How Can Learning Professionals Earn A Seat At The Executive Table?

Learning pros must earn a place at the executive table

Leaders sit at the executive table. They provide information valuable to running the business. They are the top minds in an organization. From their area of expertise, they create strategies. Those strategies improve outcomes and help the business reach its goals. Each comes from a different discipline—sales, marketing, engineering, and so on. From their realm of knowledge, they tackle corporate challenges and address future direction. They identify how their specific departments can support organizational success.

Naturally, learning professionals want a seat at this table. Without it, they know they can’t impact organizational strategy. Learning is a powerful tool. It gives staff the knowledge and skills they need to help a business reach its strategic goals. From a seat of power, these pros can wield expertise and influence to drive business strategy.

As important as learning is, you would expect top learning leaders to always have a seat at the table. After all, the training department is the main mechanism used to create organizational capability. With training, employees learn to perform well on their job. They also learn how to respond to changes in business goals and strategy.

Why Aren’t Learning Pros Invited to the Executive Table?

Must learning leaders always ask for an invitation to the table? Why isn’t it automatic?

The problem centers on two key areas. L&D professionals don’t know how to describe their expertise and they don’t know how to measure their value.

Why is this true? Unfortunately, learning professionals often enter the L&D discipline without a learning background. Without training in this science, they do not really understand how learning contributes to organizational success. Nor do they realize how their departments create value. They understand that courses are created and delivered but they do not know what aspects of learning activities actually lead to business outcomes. They do not know how learning creates capability. This lack of knowledge makes it hard for them to discuss learning as a mechanism for change. It makes it hard for them to define their area of expertise.

Learning professionals know they are charged with delivering programs. They also know that, after learning, sometimes things change for the better. Yet, they cannot tell which of their efforts created the change. They cannot convey how their methods created results because they cannot measure their outcomes.

Failure to Deliver Relevant Data

If you ask learning professionals to show their results, they typically have two go-to answers:

  • They describe learning activities. This includes number of courses or number of students taking courses. It may also describe how often students interact with learning materials.
  • They describe employee opinions with data gained via surveys (smile sheets). The surveys tell if people liked the program, thought it was useful, or if it would help them do their jobs.

Conveying results in the form of activities and surveys adds little value to a discussion on strategy. Strategy discussions require information on resources that create concrete outcomes. These reports offer no value at the executive table because they are not actionable. If you do not know how you create results, you cannot repeat them. If you cannot repeat results from learning, then learning is not a reliable tool for success.

I get why activity reports and surveys are the go-to tools for learning pros.  If you don’t understand learning-to-performance details, you can only report on activities. Learning professionals report on activities (instead of results) because they don’t know which decisions or activities make what impact.

Similarly, without data on results, they have no choice but to ask others how well they are doing. When you don’t know the answer to something, you have to ask others.

The inability to convey results creates an unequal playing field. Leaders from other parts of the organization don’t recognize learning professionals as peers. From their perspective, learning professionals cannot prove the value of their efforts and therefore have no authority over outcomes.

How to Level The Playing Field

Without relevant data on outcomes, learning professionals do not inspire confidence that they can actually attain results. When L&D pros tout their value with surveys and activity reports, this creates doubt that learning achieves real results.

Leaders who sit at the executive table rely on sound evidence to make their decisions. They use data and evidence from their area of the business to create a strategic direction. Only those who bring expertise and skill in their field gain a seat at the table.

Too many learning professionals do not know how learning impacts success. They do not understand the science behind techniques or the methods behind outcomes.

If learning professionals want a seat at the table, they have to stop asking for it. They should step back and understand the learning business. Once they create measurable learning that addresses business needs, they will be able to show their expertise. They will be able to gain the respect other experts receive.

We have hidden too long behind activity reports and survey results. We cannot expect others to recognize our expertise when we do not embrace it ourselves. Without being able to convey when learning works, when it does not work, and the methods that make the difference, learning professionals cannot show their expertise or their value.

L &D professionals who prove their skill of performance improvement do not have to ask for a seat at the table. They are sought after and given a seat because they provide value in the discussion.

Are you overlooked for a seat at the executive table? Do you know how to provide data beyond activity reports and survey results? If you want to know how to create learning that can measure business outcomes, contact us here at eParamus.

Please follow eParamus on LinkedIn and feel free to connect with me, Laura Paramoure, PhD to discuss the learning challenges you face.

Photo copyright: edhar / 123RF Stock Photo

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