Once upon a time learning and development (L&D) sat as a distinct and isolated function within the business. As we shared, as part of our history lesson in the evolution of learning, times have really changed in the training, learning and development arena. Now, you should be able to rightly expect leadership buy-in for L&D. That’s not to say you’ve got it, but it’s not an alien concept in the way it was not so long ago!
However, we want to go even further and say that even when buy-in is happening, it’s just not enough. It’s not deep-seated, absolute integration with every facet of the organisation. And without L&D being completely enmeshed at every level and in every way (which only happens when facilitated from the top), organisations are missing out on the benefits.
Why Does Buy-In Matter?
To put it bluntly, employees aren’t going to care about L&D and invest their time and effort in it, if leadership doesn’t. Or, at the very least, the development that happens will be shaped solely by the wishes of the employee and not by the objectives of the organisation.
Yet we know that organisations with integrated L&D across the organisation have the highest rates of engagement. Engaged employees are productive and loyal employees.
But it’s more than buy-in. It’s not enough for senior leadership to agree that L&D matters and then pass the buck over to those responsible for human capital, perhaps not even a distinct L&D department, with little further look in. Instead, there needs to be buy-in, but then leadership also needs to actively champion L&D day-in-day-out, in everything they do.
Why Championing L&D Matters
The 2020 Workplace Learning Report from LinkedIn Learning puts this starkly into figures for us. It revealed that leadership is clearly buying-in to L&D. We can see this because L&D budgets have continued to expand. If leadership is putting their money behind their words, then we’re in business. Indeed, this translated into 87% of those in L&D feeling that their executive leaders support learning in their organisation.
And then it falls flat. Only 27% of those same L&D professionals feel that their CEO actually actively champion learning. We’re in the dangerous territory of it looking like CEOs, by and large, are paying lip service to L&D, or at the best, still thinking it is entirely someone else’s responsibility.
However, without the championing of L&D at the very highest levels, and downwards throughout all levels of management, that healthy L&D budget is effectively having less positive effect than it potentially could.
How Can Senior Leaders Champion L&D?
Without wishing to risk claims of hyperbole, it’s fair to say that if senior leadership championed L&D then the effect could be incredible. Data would need to be collected, but we believe it would increase productivity, reduce errors, aid talent retention, enable meeting of corporate objectives, open up new opportunities, and, without a doubt, boost employee engagement.
So how can senior leaders actively champion L&D?
What it would look like in practice will be dependent on the specific nature of the organisation. However, we would expect that actively championing L&D would involve:
- A Chief Learning Officer reporting into the CEO.
- L&D results quantified in annual reports.
- L&D being a defined function but with individual ‘reps’ within each department who have L&D responsibilities as part of their job, which is then performance evaluated.
- L&D compulsory requirements throughout the organisation, and again performance evaluated.
- Cohesive connection between Learning Management Systems and Performance Management Systems, so that the two are inherently aligned.
Yes, we’re asking for a lot! And if you’ve struggled to get buy-in, you may well feel this is a level that’s just too high to be realistically achieved.
The good news is that the same steps you take to achieve leadership buy-in with L&D will start you on the right course. It’s important to get buy-in first, and then identify key figures within leadership who you can get on board to level-up even further. But it’s worth making it an ongoing quest, and plugging away to make progress.