small percentage of L&D organizations are deemed “ready” (by their own executives) to address the business requirements of the next few years. As the report states:

“To start with, senior business leaders increasingly see shortages of skills as a major impediment to executing their business strate­gies. Only 28 percent of the respondents to this year’s survey believe they are ‘ready’ or ‘very ready’ in the area of workforce capabil­ity. As the economy improves and the market for high-skill talent tightens even further, com­panies are realizing they cannot simply recruit all the talent they need, but must develop it internally.”

Within this performance gap lies both a challenge to adapt and a great opportunity for L&D professionals to upgrade the contributions they make to solving the business needs of their organization. A hint of what this upgraded contribution might look like is foreshadowed in the report:

“As companies begin the transformation process, chief learning officers are taking on critical business roles. With a background in employee development, change, and leadership, the CLO of today wears many hats: chief capability officer, chief leadership officer, chief talent officer, and even chief culture officer.”

A Trusted Advisor

What, specifically, are L&D professionals doing differently in the organizations that demonstrate “readiness” to deal with this oncoming performance gap? The first clue is that they are seen differently by their internal clients…they are seen as trusted advisors, providing value in solving clients’ business problems.

Increasingly, L&D professionals are earning the right to behave as internal consultants, engaging in multiple conversations, at higher levels of management, and earlier in the formation of strategy and tactics.

This is a crucial difference. In the past, L&D largely provided training services upon demand, after strategy and tactics had been defined.

To function as trusted advisors, L&D leaders and professionals have moved out of the training silo and are engaging throughout their organizations. They are initiating conversations that help executives assess current capabilities and competencies, and are discovering, articulating, and defining training needs. For the most part, these L&D professionals have not so much been invited into these conversations as they have earned the right to contribute by demonstrating a set of higher-level skills, knowledge, and attitude.

These professionals don’t see themselves as providers of training solutions but as partners in a strategic conversation about defining business goals and selecting strategic targets. They must see themselves in the business of solving problems, and their internal clients must see them as trusted advisors.

This approach requires a broader mindset and attitude, a distinct set of consulting skills, and an ever-expanding knowledge base that extends beyond the borders of common HR topics.

A Problem-Solving Attitude

The trusted advisor cultivates a wider, more strategic view of the field of play. This professional is focused on thoroughly understanding the business issues and strategic concerns of internal clients. At the same time, as they are focused on the disciplined execution of their current projects, they also are focused on producing their client’s required business results. In addition to building excellent training solutions, they are advocates for reinforcement, coaching, and the business success of the learning audience.

Three Strategies

The trusted advisor employs a wide array of skills, concepts, and tools to every engagement with a client. Trusted advisors deploy their knowledge, skills, and attitude in the service of three strategies:

  1. Earning Trust
  2. Discovering Motives
  3. Making Sense of Complexity

The First Strategy: Earning Clients’ Trust

Trust is earned. It can’t be demanded. It is the natural outcome of a history of contribution and collaboration. Nothing damages one’s prospects more than behavior that seems to say, “Trust me.” Wilson Learning’s approach to building trust in a client-consultant relationship is based on the presence of four components: propriety, competency, commonality, and positive intent.

Trusted advisors have developed and apply a specific set of skills that earn the trust of their internal clients.

  • Propriety: Be on time, dress appropriately, and match or exceed the client’s expectations for professional and personal behavior.
  • Competency: Share or demonstrate that you possess the capability and experience to do the job.
  • Commonality: Find a shared basis of interests, beliefs, and values.
  • Intent: Declare, demonstrate, and express a positive shared intent, i.e., serve the business leader’s business goals.

When trust is present, the business leader feels comfortable sharing information and will fully express concerns and be open to exploring contributing issues.

The Second Strategy: Discover Motives

When the business leader trusts the L&D consultant, the information gathering and needs assessment conversations begin to flow freely and naturally. The trusted advisor has the ability to “listen through the noise” and detect the sources of both professional and personal urgency. This leads to a much deeper sense of what is at stake than is possible with a narrower needs assessment conversation.

  • Task Motives: There are four general business motives. The trusted advisor must discover the specific business goal of the client. Is the client looking to grow revenue or control costs? Is the client looking to increase quality or engagement? Or is the client looking to decrease effort or gain efficiency?
  • Personal Motives: There are four general personal motives. The trusted advisor must discover the personal motives of the client. Is the client looking for power, respect, approval, or recognition?

The trusted advisor demonstrates the ability to gather, organize, and summarize a large body of information. This ability, in itself, is a considerable source of value to internal clients. It helps to keep the business problem prominent. It clearly communicates what business problem needs to be solved.

The Third Strategy: Making Sense of Complexity

Now that we know the issue that needs to be solved, it is important to clearly identify how it will be solved and the expected performance gains or other benefits of solving the business problem. We use a simple but powerful approach to help create a clear and concise statement, so the solution and benefits are understood by clients.

  • Solution Summary: This is a concise statement of what the solution is and how it will work. This is not every feature of the solution, only the features that matter to the business leader and in solving the problem.
  • Advantage Statements: These are statements that describe how each element of the proposed solution will contribute to solving the business problem and how it will address the task motives discovered in the second strategy.
  • Benefit Statements: These statements describe how each element of the proposed solution will address the personal motives of the sponsoring business leader, the leader’s team, and the participant population.

No Invitation Required

Many L&D professionals already are accustomed to working closely with subject matter experts and executives outside L&D. Many already have surprisingly broad experience in developing training that affects business performance. But too many L&D professionals are waiting to be invited to contribute their valuable perspective and experience.

There are no barriers to becoming a trusted advisor. All you need to do is widen your attitude and rethink your approach, while putting the application and development skills you already have into use.

Apply those skills to the three strategies of Earning Trust, Discovering Motives, and Making Sense of Complexity, and you will be well on your way to more effectively delivering business value through Learning and Development.

David Yesford will present the session, “Becoming a Critical Channel in Executing Strategy,” at the Training 2016 Conference in Orlando on Wednesday, February 17, from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. In this session, he’ll explore what it means to take on the role of strategic learning development consultant and will uncover the consulting skills you will need.

In addition, look for the results of the new survey on “Strategic Learning and Development Best Practices,” conducted by Wilson Learning and Training magazine,, in the March/April 2016 issue of the magazine. The survey examines how to make the Learning & Development function more strategic.

David Yesford, senior vice president of Wilson Learning Worldwide, has nearly 30 years of experience developing and implementing human performance improvement solutions around the world. He brings experience, strategic direction, and global perspective to his work with clients. Yesford is an active member of the Wilson Learning Global Executive Board, with current responsibility at a global level. Over the years, he has held strategic roles in core content areas of sales and leadership, as well as e-learning and strategic consulting. He also has held managing director positions in both China and India. Yesford is the contributing author of several books, including Win-Win Selling, Versatile Selling, The Social Styles Handbook, and The Sales Training Book 2. He frequently speaks at international conferences and summits, focusing on issues such as sales and sales strategy, leadership, employee and customer engagement, brand, and strategy implementation. For more information, visit or call 800.328.7937.

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