Learning and development (L&D) professionals — along with others who fall under the larger HR umbrella — face an ongoing challenge. Work in these departments is often seen as a service function: You’re there to take orders from others within your organization, not drive strategy or hold a seat at the decision-making table. 

One of the significant reasons L&D professionals get excluded from strategic conversations and decisions is that it can be hard to articulate the value of learning in a way that resonates with executives. If you’re looking at typical learning metrics like participation rates or employee satisfaction scores from your programs, for example, these are not the type of numbers that will get the attention of your company’s leadership.

So how do you overcome these bad habits from the past and secure your spot at the decision table? It all starts with changing the perception of the learning function at your organization. Here are a few tactics to try out. 

1. Understand your executives’ priorities

How well can you articulate your company’s mission, vision, and operating model? If you’re a little fuzzy in any of these areas, you’ll be unlikely to earn your executives’ attention. Make time to understand what they’re prioritizing and why. Be sure to familiarize yourself with your company’s goals, strategies, and operations at a detailed level. Follow this advice from author and consultant Mike Hawkins in the Association for Talent Development blog: “Understand the products, services, processes, systems, and finances across the company. Not only know why they exist and what they are, but also how to use them. Become as knowledgeable about your business domains as you are your learning and development domains.”   

Build a Learning Strategy That Delivers Business Outcomes

Understand which business outcomes executives care about most when funding your learning programs.

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2. Define which outcomes you can influence through learning

Through the research you’ve done in the previous step, you’ll begin to identify a few major areas that matter most to your executives — things like growing revenue, reducing costs, and expanding market share. Your next task is to identify which of these business outcomes connect to learning programs. This is a critical step, because according to McKinsey, only 40% of companies say that their learning strategy is aligned with business goals. Here at Udemy Business, we find that some of the business outcomes that are most frequently connected with learning programs are reduced costs, increased productivity, higher revenue, improved employee retention and experience, and support for business continuity.  

3. Gather the data you need

Now that you have an idea of the types of metrics to track, you likely won’t immediately have all of this information at your fingertips. If this is the case, make sure to work with relevant internal departments to determine how you can access this data while still adhering to your region’s privacy and data protection laws. You can then use what you learn to inform your future learning programs. For example, if your outcome is improving employee retention, you might look at your internal job board as your data source. This might involve partnering with your talent team to access this data. If you identify jobs that have been open longer than six weeks, this could indicate a skills gap in a particular area. You could then make a case for offering training programs for current employees to help close this skills gap in vacant positions. 

4. Tie your work into a larger narrative

You’ve probably heard a lot recently about the Great Resignation, and chances are your executives have, too. According to DDI’s 2021 Global Leadership Forecast, some of the top priorities for executives include: developing the next generation of leaders, attracting and retaining top talent, and re-training or upskilling employees. Whenever you can, look for ways to connect learning programs and goals with whatever is top of mind for your executives. For example, leadership training can help elevate the next generation of leaders, and development opportunities are a key priority for today’s job seekers and employees. Just like you want to measure the types of outcomes that matter to executives, you also want to learn to speak to larger trends. As Asha Pandey writes on the eLearning Industry blog, “Though many business leaders accept the value that L&D brings to the organization, L&D leaders must continue to demonstrate that value — both in terms of fiscal impact as well as its potential to build a more inclusive, engaged, and high-performance hybrid workforce.” 

Your blueprint for making learning your strategic advantage

There’s a lot of work involved in transforming how your organization perceives the learning function. Spend time understanding your executives so you can speak their language. You must gather data and insights to connect learning programs and business outcomes. And you can’t neglect the landscape of broader industry and market trends. 

But the good news is that you don’t have to do it alone. We’ve created a blueprint to help you make learning your strategic advantage. Download your copy of Building a Learning Strategy That Delivers Business Outcomes for a step-by-step guide on connecting learning programs to the metrics and outcomes that matter most to strategic leaders.