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How to engage senior leaders in the L&D process


Wendy Brooks of Hemsley Fraser gives five tips on how to get your leaders to support and champion learning.
Is your L&D process fully supported by the senior leaders in your organisation? If so, it is much more likely to be effective. If they are not engaged, it is a missed opportunity. 
When senior leaders are committed champions of L&D, and advocates of specific learning initiatives, the impact can be transformative. It not only becomes much easier to instil a favourable culture of learning - and a genuine commitment to development - it also raises the credibility of L&D.
Here are five tips to engage your senior leaders:

Convince senior leaders why they should care

Why should senior leaders want to engage with your L&D process? You may have to convince them of the organisational benefits of L&D and show them that supporting L&D is worth their time and effort.
Leaders are interested in how their organisations have to adapt to a changing world. The long-term success of the organisation ultimately depends on whether its people have the capability - and the capacity - to deliver the strategic imperatives and to respond rapidly to opportunities. The best way to ensure that people have the necessary capability and capacity to perform is through learning and development.
"The long-term success of the organisation ultimately depends on whether its people have the capability to deliver the strategic imperatives and to respond rapidly to opportunities."
L&D should therefore be a strategic priority. Senior leaders need to understand that the future of the entire organisation is massively impacted by their investment in L&D. If they see the value, they'll be committed to the L&D process.
Explain to senior leaders the differences that L&D can make, where they should look for results and the massive impact they make when they champion learning and lead by example. Some leaders surprisingly underestimate the impact they can have. Highlight past strategic initiatives that have succeeded through L&D investment. Get their buy-in for your L&D process and clarify the specifics of the role you'd like them to undertake.

Ensure your L&D process is strategically aligned

The real starting point for any L&D process is strategic alignment. As an L&D practitioner, you need to understand your organisation's sector, its competitors and its strategic options. Where is your organisation heading? What strategic issues are keeping your senior leaders awake at night? What are the key priorities for line managers in your organisation? Can you assess whether people in the organisation currently have the capability and the capacity to meet these strategic challenges?
Do your homework to show that you're strategic and commercial. To do this, you may need to access, analyse and interpret information that is held in different parts of the organisation.
Facilitate a board/senior leader discussion around specific strategic priorities, to draw out the implications for leaders, managers and their teams. In particular, identify whether - and how much - these priorities will require new knowledge and skills, how current working practices may need to change and what might lead to a shortfall in performance.
Only when you have a people perspective on the strategic priorities can you really start to plan your L&D process. The challenge is to plug the skills gaps between where you are now and where you want to be.

Focus on results

In an ideal world, your senior leaders should be able to say that a specific L&D initiative made more impact on the business and created faster value than investing in capital equipment. But they can only do that if you have the relevant data.
From the outset, you need to be clear what results you expect from the L&D process - and when you'll be able to report them. Results which are reported in line with business cycles and aligned with major strategic initiatives are more likely to resonate with senior leaders and the broader business. Ideally, you should be able to relate specific L&D activities to the metrics that matter to the business.
"If senior leaders have a clear picture of the road map, they can share in the satisfaction when the 'moments of truth' start to happen."
Instil a clear governance process for L&D initiatives and be very clear about what you require from your programme sponsors and from mentors and expert advisers. Promote best practice outcomes internally.

Keep senior leaders informed about progress

Although you want your senior leaders to be involved, from the planning phase onwards, it is important that your L&D process is designed, led and managed by learning teams. 
Leaders should be kept informed of progress at each stage, particularly when the L&D interventions start showing benefits. If senior leaders have a clear picture of the road map, they can share in the satisfaction when the 'moments of truth' start to happen. They are also more likely to remove any blockages to progress and to champion the results achieved to other areas of the business.

Give value consistently at every touch point

If you want senior leaders to remain actively involved in the L&D process, they have to see it as worth their while. There will always be competing priorities for their time and attention, so you need to ensure that they find the experience of getting involved with L&D valuable.
There is no substitute for the commitment to learning that will stem from having senior leaders engaged in the L&D process. Whether or not you'll achieve their long-term, sustained engagement will largely depend on whether you can inspire them to be confident that you are strategic and commercial; whether you can demonstrate that you share their focus around measurement and reporting results and whether you can deliver a differentiated, positive experience for them every time.
Wendy Brooks is a director of Hemsley Fraser, the learning & development specialist. She can be contacted via email here


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