High Chair

Stop Choosing the High Chair

High ChairI’ve spent a lot of time over the last four years learning how to talk about xAPI to senior leaders in organizations. Throughout my career, many Managers and Directors above me in various Learning Departments didn’t know how to talk to their C-Suite leaders. I feel like L&D has been teaching ourselves how to talk to executive leadership. Some of those lessons are things we need to stop teaching.

I recently had the opportunity to join a CLO Magazine breakfast in downtown Chicago. At this breakfast, there was a panel of senior leaders from academia, a rather large organization and a major LMS vendor. From both the leaders and the moderator, the call to action was clear: derive learning objectives from the business objectives and support those business objectives. Right after the panel discussion, each table broke into small group discussions about this topic. At my table the conversation turned, as it does, to the solution “learning needs a seat at the table.”

Seems like making a direct impact on business objectives is the seat at the table; these are the same thing. The disconnect struck me. Learning folks, like myself, are a bit meta and we may be missing what our value proposition is within an organization. Most of the company is looking externally, outside of the organization, trying to find ways to make the most of what the company is producing. The learning team is the only team who is charged with looking inside the company and finding ways to help work get done better, faster, happier. Making the most of what the company is producing from the inside.

We already have a seat at the table. It turns out we can choose any seat at the table we want. The problem is that many of us (and I use “us” because of good manners invokes “the royal ‘we’”) keep choosing the one with the booster seat on it. We wait for the pat on the head that will comfort us and grant us the permission to act on our “if only…” ideas. “If only we could support iPhones.” “If only we could get the evaluation data we needed.” “If only we didn’t have to build courseware.”

If only…

I’m going to propose something radical.

If you are in learning, education and/or training at any level, you have an objective that supports all business objectives: it is Improvement. You own this. If you are in learning & development, Improvement is the contribution you make to the business.

What will you do to make improvement better? What will you do to make it so in demand that you can charge a premium for it? How will you grow your business of improvement?

What I’m daring to tell you, L&D leaders, is that you’re in a market where you can cater to individual demands for Improvement. The assembly line model that stamps out the same thing for everyone isn’t good enough anymore; not when you can offer Improvement that is right-fit for a particular audience. Improvement is core to your whole reason for being in business — certainly the reason why you’re part of a bigger business. Improvement isn’t the powerpoint slides or the way in which you deliver it. Improvement is whatever it takes to make. shit. better.

If you want to argue how something like xAPI isn’t learning (or just fill-in-the-blank isn’t learning), because it’s more about performance… who else in the business cares about that academic debate? Your job is making Improvement… not making content. Yes-and, folks. Jump in and help the business grow.

Start with owning Improvement.

With this mindset, assume you already have the seat you crave at the table, because you do. You can do whatever the hell you want to make things better in the organization. The only thing your other business leaders demand is that the outcomes of your actions need to be accountable to the business. Connect the dots, show the leaders how you helped people improve to meet, and maybe even, exceed their objectives.

Let me make it abundantly clear. If you’ve ever said “we need a seat at the table,” I want you to imagine that you have it. Now ask yourself “What will I do now that I have a seat at the table?” If you know… you don’t need the permission. You need to act in the best interests of the business, and make that act count.

You can have any seat at the table you want. Stop choosing the high chair*.

*Note: This whole line must truly be credited to Salima Nathoo.


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