Spend Time to Understand the Business

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Geetanjali Wheeler is a seasoned L&D professional passionate about building a culture that promotes learning agility at all levels in the organisation. She is convinced that it is how one can continually build people capability and drive business outcomes. Geetanjali has established credibility with her stakeholders as a business driver and in partnership delivered many successful projects like Sales enablement, Agile way of working, Partner University, enablement of early career stage Women and many more! She takes pride in calling her business stakeholders her biggest sponsors of learning!

Tips for a budding L&D/HR professional?

There are specialised competencies required to make a career in L&D – that’s a given and they are very important to build your domain expertise. Therefore, as budding L&D professionals, you must focus on them.

In my response to your question on tips, I’m going to highlight aspects that will enable one to become a respected professional:

1. Spend time to understand the business:

What is the business vision & strategy? What is the purpose of the organisation’s existence? How does it work, make money? Who are the customers? What value do they seek? What are the changes in the business environment? Who are your internal stakeholders?

The more you ask questions, the more you will learn and that’s when you will be able to connect everything you do with the business.

2. Progress from being  “I-shaped” to “T-shaped”:

Although references of the term T-shaped can be found in like 1980s, I believe it was IDEO Chief Executive Tim Brown who popularised it.

The vertical stroke of “T” indicates the depth of skills. I interpret this as the depth of your domain skills. The horizontal stroke of “T” indicates empathy and curiosity to know about other disciplines. So, a T-shaped person can not only apply their own learnings to other areas but also learn from other disciplines.  

This approach will give you both length and breadth of skills required to effectively collaborate within the organisation.

3. Lead with integrity:

In one of the interviews I saw, Indra Nooyi said to the essence of ‘Your compass must always point true North’. For me, this is about character and it has to be a part of your DNA. However big or small, there will be situations in your journey where your integrity will be tested. The decisions you make will define who you become as a professional and then as a leader who will have followers.

4. Build relationships:

In my endeavour to follow many successful leaders, I’ve constantly looked at what was the best advice they received and would like to pass on. Many of them have quoted “building long-term relationships” at workplace as key to their success. We know this as “networking”.

It’s an effective way to learn, stay updated, build partners, find influencers, collaborate and gain access to resources and information of value to deliver successfully.

5. Earn your seat at the table:

Sitting at the table means you are adding value and this seat has to be earned. Please don’t be shy of “doing”… a strong background in execution will give you the attention to detail required for strategy. Your expertise as an L&D professional along with your understanding of the business will earn you the credibility required.

Finally, whether you are in HR or L&D or any field – ask yourself if you are in it by choice? If you are doing what you do because you feel passionate about it, success is bound to follow!

One HR/L&D practice that has always worked for you as an HR. (share an example)

For a very long time, L&D was looked at as a support function. I don’t believe that’s the case now as in many progressive organisations, these functions are now looked as business drivers. The advice I received early on in my career was – “To get a seat at the table, you must add value.

So, what has always worked for me?

My answer is Get your hands dirty!

You must have the “Business understanding” as your foundation and then use your L&D expertise to drive business outcomes. It takes efforts to understand the business and do that you need to go much beyond just knowing the vision of the organisation. 

For example, you cannot add value to the business or be a business driver if you do not understand its revenue model, customers, market, competition and other factors that impact the present and future of the organisation. So, if you are not already doing it, attending customer meetings, business reviews will be a good starting point.

You must establish your credibility as a business driver across different layers in the organisation i.e. from the senior leaders to the last mile. This is how you will be looked at as a “Partner”.

Do you think robots can replace L&D professionals in the coming decade?

One of the biggest challenges in front of the organisations today is to be future ready. More than the worry of technology replacing humans, the bigger worry is to reskill or upskill employees fast enough.

According to a McKinsey report, by 2030 about 14% of the global workforce will have to switch occupational categories. If I get this numbers for India, according to a NASSCOM report, nearly 40 percent of the estimated four million workforce will need re-skilling over the next five years due to digital disruption.

It does not matter what industry or vertical or function we are talking about, we know that automation will impact:

  • Jobs that are repetitive in nature or
  • jobs that don’t require creativity, problem solving, collaboration, leadership etc.

On one hand, yes there will be jobs that exist today and will not exist tomorrow. On the other hand, the changes in business models and technology landscape, will give rise to new jobs that don’t exist today. We could very well be designing learning tracks for humans & robots tomorrow!

However, as L&D professionals we cannot be forgetting to upskill or reskill ourselves. How else will we drive people outcome for the business?

Therefore, just like market research, customer analysis, product research, etc. the capability needs of an Organisation has to be reviewed and redefined continuously.  That’s why L&D has a very important role to play. I totally believe that HR or L&D as functions will continue to become more important than ever. If not already, it will be in the top agenda of every leader!

How do you create a buy-in for trainings at workplace?

Based on my experience, the 2 very important approaches that I’d like bring forward on this topic are:

1. Creating buy-in for trainings can be best understood by taking example of how organisations create buy-in for their products and services. It’s by providing value! To be valuable for the business, firstly we must not treat “training” as panacea for all performance issues. A true L&D Partner will act as a consultant for the business.

Many a times, as L&D professionals, we find it difficult go beyond measuring feedback & knowledge assessment scores. Thinking about measuring the effectiveness of the training after the intervention is futile. This is one of my learning that got affirmed, when I did my Kirkpatrick certification. You have to begin with the “end in mind” and this has to be done with the business. This is why the identification of the training needs, the training design & delivery must be aligned with the evaluation of training effectiveness. When I started focusing on this approach, I saw that the capability became “our agenda” than “my agenda”. The stakeholders made it a part of their reviews as well because they believed it had impact… it had value!

2. I also think that there is a strong case for L&D professionals to wear a Marketer’s hat to further promote all the wonderful work they do! Just like marketing, the pitch needs to be tailored as per the audience. It is important to focus on a “pull” strategy rather than a “push” strategy where the efforts of the team is wasted on driving completion. For e.g.:

  • Answering “What’s in it for me?” for the targeted audience and their Line Managers. The pitch should answer addressing a current need or building future readiness. LinkedIn’s Workplace Learning report of 2019 also reinforces the positive influence that a Line Manager’s support and recommendation has.
  • Creating Champions and endorsers at all levels and publicizing them i.e. at Target group, Senior Leaders and their Line Managers.
  • Explore all modes of communication platforms e.g. Email / Townhall/ Videos / Internal comms stage / Social media Leader board / Dashboard etc. Learning should be looked at as an investment.. #investinyourself.
  • Work with your Marketing team… they have tools that can track the impact of a campaign, give you insider insights and there is just so much that you can learn from them!
  • Simply put, evaluate some of marketing strategies including digital that you can apply for promoting your L&D initiatives.  

Your personal achievement as an L&D professional?

Achievements for me are like building blocks of a legacy that you leave behind. So, from the beginning of my career, I value every small and big achievement for they define what I am today! I credit this with gratitude to the organisations and the people I have worked with.

I believe that if you are passionate about what you are doing, you will eventually build your list of professional achievements whether that’s driving business results, internal or external recognition or even growth in terms responsibilities, projects and career. However, I also think that as you grow in your career, the meaning you attach to the term “achievements” begins to expand. For me, it is now about:

How am I investing in myself?

How am I evolving as an L&D Leader?

How many people am I able to add value to?

Thinking of building a legacy to leave… to be remembered in my field?

What can I take beyond the corporate circle into the society? … So, I know this is a journey and my best is yet to come!  

Disclaimer: The responses to the questions are solely the views of the interviewee as a professional and do not reflect that of the Organisation he/she works for.

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