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Nigel Paine

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Eight ways to become indispensable


Nigel Paine tells us the key to remaining relevant and vital in today's busy marketplace.

In this fast-moving knowledge economy, increasingly what defines a successful and innovative company will not only be the closeness of the CEO to general people issues but also the speed and extent of its learning. The great CEO will be committed to learning and therefore keep his or her head of L&D close by. But, if this is not a spontaneous relationship, here are a few things you can do to ease that process along!

1. Strategy is key

The Ford Motor Company once had a snappy slogan: ‘Everything we do is driven by you.’ You should make sure that everything you do is driven by the overall organisational strategy and its key drivers (to retain the motoring theme!) In other words, the learning strategy is simply the contribution that learning will make to delivering the company strategy. CEOs will notice that.

2. Engender learning not courses

You want learning everywhere. Informal and formal. Your job is to encourage and support that, but probably not control it. Your job is to establish the framework, offer support and encouragement but not prohibit, ignore or over-regulate. Give permission for learning to occur across the whole workplace.

3. Celebrate success

Draw attention to what works. Give endorsement to those who share their knowledge willingly, recognise and emulate good practice. This will draw attention to the impact of learning. You are about impact and not process.

4. Banish tedious and meaningless stats from your vocabulary

Who cares what percentage increase in learning hours you achieved, or how many courses you delivered. Focus on what happened as a result. What the organisation can do now that it couldn’t before, and what innovation emerged from that focus on learning.

5. Become a learner yourself

Find out what is going on and learn from your learners. You are the expert and can offer in-depth insight and knowledge, but do that to make things better not to block learning innovation that does not meet arbitrary criteria that you established a long while ago

6. Get the CEO involved in learning

Ask that person to coach and mentor, help them value learning in your company. And when you have an award to make, the CEO is by far the best person to make the presentation and meet the successful candidates.

7. Let this be everyone else’s success! 

You are enabling things to happen for other people. You neither have to control everything nor take all the credit. If everyone round the Boardroom table has a great story to tell about how learning helped them achieve their goals, your task is almost done. So you are a ‘we’ person not an ‘I’ figure.

8. Bi-annual summaries

Try to sum up the overall impact these initiatives have made once or twice a year. Share the journey you have taken together and what the investment in time and effort has delivered.

The chances are that if you follow the logic contained in those eight suggestions, the CEO will come running to you not the other way round.

Nigel Paine is a coach, mentor, writer, broadcaster and keynote speaker of international acclaim. He is currently working in Europe, Brazil,  the US and Australia on a variety of assignments, that hinge around making work more creative, innovative and aspirational and making workplaces more conversational, team-based and knowledge sharing. You can read his blog at or follow him on Twitter:

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