Playing by numbers

The theme of last week’s Learning Cafe in Sydney was How to Win Friends and Influence Learning Stakeholders.

Among the stakeholders considered was the “C-Level & Leadership”. This got me thinking, do the C-suite and lower rung managers expect different things from L&D?

There’s no shortage of advice out there telling us to learn the language of finance, because that’s what the CEO speaks. And that makes sense to me.

While some of my peers shudder at the term ROI, for example, I consider it perfectly reasonable for the one who’s footing the bill to demand something in return.

Show me the money.

Stack of Cash

But I also dare to suggest that the managers who occupy the lower levels of the organisational chart don’t give a flying fox about all that.

Of course they “care” about revenue, costs and savings – and they would vigorously say so if asked! – but it’s not what motivates them day to day. What they really care about is their team’s performance stats.

I’m referring to metrics such as:

• Number of widgets produced per hour
• Number of defects per thousand opportunities
• Number of policy renewals
• Number of new write-ups

In other words, whatever is on their dashboard. That’s what they are ultimately accountable for, so that’s what immediately concerns them.

Woman drawing a graph

The business savvy L&D consultant understands this dynamic and uses it to his or her advantage.

He or she appreciates the difference between what the client says they want, and what they really need.

He or she realises the client isn’t invested in the training activity, but rather in the outcome.

He or she doesn’t start with the solution (“How about a team-building workshop?”), but rather with the performance variable (“I see your conversion rate has fallen short of the target over the last 3 months”).

He or she knows that the numbers that really matter don’t necessarily have dollar signs in front of them.

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2 Comments on “Playing by numbers”

  1. Glenn Hansen Says:

    Yep, spot on again Ryan. As you’ve alluded to, it’s largely about the things people are held responsible for. Operational managers (especially front-line ones) will pay more attention to the short-term, local picture, whereas the C suite, while aware the short-term is important, will be looking to the big picture of organisational numbers (rather than team or busienss unit stats alone).

    One of the criticisms I hear from many execs across any number of organisations is that their learning and performance staff become so preoccupied with the small picture that they seem to have no concept of the big picture, and an inability to step back and plan for medium-term, let alone long-term, strategic activity.

    Often, when I ask how often these senior people speak to their L&D staff, the answer is “about never.” All of the L&D team’s time is spent with front-line or middle managers and front-line staff. No great surprise, then, that they have a narrowed focus.

    This is where a good L&D manager comes in. They have the opportunity to build an environment where their team members are encouraged to keep considering the big picture and the wider environment their organisation must operate in, even as they plan to meet local needs. Of course, senior leaders also have a responsbility in this, in making sure the L&D manager doesn’t become disconnected from the things that are occupying the minds of the C suite – and this requires communication. Senior managers need to be able to give out some information, rather than just act as consumers of what comes in to them.

    Wow, turned that comment into a blog post in itself. Sorry. Anyhoo, what I was saying was, good post.

  2. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Don’t apologise, Glenn. I love what you have to say here.

    In fact, I apologise if I appeared to have favoured operational stats. What I was trying to say is that different clients have different needs.

    I totally agree that L&D needs to pay more attention to the bigger picture and engage in strategic thinking. This underscores my view (and I’m sure, yours too) that while a trainer is a trainer, an L&D Manager is a business partner.


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