L&D – Claiming A Seat At The Executive Table

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Why do we need to claim a seat at all the executive table? If at all it’s essential then where are we today and how can we can there? In this post, we will be discussing all these and also about how can we get there?

I am sure all L&D professionals hold an aspiration to reach a senior level, however a seat at the executive table is not just because of an individual’s, it should rather be an organizational imperative.

It’s essential that we claim a seat at the executive table. I am sure all L&D professionals hold an aspiration to reach a senior level, however a seat at the executive table is not just because of an individual’s aspiration, it should rather be an organizational imperative. Why am I saying so?

Business Landscape in a VUCA world

Business Landscape in a VUCA World

In a larger macro perspective, if we look at the business landscape in today’s VUCA world, irrespective of the sector you are from, the factors which I have listed below, I am sure will resonate with you –

1) Macro & Microeconomic factors, growth, regulation, competition – If you look at the business climate, and which sectors get hugely impacted by the macro and micro-economic factors which are there all around us. So whatever happens in any part of the globe has an impact on us. We are impacted by this constantly. There are regulatory pressures for pressures for growth. Industries like Pharmaceuticals that I am a part of right now, experience it a lot more. There is no industry which has been spared from regulatory pressures and there is a hyper-competition all around.

2) Restructuring recognition, leadership changes – The next aspect of organizational dynamics, there’s a lot of volatility and change happening here. Any which organization that I have been a part of, I have seen structure changes happen at a very regular face and there’s a lot of disruption happening. Traditional organizations which were deep into hierarchies are going hierarchic-less now. So, there are a lot of restructuring, reorganization, leadership changes which is impacting us all the time. If you look at it from a workforce perspective, the fact is that we have a multi-generational workforce and global interconnected workforce in an organization.

3) Global Interconnected Workforce – The workforce is much more interactive, flexible, and connected. With vast information and communications technology infrastructure, the workforce is interconnected globally.

4) Technology impact across the entire business value chain – Technology disruption that’s happening all across the business value chain starting from product design, how it’s manufactured, and how it reaches the customers.

So that’s the larger macro context within which organizations tend to operate today. What is the kind of impact that this macro business context has an organisation because all organisations will have to survive and thrive in this context? There are a huge need and pressure to drive rapid growth. Month after month, quarter after quarter, there is a pressure for growth. We cannot tolerate the kind of status quo anymore. So organizations strive to drive growth by venturing into new products, markets, partnerships, geographies to venture into parts of the globes that the organization was never in before. So that’s one part of the reality.

The challenge is all of this to happen generates huge cost pressure. Risks are –

  • You can’t decline the margins further.
  • Your customer will go to your competitor.
  • There’s a pressure to cut cost.
  • Nobody has unlimited access to capital.

That’s the kind of scenario in any organization who is in pursuit of growth. Irrespective of the sector, organizations are increasingly looking at innovations as a means to handle these pressures.

Now the question arises that if an L&D needs to drive growth despite these existing challenges and pressure then how can they innovate across the value chain and how can they innovate about their products? Innovation is being increasingly looked at as a lever to handle challenges in today’s business scenario.

Talent Context in Today’s World

As we operate in the VUCA world, the important context would definitely be Talent. It’s the people, the workforce, the talent of any organization which will aid in driving change and overcoming the challenges face by it. We might say technology enables it but the truth is you need a human mind to think about technology to make it happen. The differentiating factor which ensures the success of any organization is talent.

1) Ever evolving workforce & Workforce dynamics

2) Creating a performance driven culture

3) Gaps in the leadership pipeline

4) New skills for product and business changes

5) The skills gap in critical positions

6) Difficulty in filling key positions / retirement of key associates

7) Digitally driven workforce

The capability is an important factor that enables talent to be a differentiating element. If there are to be no gaps in leadership pipeline, talent to be performance driven, if you need skills for new products and other changes, if the critical stakeholders are to have the right set of skills, then capability building is going to be very very important. It is not something which we can get readymade. As the world keeps changing and there’s a dynamism in the context, capability building is going to be a continuous effort. As Mr Prabir Jha, President & Global Chief People Officer – Cipla says, “The need of the hours is to focus on Organizational Capability Building and not just individual Capability Building.”

When it comes to organizational capabilities, it’s not just about the people element. Typically there are three things that go together to build an organization capability – Process, Technology and People. However, people lie at the centre of it because to design the process and ensure that the process is actually implemented seamlessly on people, and to decide and leverage the technology at people. So people capability becomes extremely important. To beat the seat at the table this must be an imperative goal for an L&D to build individual or people and as well as organizational capabilities.

Let’s focus on a few statistics. As per Deloitte, 62% of the L&D professionals don’t know the exact spend on learning, 70% believe spend occurs outside the L&D budget, and 21% rate themselves excellent or good on ROI. 30% of organizations have a senior leader like CLO (Chief Learning Officer). In many renowned organizations, there are very young professionals are a sole runner in L&D. Even though they are energetic and vibrant but definitely experience matters to some extent.

Status of L&D

Key Shifts that an L&D Needs to Make

  1. Individual Capability Building – It very often focuses on current gaps. From there we can move to build organizational capabilities that focus on distinctive, futuristic capabilities.
  2. Provider / Organizer of Training – Today the world is moving towards self-learning. Do not train or teach somebody something that they can learn on their own. Whatever they can learn on their own, a lot of it is going to be role-specific capabilities. Hence, there’s a need to shift from training provider to a promoter or enabler of continuous learning.
  3. The efficiency of training operations – ROI is important but it cannot analyze the exact effect of learning or training needed. The returns need not be monetary in all cases but there must be an impact created. Along with efficiency, the effectiveness of learning is very crucial. There are approaches, frameworks and tools which will help you establish the business impact.
  4. Experimenting with technology to reduce costs – It is all about delivering learning to a larger audience at a very fast pace and at a reduced cost through technology-enabled learning, e-Learning and LMSs. This is where an L&D must ask himself that how can he evangelize technology to enable impact.
  5. Learning Specialists – Shift from a learning specialist to a talent and performance consultants and learning advisors. This can be possible by analysing how good knowledge or understanding you have of the business and how to use this knowledge to influence the learning.

All these shifts are about thinking to learn into thinking business. To make these shifts let’s discuss what levers can help us and how to use them –

Strong Alignment with Business and Larger Talent Agenda

The learning agenda needs to align with the business agenda and talent agenda and the learning professionals need to have a strong relationship and alignment with the business leaders, talent acquisition/management teams.

Sharp Focus on Effectiveness

It’s not only about efficiency or improved performance of the learning participants but also about creating a business impact. Also to do so, involve leader in various stages of learning. Another important factor is to educate the leaders so that they give their in designing the learning content or else impact are never going to happen.

Efficiency of Operations

As we discussed business works in the lot of constraints which means all the functions are also going to experience a lot of constraints. Neither we have an unlimited budget now unlimited resources. So how do we innovate to leverage efficiencies and how do we synergize if we are part of large organizations so that we cut down on some unwanted expenses.

Branding and Communication

It is not about creating flashy flyers but about how robust is your work. Plan and strategize the internal and external communication specifically for the leadership teams, for HR fraternity and for external use as well.

Evolving into Learning Advisors

Consult and influence skills by discussing with L&D expertise, Business expertise and Advisory expertise.


About Hemalakshmi Raju

Hemalakshmi Raju is an organizational development expert, driven by a strong passion to create a positive impact on individuals and organizations. She holds multi-sector experience, having worked with large business conglomerates including Tata Motors, Reliance Industries & EID Parry. She also has rich experience in crafting and implementing organization-wide learning strategy and has worked extensively on designing and launching corporate learning academies. As a certified coach and user of various psychometric tools, Hemalakshmi Raju brings in a blend of relevant approaches to make developmental interventions holistic and powerful.

Posts by Hemalakshmi Raju

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