Group CEO The Creative Engagement Group
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L&D’s time to shine: how to influence the c-suite and deliver business value

To exert greater influence on the c-suite and add more business value, L&D professionals need to implement a visible change process, explain Russ Lidstone, group CEO at The Creative Engagement Group, and Peter Carlin, co-founder and managing director of Logicearth Learning Services.

4th Jun 2020
Group CEO The Creative Engagement Group
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Let’s get to the point, CEOs are primarily interested in five things: people, strategy, compliance, delivery and – the thing that they get judged on, of course – financial return. Yes, there are many other important KPIs, but these five elements constitute the majority of their thinking and time.

By creating the virtuous circle of learning, you will not only get greater interest and attention from corporate leaders, but also the proportionate share of budget that L&D deserves.

Another often overlooked fact is that the unrestricted ability for people to learn is 100% inextricably linked to people, strategy execution, compliance and ultimately financial return. So why, are so many chief executives concerned that a lack of essential skills in their workforce is threatening future growth?

According to the 2019 PWC CEO Survey, 79% of CEOs worldwide fear future growth of their organisations will be compromised by a lack of essential skills within their workforce. Despite this, at the same time, just 27% of learning and development (L&D) professionals regard their CEOs as ‘active champions’ of learning, according to the 2020 Workplace Learning Report from LinkedIn.

Creating change from the inside out

It’s easy to make sweeping statements about the influence of L&D on the c-suite, because there are many great examples of best practice. This week, we were reading about one of our pharmaceutical clients’ learning offering to employees – a forward thinking and contemporary portfolio of services that they provide globally. We have seen a similar approach in Allianz Group. Yes, not every L&D professional has the resources that these big companies can bring to bear, but their example should be inspiration for all for change.

In psychology-speak, it is often said that ‘for things to change, first I must change’. By the same measure, for any L&D professional that wants to add value to their business, implementing a visible change process is essential.

Build your own strategy

Put yourself in the shoes of the CEO, and then work out what business strategy you are aligned with. To build your own strategy you must:

  • Define the goals: ask yourself, what goals can I achieve to help that strategy? Where do I want L&D to be in 12 months, three and then five years time, and how can that underpin what the CEO needs to achieve?
     
  • State the purpose: help to articulate the case for strong and innovative learning approach – the clear purpose of L&D and why it exists.
     
  • Attack yourself: understand and define gaps in skills, resources, knowledge, technology and support.
     
  • Define the steps: define what steps you are going to take to execute the new strategy.
     
  • Adopt a value-based mindset: define your thinking beyond cost alone to consider opportunity cost and how you will show ROI.
     
  • Define sponsors: identify others within your organisation that can help articulate the case for a strong L&D approach.
     
  • Team game: finally, be clear about who in your team is going to help lead the transition from the outset.

Be visible: the case for change

Engaging multiple teams and leaders across business units is critical, tell them your plans and ask for support. Start by building a list of the portfolio of services that are required around the business. Areas you should consider include:

  • Compliance
  • Personal and professional development
  • Leadership development
  • Onboarding
  • Solutions for the sales team
  • Solutions for external customers
  • Technical skills and CPD
  • Certifications
  • Future skills planning

Expand your network and build a consensus on the general direction you are taking. Muster the confidence to articulate your plans to the business, present and ask for resources. Be certain to demonstrate both how it will speed up the achievement of the corporate strategy and why it will be operationally efficient and effective.

Making the change

Strategy is easy – doing it is the hard part. Many well-considered strategies fail due to poor execution, so be prepared to take a diligent and selfish approach, otherwise all your exertion in the planning phase will be wasted. There are a number of steps to take to be prepared to get it right from the start:

  • Build a team around you. They need to share the responsibility for the execution of the plan.
  • Set high-level goals for the year and detailed goals for the quarter; make sure they are explicit and relevant.
  • Review your progress weekly and formally, by diligently and single-mindedly finding time to identify issues that are getting in the way and resolving them quickly.
  • Help yourself by finding a friendly and agnostic learning solutions provider to help you with your thinking. The best will offer support and advice and will want you to succeed.

Think about the company you keep

Keep building your network across and beyond your organisation. Include members of this network in your requests for support and updates on your progress. Measure your progress and make sure it is visible, as you will need your newfound marketing skills when you begin the promotion of your services internally and externally.

Of course, it is key to work with partners you trust – learning services partners who you can rely on to consult but also innovate over and beyond the ordinary or expected. The learning game has moved on in the last few years, so corporate organisations need innovative, inspirational and agnostic partners who can advise, implement and execute.

Just do it

Build your first service and get it out there. Whether its sales product training, onboarding or a data-driven compliance solution, pick something, build it well and promote the hell out of it. Then build on this experience. The approach must be: eat, sleep, build, repeat.

Demonstrate the virtuous circle of learning

It is essential for business leaders to know that their work is effective in ROI terms. A real weakness in L&D can be proving the case for investment to financial directors and CEOs. Proving the value through tools and key data points, as well as the intangible and tangible benefits of a more engaged culture should be at the forefront of your mind.

By creating the virtuous circle of learning, you will not only get greater interest and attention from corporate leaders, but also the proportionate share of budget that L&D deserves.

Watch what they do, not what they say

Essentially, the c-suite wants to know that you are aligned to the strategy, adding significant value, running your function as if it’s your own business and with the ability to prove value. Think about managing the P&L, marketing, employee engagement, negotiating with suppliers, networking, promotion, strategy execution, and measurement. Be what your business needs – the builder of contemporary, high impact, engaging, unforgettable, efficient learning services across your entire organisation.

Oh, and it helps to work with a great learning services partner of course!

Interested in this topic? Read The role of L&D: aligning business objectives with learner needs.

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