The strategic decisions business leaders make especially when it comes to change) hits L&D hard. Wherever there are changes in structure, in IT, or in behaviour businesses often don’t consider the L&D impact and they are often the last to be informed.
In some cases, they are involved after programmes have already begun to roll out. In this article we examine why this is the wrong approach, and suggest ways to get L&D into the seats and involved in the business strategy.
Why Excluding L&D is Doing Your business no Favours
L&D is an essential part of any business, without appropriately skilled staff a business cannot succeed. But the L&D function is about so much more than just delivering training.
Below we examine some of the key ways in which learning and development can help a business grow and why L&D needs a place at the table.
Up-skilling staff to achieve the business vision is everyone’s responsibility, but responsibility for delivering actual training and making sure it aligns with strategy will ultimately fall to learning and development. While senior executives may discuss what the business needs in order to achieve its vision and goals, if it requires the training and development of staff, this will be up to the L&D function to coordinate. It’s therefore important that L&D are aware of what’s needed so that they can consult on how to achieve the objective and whether it’s achievable in the timeframe specified. When you will be requiring the services of a certain function to help achieve objectives, it’s important they are included in the initial conversation.
In addition to the general up-skilling of staff to prevent knowledge and skills gaps in the company, L&D are also pivotal when it comes to organisational design and development.
L&D can be instrumental in helping spearhead major change – by developing managers to handle change, devising training programmes intended to help explain and ease anxiety around change, and supporting staff in developing skills needed to react appropriately and feel confident to step up to required change. Whether it’s IT roll-outs, new competencies, or a complete business transformation project, there will be people development requirements as a result, and in order for L&D to successfully support the business in managing this, it is important they are made aware of it in advance, and given ample opportunity to devise and refine the appropriate strategy. They can’t do this unless they know what the business strategy is, and typically being in the boardroom when these decision are made is the only way to achieve a coherent understanding.
Assessing suitability of existing workforce
The L&D team can also be used to assess the current skill level of staff and help determine if a business has the right mix of abilities to achieve the vision, and identify where strengths and weaknesses lie. This information is essential if an organisation is looking to maximise the effectiveness of their workforce. By working in partnership with HR, line managers and senior executives can assess whether staff competency levels match up with the needs of the business, L&D can not only help obtain this information, but also offer suggestions as to what the business and relevant departments can do to improve the situation.
L&D is intrinsically linked with every function of the business, but often not closely. This common scenario needs to change to ensure effective outcomes for all employees, and arguably it should be led by the C-Suite who can lead by example. If senior executives demonstrate a clear willingness to work with L&D teams it will help convey the message that they are an integral part of the business’ success strategy, and this will help encourage better collaboration with other departments as a result. At the very least this approach will help foster better relationships and cohesion within the business.
Development of board members
It’s also worth bearing in mind that L&D are also there to support the development of senior leaders, and by involving them in board level discussions it helps the L&D function
to better understand the challenges faced in this context, and enables them to design and deliver more targeted and impactful interventions for board members.
In addition to the above, by including L&D in the boardroom, they can then be more easily held accountable for their impact on the business. Working with the L&D function to help establish ways in which they can demonstrate ROI/ROE for the business will enable board members to better assess the impact of the department and help drive decisions as to how investments should be made going forward.
This is something almost all other areas of a business will have to do, and by including L&D in the conversation senior leaders will begin to have a better understanding of its effect, and can work collaboratively with the department to ensure it is fully fit for purpose and delivering as expected.
Those are only some of the most commonly discussed reasons for actively including L&D in boardroom discussions, but depending on the organisation there are likely to be many more. Having an input in the development of the business and the employees working within it will undoubtedly improve an L&D department’s ability to function more effectively and have a more profound impact on business outcomes. However, while L&D teams may be aware of this, there is still a struggle in obtaining a seat in many organisations. To help combat this we detail below some key things L&D can do to help become involved in the high level discussions.
How L&D Can Get a Seat in the Boardroom
Develop analytical capability – one of the things that is always appreciated in board level discussions is the ability to demonstrate the ROI/ROE of a service, this is how many boards make the tough decisions about a business; by basing it on tangible figures and metrics. Obtaining this data is a lot more difficult for L&D than some other functions, but it is far from impossible, and being able to clearly demonstrate the outcomes from L&D will help make contributions to board discussions more compelling and useful for the business, and will help earn a place at the table.
Foster relationships with senior leaders – due to the fact L&D is often side-lined by the senior leadership team, as a department there is a tendency to embrace this isolation and work in silo, independent of other business functions. This will ultimately do nothing to help get a place in the high level discussions, and in order for L&D to become involved when they need to be, it is important that relationships are forged with relevant senior executives. By proactively engaging with these key stakeholders, it is much harder for L&D to be forgotten from the discussion. It also means that whether L&D are actually invited to board meetings or not, you will have the opportunity to learn about what is happening sooner than if you wait for the information to come to you.
Ask for a place – it may seem an obvious point but if, as an L&D function, you haven’t actually asked to be included in these discussions then this could go a long way
to explain why you have been ignored thus far. While board members should recognise the value of L&D and should be choosing to include them in their strategy meetings, this often doesn’t happen, so it is down to the L&D team to take the initiative and explain why they should be included. The previous points discussed are just some of the reasons you can use to justify your involvement, but depending on your organisation there may be many others. L&D is an important part of a business’ strategy for success and finding a compelling way to convey this may be all it takes to get your seat.
Due to the various roles it has to play in supporting a business to achieve on-going success, L&D should be a key member of the boardroom discussions, but continues to be frequently left out in many organisations. Finding ways to convince those in senior Positions of the value the department can bring remains a challenge, but with experts raising concerns about skills gaps, low productivity and ineffective workforces in the UK (and across the globe), it is clear that the time to bring L&D into the discussion is now.