Learning practitioners often approach us asking for the secret to get into their leaders’ good books. Actually, there is no secret. The answer is to simply demonstrate business value for your learning efforts. But is it that simple?
The reality is that until workplace learning demonstrates how it improves business performance, leaders won’t be that into you. The fact that Training’s 2016 Salary Survey shows declining Learning practitioner salaries further accentuates the question, “What relevant value do you provide?”
Regretfully, Learning practitioners confront the same challenges over and over. So the reason your leaders are “just not that into you” is either because of what you’re doing (or not doing) or because your leaders refuse to accept what you’re offering. For those of you screaming, “It’s my leaders!” keep in mind that much of the responsibility for how others perceive learning rests in our control. If you’re serious about changing minds and getting hearts to follow, then you might want to try rethinking three things many Learning practitioners subconsciously do.
1. Overvaluing learning’s importance. Yes, we realize that time and again, we preach about leaders recognizing how essential learning is for business success. But it’s not the only item they value. Learning is simply one of many business enablers available for them to achieve success.
What’s an enabler? It’s something that facilitates achieving goals for primary operational processes. For example, car oil is the enabler to reduce friction among engine parts. Increasingly, workplace learning plays a similar role. It reduces the knowledge “friction,” or unknowns, to ensure the business functions appropriately.
You need to recognize that your organization has many moving parts and many enablers. When other enablers (e.g., IT, finance, HR, etc.) work well together, it becomes a rich oil blend, engaging primary activities to achieve specific business goals.
Learning becomes indispensable only when it works closely with other enablers and when it recognizes how to contribute value.
2. Taking learning too seriously. Those who promote learning should be active learners themselves, always striving to improve. It’s important to improve abilities while maintaining a critical approach to new thoughts and methods. But stop being “learning” myopic. It’s equally essential to diversify what you must learn to make an organizational impact. Embrace the fact that leaders consider you part of the solution, as well as a business activity. Whether you’re an instructional designer or a CLO, diversifying perspectives will increase your organizational and professional value.
3. Being an event rather than part of the process. Often, Learning practitioners embellish how well their solutions integrate into business processes. Regretfully, learning efforts typically remain events. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but Learning must deliberately integrate into business processes if it’s to build leadership credibility.
While practitioners focus on learning, business leaders focus on improving performance. Learning leaders who realign their perspective discover quickly that learning is something that seamlessly ingrains itself within the organization.
Take Toyota for example. For more than three decades, Toyota’s leadership has ensured learning is not an afterthought. The company’s integrative process thinking encourages continuous learning within and throughout design, production, delivery, and support, allowing developmental opportunities within the processes for more innovative, quality-driven outputs. This continuous and integrative learning process is far from event driven. Competitors wonder how Toyota maintains its high standards and market leadership position. The answer: through integrative learning.
Essentially, stop focusing on learning as an event and entrench it as a performance improvement process. Doing so will allow employees to actively pull learning into their activities rather traditionally pushing learning upon them and hoping something sticks.
Rather than convincing, or even begging, leaders to buy into your initiatives, prove how Learning integrates, collaborates with, and engages in organizational processes. Recognize that you’re one cog in your organizational machine, and that sometimes, learning is not the solution to business issues. Build this type of relationship with your business leaders and maybe, just maybe, they’ll be more into you and seek to build a blossoming relationship.
Ajay M. Pangarkar, CTDP, CPA, CMA, and Teresa Kirkwood, CTDP, are founders of CentralKnowledge.com and LearningSourceonline.com. They are employee performance management experts and three-time authors—most recently publishing the leading performance book, “The Trainer’s Balanced Scorecard: A Complete Resource for Linking Learning to Organizational Strategy” (Wiley)—and assessment specialists for Training magazine. Pangarkar recently was named ELearning Magazine’s 2016 Thought-Leader. Help them start a “Workplace Revolution” at blog.centralknowledge.com or contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.