In the last couple of years, many learning and development (L&D) leaders have made a proclamation: “Learning professionals need to know and speak the language of business.”
They claim that, since we obviously don’t already know it, we need to learn the language of business. Then, we must use the language of business to show that we are a business partner to the organization.
These statements have always concerned me. Why?
If we’re not speaking the language of business, then what are we speaking?
Doesn’t L&D already operate from within the business? Aren’t we performing an essential function of the business?
In this three-part series, I’ll take an in-depth look at these questions. In this first part, let’s explore what we mean by the “language of business.”
The Language of Business and the Language of Learning—Are They Really That Different?
Consider the evidence. Learning professionals and their departments are listed on the organizational chart. They interact with almost every other department. They provide a vital business service. In fact, training budgets are growing. That tells me that businesses see their value. So how exactly are we not speaking the language of business? Isn’t learning (and its language) a part of business?
If you look at other departments (finance, engineering, sales), each has its own language. Finance talks about balance sheets and income statements. Engineering describes beta testing and CAD drawings. Sales speaks of lead generation and quotas.
Each team uses terms specific to their function. Yet each is accepted as a business partner. We do not ask the finance, engineering, or sales departments to speak the “language of business.” We don’t do that because we understand that different functions come together to make business results. The different terms from each department work in concert to create the “language of business.” The terms used by L&D are no different. We have our own unique terms, but also an equal voice in the language of business.
If We Speak the Same Language, Then What’s the Problem?
If using our own terms is not the problem, what is? Why is training faced with the need to justify our connection to the business?
The answer is clear.
Simply put, we do not educate our business partners on how L&D contributes to business success.
Learning is central to business success. L&D provides each business with a way to improve performance and increase capability. However, we do not highlight our expertise in how we accomplish the goal. We do not educate our business partners on what we do to solve performance issues and improve results. Without this education, the other business functions fail to recognize the professionalism of L&D. They see our outputs as tactical but without any real technical competence.
Our goal, then, must be to provide this education. Only with this knowledge will our business partners take us seriously. Only then will they perceive our profession as valuable to the business. In part 2 of this series, I’ll dive deeper into how we change that perception.
Do you think L&D professionals fail at the language of business? Do you want to change the professional image of your department? Contact us at eParamus. We’re glad to help you achieve that goal.
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