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Building a learning culture: How to manage stakeholders

To be effective, any learning culture or training strategy requires the buy-in of key stakeholders. So, who are those key stakeholder and how do you manage and build a relationship with stakeholders to ensure that you build an environment in which learning can thrive?

Maintaining L&D as a stakeholder

Often there’s a sense that L&D is a world to itself. It’s self-contained and although most employees have some contact with it, its influence in the wider organization is limited. This is partly the fault of L&D and the way it positions and markets itself – or not.

Learning and development is perceived as discrete from the workplace. It has been a series of episodic events. Something that people attend before they start a new job or go back to work after long leave. Managers complain that training takes people away from work and productivity suffers. And then there’s the perennial question of how effective and relevant training is when it’s so removed from the workflow.

The picture is of training being a hermetically-sealed and self-perpetuating process. If it does nothing to counter that image, it risks being marginalized. But, much worse, L&D will fail to fulfil its stakeholder role in addressing the organization’s pressing learning needs.

Realizing L&D’s value

For businesses to be competitive they require agility and the ability to change in response to market forces. L&D should be a key player in that response. It too needs to be agile and ready for change. So, what can it do to make itself more responsive and its expertise properly utilized and valued?

To make itself more relevant and integral, L&D needs to sell itself to the organization and make clear where its true value lies. It can start by marketing and branding itself But to do that successfully, it needs to focus on its audience and the people who can help it gain influence. That means clearly identifying the main stakeholders whose assistance is vital to maximizing L&D’s impact throughout the organization.

Recognizing stakeholders in L&D

User onboarding

Business leaders are driven by results. They’re looking for L&D that directly impacts their KPIs. Their focus is on improved productivity and performance translating into increased revenue. They’re looking to retain and realize the full potential of their staff. Business leaders need a learning curriculum that’s closely aligned with business strategy. For them, training needs not only to be relevant to core skills but to be fully contextualized within working practices and attuned to business needs.

Employees are in contact with their line managers on a daily basis. Line managers, therefore, have perfect insight into how training is working and in spotting the gaps that need to be addressed. They see upfront how people collaborate and exchange information in the workflow.  They’re a vital bridge between training and working. It’s in their interests to see a learning culture established that encourages the sharing of knowledge amongst their teams and across projects.

Tasked with hiring, developing and retaining talent HR managers have an obvious vested interest in learning programs.  HR will be heavily involved in key training initiatives such as onboarding for new hires, foundation skills and career pathways for existing employees, and building leadership programs that establish a pipeline of future senior managers. The collaboration between HR and L&D is vital if these initiatives are to work.

Increasingly L&D is reliant on technology for the creation, implementation, and management of learning. The IT department then become key stakeholders in any new digital training or elearning program. For content to be accessible across platforms/devices will require IT know-how and support. Any new software or hardware will involve integration with IT’s existing systems and will require ongoing technical support. Consultation with IT is essential in scoping any digital learning initiative.

Building relationships with learners

But, the most important stakeholders are L&D’s core audience: its learners. Learner motivation and engagement are vital to the successful transfer of learning. Learners are ignored if L&D adopts a top-down, dirigiste approach to the creation of training.

In contrast, what modern learners are looking for is learning opportunities that are directly relevant, empowering and that puts them in control. They expect instant access to information at the press of a key or swipe of a screen. They want learning that is tailored to their needs and available where and when they need it.  L&D needs to recognise these demands and deliver personalized, learner-centred learning that encourages and facilitates the sharing and pooling of knowledge. To achieve all this L&D needs to embrace a philosophy and practice of continuous learning.

Managing stakeholders

Identifying stakeholders and their training interests and needs is just the first step. The next is to enlist them in championing learning. True, they each have different priorities, but if you can address them for each stakeholder you can build a learning environment that has organization-wide traction and impact. These stakeholders can then become ambassadors and evangelists for L&D.

Working with business managers to closely align business and learning goals gives L&D strategic input. It brings home the critical relevance of training. Learning that openly reflects business objectives improves learner engagement and ultimately results in enhanced performance to drive the business forward. Adopting business goals as part of its learning objectives brings training out from the shadows and situates it squarely in the workspace. Learning becomes a key, strategic business goal.

Use line managers as the main influencers in establishing and fostering a learning culture. They provide vital, evidence-based feedback, identifying gaps in learning and performance. They’re in a prime position to promote and reward a culture of learning and knowledge sharing.

HR and L&D need to consult with each other and combine their resources to make sure that key HR goals are supported by training. The division between administration (HR) and creation (L&D) of training programs needs to be blurred so that expertise is combined. Also, HR has an interest in promoting learning as a career development activity which can be further assisted by L&D adopting the principle that learning is continuous and lifelong and not confined to the classroom or an elearning course.

IT is well placed to advise on and evaluate the use of apps, devices and platforms that can deliver more effective training to a broader audience and wider geography. By working together L&D and IT can make sure that learning is truly accessible: that is, both relevant and readily available.

Learners as advocates

But to really sell learning and make it sustainable the key stakeholder remains the learner. Only if learners feel at the centre of training initiatives will those initiatives really have the desired impact. The learner view is vital not only to the absorption and transfer of information but also in providing the feedback and input that will establish a learning cycle that delivers increasingly more relevant and effective training.

Also, learners share information informally among themselves. There’s an opportunity here to capture and disseminate that otherwise private knowledge and make it available to a wider audience. L&D should look to identify expertise among experienced employees and use them as mentors and Subject Matter Experts.

Engaged learners perform better and demonstrate more clearly than anything the power and importance of learning in the workplace. They make learning in the workplace accepted practice. L&D needs to support them at the point of need by repositioning itself in the workflow. Only then can L&D really demonstrate its influence, value and success.

L&D’s strategic value in managing stakeholders

In summary, it’s L&D’s mission to bring learning to the organisation, but it won’t do that if it continues to isolate itself. Instead, it needs to start collaborating with other areas of the organization and that collaboration starts with engaging and managing key stakeholders.

The end goal of this collaboration is to build a culture of learning that is both effective and sustainable. The results will show the real power of L&D as an enabler and disseminator of learning.

Working with stakeholders, acknowledging and addressing their needs, helps to bring L&D into the workflow. Learning becomes fully part of the organization’s strategic goals deliverables. It supports performance and helps deliver on business goals.

L&D becomes a key driver in the organization’s overall success through its vital relationships with major stakeholders. To read the rest of the blogs in this series, download our L&D for the 21st Century eBook now.

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