Over the years, the mantra of learning professionals and their ubiquitous advisors has been: “Get a seat at the table.” The “table” may be a committee, council, working team, cadre or executive board. The scope of responsibility can range from company governance to strategy, marketing to business intelligence. And there is no end to the creative approaches that companies use to achieve cross-functional management and ensure broad leadership involvement.
However, a seat at the table may not be all it’s cracked up to be. Here are seven considerations learning leaders should take into account as they seek to join tables.
1. Strategic direction for learning and development is derived, formulated and discussed in leadership networks and through relationships with other managers in the organization. When CLOs become more concerned about getting a seat at the table and less concerned about building multiple networks and trusting relationships throughout the company, learning strategy may be in trouble.
2. Taking a cue from the popular comic strip “Dilbert,” CLOs should recognize that participating in some tables is not the most productive use of their time. There are many groups in which the strategic content is arcane and not directly related to human capital strategy. There are not always pearls of wisdom or strategic epiphanies that will impact the learning organization’s strategy.
3. Having a seat at the table may mean that learning becomes the default solution for every glitch in business performance. Leaders can become too narrowly focused on training as the end solution and not look to other potential issues, such as lack of critical talent, low process integrity or poor management.
4. If the CLO has a seat at the table, the learning organization had better be performing very well — and not only on current needs, but on anticipated ones. Anticipatory achievement is much preferred to serving as the sitting duck for discussions about ineffective performance management.
5. CLOs must be prepared for crazy ideas and perspectives that can arise at the table. These ideas run the gamut from a strategic redirection of resources — i.e., “Do you really need all your funding?” — to more tactical concerns regarding the use of blue tape in the training center. The good news here is the involvement of business leaders in the learning space; the bad news here is the involvement of business leaders in the learning space.
6. There is some advantage to being absent from a table in that it may provide the strategic freedom needed to drive learning without the encumbrance of narrow business or HR rules. That said, there is a right time for this behavior and a not-so-right time. Use this at your own risk.
7. There is one table at which the CLO must have a seat — and a good seat at that. Regardless of how the learning function is structured in relationship to talent and HR, any table focused on talent management and human capital should be led or co-chaired by the CLO.
Each CLO will need to define which tables are right to participate in. But it is important to remember that “a seat” is less important than the overall set of behaviors and actions required to serve effectively as the company’s most senior learning leader. Serving as the focal point or hub of an enterprisewide learning and development network is the more important goal.