Posted by Caveo Learning ● January 12, 2017

Speaking Business Fluently Boosts Learning Leaders' Reputation

language barrier.jpgMore often than not, we find that learning leaders with a business background have an easier time gaining traction with their peers on the business side—exerting influence and being included in early-stage initiative planning—than do those who came up through the ranks of the L&D organization.

Existing relationships with business stakeholders play a role in this, of course, but one of the biggest reasons for the influence gap is the language barrier. Simply put, the way that learning leaders tend to define and talk about success differs from the way business leaders measure and discuss it.

Learning and development leaders tend to reference learning KPIs—training hours provided and eLearning modules created, for example—rather than ROI, bottom-line impact, and the kinds of meaningful metrics that ultimately drive decision making. Learning and development as an industry needs to do a better job of conveying our successes in a way that connects more meaningfully and directly with enterprise business objectives.

Caveo Learning CEO Jeff Carpenter examines this language gap between L&D and business in the January 2017 issue of Chief Learning Officer Magazine. In the article, titled "Choose Your Words Carefully," Carpenter notes that effective stakeholder communication ties directly to business alignment; every learning initiative must support enterprise objectives, and learning leaders need to be able to clearly and directly articulate how L&D activities fit into that overarching strategy.

David Voorhees, L&D director for Waste Management Inc., says learning professionals who speak the language of the business instill confidence that L&D has the capacity and desire to be a real partner. "We deliberately use client business terminology in our meetings as a part of the immersion process," he says. "The client’s terminology is their reality, and we want to be a part of that reality."

Learning leaders are wise to be cognizant of the types of business discussions that happen in the C-suite—they center on increasing revenue, decreasing expenses, and managing risks—so that when L&D leaders insert themselves into these conversations, their input is framed around those areas of interest.

The Business Case for Learning Metrics & Measurement When we talk about speaking the language of business, what we’re really talking about is speaking the language of the people L&D supports. There is no universal learning-to-business translation, Carpenter writes, because each business cares about different things. KPIs and relevant business metrics differ based on enterprise objectives, and so effective business communication starts with having a deep understanding of the business itself. This allows learning professionals to converse intelligently with stakeholders and root out whether there is even a performance need to be solved. In order to improve a learner's actual performance, we need to first be able to identify, understand, and remove performance gap causes. For this important conversation to take place, the learning professional needs to know what questions to ask, and the only way to know that is to truly understand the ins and outs of the business that they support.

This is where the contrarian, traditionalist learning leaders push back. "Oh phooey, nobody at my business is asking me for metrics and business plans and learning impact statements," they say. "That's not worth my time."

If your business stakeholders are not even attempting these conversations, it's not because they aren't interested... it's because they've lost faith in your ability to provide relevant information. David Vance, executive director of the Center for Talent Reporting, cautions L&D leaders not to interpret silence as affirmation. If your business counterparts don't take L&D seriously as an enterprise contributor, it has a material effect on the learning organization's influence and budget. In those cases, Vance says, the decision makers just figure, "'We'll give them the least amount we can get away with, because who even knows what they'll do with it?'"

Read Jeff Carpenter's article, "Choose Your Words Carefully," in the January 2017 issue of Chief Learning Officer magazine.

Topics: Learning Strategy