June 07, 2018

11 Business Leaders To Meet When Planning Learning Strategy

the c-suite, business leaders meeting, learning and development leaders
Learning & Development (L&D) decision makers live and die by the health and strength of their stakeholder relationships. Yet in our recent CGS Annual Trend Report, we discovered 79% of L&D decision-makers state that they only meet with executive teams or line of business leaders on an as needed basis, quarterly or less frequently. The L&D function is a key enabler to business success and healthy, trusting relationships with business leaders are critical to driving real value. A common complaint heard from L&D leaders is that they do not have a “seat at the table” and are absent from strategic decision-making. Rather than lamenting the lack of visibility, L&D must “pull up a chair” with key leaders to build trust and earn a seat as a true business partner. 
How can you tell who the real stakeholders are?
L&D leaders have broad responsibilities that cover multiple functions, business units and regions making it difficult to build relationships across the organization. When evaluating the key business leaders, it is important to look at the level of impact and influence stakeholders have on learning outcomes. Not all stakeholders are important, so begin with a list of potential stakeholders and a simple 2x2 evaluating how much influence they have on L&D’s performance and how much impact L&D can have on their part of the organization. 
high influence vs low impact diagram
Once I know the stakeholders, how do I get things started?
Once you identify the high influence, high impact leaders it is important to begin studying their groups. Think of yourself as an organizational researcher looking to discover the objectives and language of the stakeholder. This may take some effort, so approach this work as if you were a prospective hire within their group looking for a senior role. Conduct intranet searches, read town hall minutes and review everything you find online. Armed with your research, a list of buzzwords and a sense of the group’s culture set up an initial meeting to assess needs and determine the frequency for future updates. Be mindful not to take the “training order” (e.g. we will take a full day training, six videos, seven quick reference cards, and a pool of external sales content please) and stay curious. As the needs start to crystalize, prioritize what you are hearing based on their Key Performance Indicators. Then meet the needs, help enable performance and begin again. If L&D is collaborating to meet business objectives, a seat at the table will come soon enough.
business strategy, defining business objectives, organizational change, learning and development
The 11 most critical business leaders in most* organizations.
Who Why What to ask KPIs
1. CEO

Has the full picture of the organization and can prioritize across silos.

What are the biggest challenges we face? What keeps you up at night?



2. HC Leader Aware of all people initiatives, major changes and leadership development needs.

Where are you actively building capabilities? Why? Where are the trouble spots?


3. CFO Knows where the company is investing heavily and where performance is strong/weak. Which parts of the organization are driving financial success? Why?



4. Customer Experience Has deep empathy for the external customer and engagement with the front line. Where are you focusing resources to meet emerging customer needs?

Customer Retention


5. Employees As a group, has a sense of future capabilities they need to develop. What are you doing more of now than before? How prepared do you feel to excel?



6. Innovation / Strategy Tightly connected to the CEO and other key business leaders; may be driving change.

What are the capabilities we will need is 18 months? 3 years? Why? How can we get your message out?

7. IT Leader Clear picture of how technology is impacting the current and future work; likely has a roadmap. Where could we see higher ROI with better adoption or performance with technology? Where should we focus in the organization?



Customer Retention (if SaaS)

8. Sales/Product Connected to the customer and has a large workforce that drives the business. Where are we winning in the market? Where are we losing? Why?



9. Marketing  Has a clear understanding of the customer, the brand promise and future sales. Who will our customers be in 2 years? How will we need to adjust to serve them?  Where are you targeting your effort?


Customer Acquisition
10. Operations Provides stability and cost management and also has a large workforce Where does your team need to develop? Where do you need the most support?



11. Legal/Risk Aware of any compliance or legal requirements

What keeps you up at night? Where do our people need the most help?
































*Honorable Mention: given the differences in organizational structure, some roles may be critical in organizations that did not make our list. Head of Engineering, Research & Development, Supply Chain, Business Development, Business Unit Heads and Regional Managing Directors were less globally relevant for our top 11. 

How can L&D decision makers get started building stakeholder relationships?
  1. Build the list – start by making a list of the potential stakeholders. Assess the impact and influence. Then look at the health of the existing relationship. 
  2. Time the conversation – Organizations have natural cycles where they focus on strategy, set goals and launch new initiatives. Go to the key meetings, sit in the town halls and choose the right timing. 
  3. Do the homework – Thinking like an outside hire can provide a deep perspective on part of the organization. Look under the covers and work to understand the lingo of the different groups. 
  4. Stay curious – The longer you stay in inquiry, the better. Think of the first meeting as an informational interview. Resist the temptation to ask, “What are your training needs” until you have a clear sense of how the stakeholder works and what matters. 
Strong stakeholder relationships help L&D enable performance. Building trusting coalitions with the key stakeholders provides an opening for L&D to get a seat at the table. However, don’t wait for the invitation. Simply pull up a chair and start the conversation.  


enterprise learning & development 2021 report