If you want to impress your CEO with your training programs, position L&D as a catalyst for creating the employee behaviors that drive business progress.
According to Fortune Magazine, “92 out of 96 Fortune 500 CEOs said that they are most interested in learning the business impact of their learning and development programs, but only 8% see that happening at their companies now.” Companies that count in that 8% begin their training plans in business strategy meetings and end them by turning knowledge into measurable actions.
Valued employee training drives business goals.
If you’ve been fighting to get L&D a place at the table, it might be time to re-focus your goals from learning and teaching to business performance. Your efforts can even help the business get much clearer on its objectives.
Here’s an overview of the steps you’ll need to manage in order to make learning and development a strategic tool for business success.
Figure out where the company is going.
The C-suite should share two pieces of information with you:
- Key business goals to target.
- Key metrics that represent those goals.
This will show you what’s important to leadership and give you a target for your training and development results.
Be alert for future directions as well. If the company is planning to enter a new market, expand offerings or shift values, your program could be a key player in getting the workforce ready for a shift.
Find the activities and behaviors that impact those goals.
You can use the corporate goals to pinpoint employee actions that you know or believe will positively impact the key metrics. It’s important to identify specific actions because you can measure them, which is essential to proving the business value of your program.
Then observe how these actions work in the field.
- What are people doing today?
- What do they need to do differently?
- What support to they need to make the change?
- More information?
- Easily available cheat sheets or check lists?
- Equipment or tools?
There could be several answers to the last question and you’ll want to augment your opinion with those of subject matter experts and new employees to get a good understanding of the best way to encourage the desired actions.
Build a learning and development program around crucial actions.
Your next step is to provide the resources needed, which could mean creating training (for knowledge transfer), performance support, coaching programs, etc. You might also need to bring in new software or equipment and train employees how to use them.
Open up your toolbox and look beyond traditional training channels like classrooms and video courses. Explore on-the-job training, peer coaching, mentoring, knowledge sharing, cross-training and any other methods for getting people to learn and adopt new actions.
Your best methods will conform to employee preferences, work processes, and your company culture. But experimentation will help you learn what works best.
Follow up to turn knowledge into action.
Once you’ve provided the necessary training, resources or tools, you need a way to help people complete the target action. Some tasks may take some practice. For example, if you want service representatives to access a company database when answering customer questions, you need to help them remember to use the new resources, give them time to get used to new tools, and encourage their efforts.
L&D sometimes leaves this crucial follow up to first-line managers, thinking they should hold people accountable for using new skills. But managers often drop that ball, and without good follow up, you’ll have a hard time proving your value to the C-suite. So it pays to figure out how to make sure follow up happens even if first-line management doesn’t step in.
Measure your results.
You’ll also need a way to track the actions you’re asking people to take. You can set up self-reporting, electronic checklists, management audits or some other proof that actions were taken.
People often scoff at this step because it’s extra work, but this is the work that make the difference. If you succeed in encouraging important activities and targeted business metrics improve, you have excellent evidence that your program is making a difference.
You can support the quantitative measurement with qualitative assessments like surveys, focus groups, or informal feedback, but don’t rely on these alone. Many L&D managers have presented glowing smile sheets to their bosses after a training program and received a “so what” in return. Smile sheets don’t tell a CEO whether employees’ new knowledge is making a difference to the bottom line.
Don’t dismiss soft skills.
So this process might make sense for technical training, such as how to safely operate a forklift. But what about soft skills? Many CEOs task their learning and develop teams with developing leadership capabilities, like team building, communications, and the ability to embrace change.
But softer skills can be associated with specific actions as well, and those actions should align with business goals.
For example, with teamwork skills, employees will solve project problems on their own. They’ll complete projects with fewer delays. You can measure project completion times and ask managers to assess how well their teams tackle delays. But unless you plan your teamwork training with those actions in mind, you won’t know what questions to ask when it comes to follow-through.
If you have a business objective that requires soft skills, even better. For example, if the goal is to improve the success of sales proposals, a communications course may teach sales people how to listen better to prospects, ask good questions and write customized solution proposals that address the key pain point. The goal action would be to write these improved proposals and the desired result will be that a higher percentage of proposals are accepted.
Management coaching training can result in setting and reaching more goals for the manager’s direct reports. These goals can then be associated with specific business functions. If you cannot tell which business objective each goal addresses, then it’s time to revisit the goals.
For onboarding, ask managers to set expectations for how quickly employees should become fully productive. Then, after your onboarding program check in to see when managers assess an employee as fully productive.
You can also measure the bounce rate of new hires that don’t last more than 6 months or a year. If you can shorten an employees’ time to productivity and lower turnover, you can easily calculate cost savings in terms of salary and hiring costs.
Ask management to step up.
It’s hard to prove your contribution to management if they aren’t willing to share with you what they value. Professor Satar Bawany, Managing Director of Executive Development Associates, advises CEOs to provide clear guidance to training departments about exactly the actions and results they want to see. They need to work with trainers to help keep everyone focused.
Ask your management to be involved, but if they will not, try to follow this process as much as possible. If you can show even a little value, you may convince them to commit more to the process. And then you can get comfortable in your chair at the table.