Business minded L&D

So you know how we hear lot’s in the profession about being more business minded to give ourselves value? Well, I’m onboard with that as a concept and as an ideal. It helps me to understand there are things I can and should be doing which will help me to be better at the job I do. If I choose to.

But what does it mean to be more business minded? How do you get more commercial acumen? How do you gain business acumen? As an L&Der, does this stuff actually make a difference to the job we do?

Well, it can make a big difference. It’s what sets ‘trainers’ apart from ‘L&D professionals’. To my mind, there’s a role for both in organisations.

We need trainers. That is people who are proficient (or even possible expert) in a particular skill set, and can help others learn that skill set. That’s all we need them for. They come in, deliver the training and leave. In terms of evaluation, they’re lucky if they get happy sheets completed, and a sign of success is if they’re brought back for more sessions in the future. They may call themselves consultants to feel better about their product, but titles don’t really matter in this regard. If someone comes in and delivers training, I expect a fairly high standard of delivery, mostly because I’ve helped to commission them, and so the return on expectation as well as return on investment needs to be quite high. In terms of tailoring their content to meet the needs of the training, I would fully expect this to happen, with a full consultation about how to make it relevant for the people involved.

L&D professionals need to be good trainers. Not effective, but good. I know, I know, how do you quantify good from effective. Let’s not go there today. Training is a core part of what L&Ders do. Then there’s the rest of what comes with the territory.

L&Ders have to be consultative about the organsiation itself. That is, they need to be going out there and finding out just what the different parts of the organisation do on a day to day basis. It’s one thing knowing that retail planning is all about floor space and how much rack space is optimum for different products, it’s another thing knowing why and how they’ve come up with those equations, and how does that affect brand success and thereby retail success. That meat on the bones, that’s the shit which makes things happen in organisations. It doesn’t matter if you’re in retail, professional services, manufacturing or healthcare. Getting to the core of each part of the organisation is one of the key ways to understand how the organisation becomes successful. This is one of the steps to business acumen.

Talking with the leaders is another key part in the mix. The people leading the organisation are the ones who have stories to share, and their stories are worth heeding well. In those stories are nuggets of information which provide context to a lot of what you see happening around you. The culture is like this because. The process is like this because. The success of the organisation is like this because. The leadership is like this because. It doesn’t matter which level of leadership you engage with, as long as you get a range of stories. That’s what helps you get under the skin of the organisation. Once you’re there, you’re part of the fabric. You’ve become part of the story, and whatever you do in your time will help to mould that story. Those leaders will help craft it continually, and they’re the ones to keep listening to. Doesn’t mean you have to act on everything you hear, just listen.

Get a sense of what the press, social networks and media are saying about the organisation. How is it doing? How is it perceived to be doing? How are people talking about the organisation? What’s the recruitment like? What’s the brand like? What’s the message people leave with when interacting with the organisation? This is all valuable information. It helps to craft more stories you can use to help you understand about the organisation.

Read business related material. Be this from the likes of Harvard Business Review, the Financial Times, a business book, a blog, or listening to BBC Radio 4, you have to be in the know about current affairs. It’s what affects organisations daily. Understanding the strengths and pressures being faced in society can help to inform you of what your organisation might be facing. It’s not to be underestimated how savvy the people at the top are. They’re tapped into these conversations readily. You need to be to.

Those four things, they provide L&D with the basis of how to be business minded. The next step is probably the hardest. Aligning what you do to the organisations goals. From everything I’ve described above, you have the knowledge – the acumen – to be good at what you do. To then take the organisations goals and create meaningful aligned L&D goals is hard. You might think you want to create a course on Time Management, and it might be needed, but which organisational goal does it relate to? How about that leadership workshop? That e-learning provider? Those external trainers? The training budget spend? Which areas of the organisations goals can you draw a clear line of sight to for all of these things and more? Once you can do that, that’s when you’ve got it sussed. And if you’ve done that – can you share that success story with the rest of us? Cos that’s like the golden egg right there.

Other things like creativity, innovation, technology, social learning, informal learning, all become part of the mix, and can make for a highly effective L&Der. But those things come with the continued CPD every L&Der needs to be maintaining in their own way.