The era of esoteric business initiatives is over—i4cp’s research on high-performing organizations (HPOs) has consistently tracked this contention over the past six years. Now more than ever, organizational leaders are tasked with developing and maximizing their internal resources to drive market performance and produce sustained business growth. Simply put: if internal initiatives don’t align with business goals, those initiatives become extinct.
Learning leaders know this axiom all too well (“…we had a bad first quarter, so we need to reduce your training and development budget …”). Even as the economy slowly recovers, learning leaders still face the challenge of meeting the diverse needs of their organization’s workforce while aligning with the business goals.
Chief Learning Officer magazine’s recent Breakfast Club session in Atlanta featured a panel of esteemed learning professionals addressing the myriad challenges they face in developing the people resources within their organizations. The discussion focused on three key areas:
1. The Changing Nature of Work
The learning landscape of today’s work environment has changed (mobile and social learning needs, virtual workspaces, flextime scheduling, and more). i4cp’s recent research reveals how leaders within HPO’s use effective talent management practices (including progressive learning strategies) to support and shape the future. HPOs also use metrics and analytics to measure progress and identify gaps that impede effectiveness and impact (see Building a Change-Ready Organization). Additional research underscores the importance of creating an environment of continuous learning and development (among other things) to engage the employee (and organization) of the future (see i4cp’s report Nine Keys to Performance Management).
Bottom Line: Employees come to organizations prepared to make use of their resident knowledge and prior training and they expect to be engaged by their employers. Learning leaders must help develop an agile workforce that can adapt to organizational/environmental changes proficiently, all the while aligning to the business’ initiatives. They must also create environments that will equip these employees to excel.
2. The Changing Nature of Learning & Leadership Development
In HPOs, talent management (particularly learning and development) has evolved from a tactical “HR-only” function to a strategic business initiative with direct support from the C-suite. Accordingly, more front-line managers and supervisors are tasked with strategically implementing succinct talent management practices (see i4cp’s report Talent Management in the Trenches).
Bottom Line: Learning leaders must partner with employees to create an environment in which learning and leadership development initiatives are designed to be portable, relevant (credential development, skills transferability, etc.), and easily accessible (e.g. social learning, blended learning, and more).
3. Imperatives for the Learning Leader
Just as HR professionals see their roles evolving to the role of performance advisor within their organizations (see i4cp’s report The Future of HR), learning leaders must also embrace the role of learning advisor. The imperative is to move beyond a short-term tactical perspective and embrace a long-range strategic learning and development mindset, and that strategic alignment should beg the question “What can I do to help the business grow?” To increase their strategic influence within the C-suite, learning leaders must demonstrate the ability to move beyond the silo of L&D and partner with other influencers within the organization (HR, Operations, Finance, and Marketing).
Bottom Line: Learning leaders must assume the role of a consultant and see their organizations from the outside-in to honestly assess needs and develop their strategic contributions to solutions that will solve the business’ challenges.
Overall, the CLO breakfast meeting reminded learning leaders of their importance to their organizations and reinforced what i4cp members have seen in research developed in the past year: department leaders (especially learning leaders) must strategically align their individual initiatives with the business and demonstrate their ability to aid in driving market performance. Otherwise, they could become expendable during the (eventual) next round of “belt tightening.”
Dr. Tony Bolden is a director at i4cp and the chief evangelist of The Leader’s Brand, a blog that covers sales, leadership development and personal branding. He’s a sales professional, speaker, trainer, facilitator, and organizational behavior blogger. Tony earned an MBA in organizational psychology and development and a doctorate of management in organizational leadership.