Separating the Best from the Rest

Successful learning leaders understand their organization’s strategic intent and their stakeholders’ expectations. And they focus on learning that is task oriented and collaborative.

Over the years, I have had the privilege to work with several senior learning leaders whose organizations regularly earn a spot on the Training Top 125 list. While pondering what separates those who consistently achieve the pinnacle of success in Training and Development, I isolated three key areas I believe contribute significantly to their achievement:

1. These successful learning leaders understand where their organization is positioned within its lifecycle and they are well versed in their company’s strategic intent. During their lifetime, organizations move through several stages of development:

  • They start off young and small, where the primary focus is on creativity and innovation.
  • Next, they recognize that leaders must be more directive and focused in marshaling the organization’s resources and capabilities around customer needs.
  • Then they recognize that leaders have to substitute direction for delegation as the organization’s size, offerings, and span of control grows.
  • Finally, they recognize the need to better balance delegation and coordination to ensure that the bureaucratic process that sustains the current business does not dampen the ability to identify new opportunities for growth.

By matching the stage in the organizational lifecycle with the strategic intent of the business, these learning leaders can map out specifically the learning and development needs of the organization over a staged time horizon.

2. These successful learning leaders recognize that while return on investment (ROI) metrics are important, return on expectations (ROE) metrics are even more so. Different stakeholders view the value that learning delivers in different ways. Senior executives typically view learning as a mechanism to enable innovation, globalization, transformation, and strategy implementation. Senior business leaders, on the other hand, view learning as a mechanism to improve performance, enable business unit productivity, and manage talent. Human Resource leaders typically view learning and development as a mechanism for developing leadership capability and skill building. The savvy learning leader understands how to position learning offerings such that they align with the expectations of each stakeholder who is sponsoring the learning.

For senior executives focused at the enterprise level, emphasis is placed on how the investment in learning supports growth and transformation-level objectives. For senior business leaders focused on business unit performance, emphasis is placed on how the investment in learning can build a talent pipeline, improve business performance, and enable business unit success. For senior HR leaders, emphasis is placed on how the investment in learning is optimized to develop the skills and capabilities required to enable the organization to succeed. By aligning the positioning of the learning investment with the expectations of the sponsors required to support it at each level, successful learning leaders can garner support for larger and more strategically relevant learning initiatives.

3. These successful learning leaders realize that the design of the learning must be grounded in key experiences or situations that are relevant to the participants. Savvy business leaders ensure that the program designs are problem or opportunity based. They also look to internal leaders to bring real opportunities and issues to the learning environment, and they encourage learning formats in which leaders can learn together collaboratively.

As you read through the profiles of the Top 5 in this edition, test my assertion by asking yourself:

  • Does this learning leader understand where his or her business is positioned organizationally and strategically?
  • Does this learning leader understand the different expectations of the learning sponsors?
  • Are the programs showcased here more problem centered and issue based? Do they involve more collaborative learning than platform teaching?

It is my hope that by using these questions to parse the excellent efforts of this year’s Top 125, you may glean some keen insights on how to help your own organization land a spot or move up the ranks on the Training Top 125 next year.

Tony O’Driscoll is regional managing director of Duke CE in Singapore, where he focuses on identifying and implementing next-generation learning strategies and approaches that accelerate the development of Leadership Sense- Abilities in this rapidly growing part of the world.