21 December 2021

Insights on Impactful Skills for L&D Leaders

Dani Johnson
Co-Founder & Principal Analyst

TL;DR

  • The L&D function is more involved in business strategy as their priorities become broader and more complex
  • Persuasion and influence can be crucial skills for L&D leaders to lean into their strategic role
  • Skills like information literacy can help L&D leaders simplify how they’re identifying priorities
  • Deputizing leaders as learning champions for the L&D function can influence a culture of learning

This readout provides an overview of key themes, insights and quotes from our second roundtable. We brought together learning leaders and professionals who shared what skills the L&D function needs and strategies L&D leaders can use to make an impact in their orgs.

Our discussion centered around 4 topics:

  • The evolution of the L&D function
  • Skills for the L&D function’s strategic role
  • How L&D skills are being continuously upgraded
  • How the L&D function is partnering with other org functions

KEY TAKEAWAYS

From our discussion, we identified 4 key takeaways:

  1. The L&D function has more influence and should take advantage of it
  2. L&D leaders have a seat at the table; they should pull up a chair and sit down
  3. L&D functions should keep it simple
  4. L&D functions should leverage internal champions

The following sections provide an overview of the major points associated with each key takeaway.

The L&D function has more influence and should take advantage of it

L&D functions are moving closer to the center of business strategy, which means that the scope of problems they’re being asked to solve are broader and more complex. We’re talking about big, hairy, audacious priorities such as DEIB, performance, mobility, technology, reskilling/upskilling, etc. More leaders are finding themselves in strategy discussions where the C-suite is asking them to help craft initiatives to solve some of these challenges.

Participants identified skills like seeing around corners (also defined as anticipating needs), understanding learning trends, and leveraging tech, as important to materially adding to larger business strategy discussions.

“The move from content and events to experiences and from the margins (of the org) to the center (of business strategy) are related, because we’re being given bigger, tougher problems to solve. And we’ve been preaching for years that people don’t learn from a class. It needs to be put into action.”

– L&D Consultant

L&D leaders have a seat at the table; they should pull up a chair and sit down

Many L&D leaders in our roundtable recognized that they (finally) have a seat at the table, but many mentioned that their teams feel unequal to the task. While they recognize that they bring unique skills and points of view that can help orgs build skilled workforces, they were uncertain about their ability to influence or persuade.

Participants also listed skills like intellectual humility (being able to unlearn and relearn quickly), design thinking, storytelling with data, and agility as essential to L&D leaders being confident, strategic contributors to strategic discussions.

“We’ve got the seat at the table so pull up a chair – I'm feeling that gap…the ability to really connect what’s happening in the business world to a change in how we approach learning.”

– Career Development leader

L&D functions should keep it simple

Participants talked about the complexity and interplay of the challenges they are being asked to solve and identified that complexity as a challenge moving forward. Specifically, they spoke of the need to develop skills like information literacy and environment-sensing to identify the most important priorities and the simplest solutions.

They also noted that many L&D professionals feel an emotional stake in wanting to respond to everything, which can hurt their ability to simplify what signal is most important. Leaders mentioned that skills such as prioritization, business mindedness, and critical thinking can help them avoid this pitfall.

“We’re people people so we hear a need and want to respond, but that then can distract us from the most important priorities. That critical appraisal to maintain focus while also being sensitive nd responsive to what’s happening on the ground.”

– EVP of Talent Engagement & Development

L&D functions should leverage internal champions

The L&D function’s responsibilities have shifted from creating and distributing all training to instead building systems that enable all in the org to play an active role in their own and others’ development.

One really effective way to do this is by partnering with internal champions.

A few participants used the analogy of ‘following the energy’ when searching for partners. L&D leaders are seeking out leaders in other departments that are willing to experiment with new methods and tools and ways of developing employees.

Participants identified a focus on tech, tools, and systems (notice there wasn’t a lot of talk about content) to enable leaders and employees within their orgs. They also mentioned strong alliances with groups like IT, Comms, and Analytics departments to gain necessary skills, but also leverage the skills of those departments in order to build these systems and tools.

Participants also mentioned that as L&D functions deputize leaders and others within the org and share responsibility for employee development, it frees up their time to focus on some of the larger strategic initiatives that they’re being asked to tackle. Skills like business acumen, relationship building, communicating strategic ideas can allow L&D leaders to more effectively work with their champions.

“We’re building the infrastructure for a learning culture – enabling it so all the tools are there – but relying on external partners or partners within the business to deliver. We’re not delivering in response to requests anymore, we’re directing people to the right places in the infrastructure to get what they need.”

– Chief Learning Architect

Thanks to all the roundtable participants and breakout leaders who contributed to an incredibly engaging conversation. We learned a lot about important skills and strategies the L&D function can develop and use to make an impact on their orgs.

If you’re interested, follow this link for the 1st roundtable readout on L&D skills. As always, we welcome your feedback, thoughts, and suggestions at [email protected]

Written by

Dani Johnson

Dani is Co-founder and Principal Analyst for RedThread Research. She has spent the majority of her career writing about, conducting research in, and consulting on human capital practices and technology. Her ideas can be found in publications such as Wall Street Journal, CLO Magazine, HR Magazine, and Employment Relations. Dani holds an MBA and an MS and BS in Mechanical Engineering from BYU.

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