Learning and development professionals have never been at the top of the corporate salary scale. Whether placed in the human resources function or elsewhere, training professionals are rarely seen as the most essential, powerful or highly regarded employees, not even when viewed from within their own organizational function. Given this rather dismal context, it seems appropriate to ask the question: Why do good people do this job?
I am the son of a junior high school teacher who earned $250 a month whether we needed it or not. She became a single parent when her husband, my father, died when I was 15. I can say without bias that she was a remarkable woman and an extraordinary educator. Her dedication to teaching was instructive to me. Even now, in the midst of educational reform, teachers remain among the lowest-paid professionals of all college graduates. Why is it that this profession — upon which our future is so reliant — is so disregarded and poorly esteemed? I have to conclude that we as leaders of the learning function bear a lot of the responsibility for this unacceptable state of affairs.
To be fair, there are many kinds of teachers and teaching roles. They span the distance from novice assistants in anonymous kindergartens to chaired and tenured professors in the world’s most prestigious public and private learning institutions. The quality of teachers ranges from those who begrudgingly do the job only because it’s a living to those who inspire learners to awaken to what is possible and push the frontiers of knowledge and understanding in cutting-edge fields.
It’s important to acknowledge that excellent teachers do this job for a variety of reasons. For some, it springs from a fascination and drive to master a subject for which they have immense curiosity. For others, it has more to do with the great pleasure they derive from seeing learners grow and expand their abilities. Still others flourish in an environment in which they are surrounded by colleagues who share their passions and who provoke them to think in new and useful ways. To narrow the question, let’s ask what a CLO can do to more fully engage dedicated and talented learning professionals — individuals who have prospects to do jobs of greater prestige at higher pay.
The first and most important answer is to fight for higher pay and greater status for exceptional learning professionals. To win this fight, you have to do the work required to identify the real value that learning efforts contribute to your organization. The benefits of increased employee engagement, improved skill levels and employee retention must eventually be translated into the direct ways in which they contribute to the bottom line of your organization in monetary terms. Ultimately, this is the only way to secure greater financial incentives for your learning workforce. Start today to make the business case for equitable reward for your best learning professionals.
Second, you must provide learning and development professionals with the opportunity to continually grow and cultivate their own knowledge, understanding and skills. They were drawn to this field because of their love for and fascination with learning. Yet all too often we do little to enrich the capabilities of the people upon whom we depend to cultivate the competencies of our workforce. Because we are in the learning field, it is often possible to provide learning professionals with development opportunities at a reduced cost and with huge impact.
The final dimension of engaging those who teach and train is perhaps the most powerful and important. Assuming that you have already done the work required to identify how your learning initiatives are contributing to the success of your organization, the next step is to meaningfully recognize the individual contributions of employees in your organization. When individual learning professionals can see how their dedicated and inspired efforts make a substantive difference for the organization and the individuals in it, it provides the ultimate engagement lever — a sense of increased meaning and purpose.
In a time of economic challenge, it may be difficult to win the fight for greater compensation. It also may be challenging to carve out time and resources to help your staff members further develop themselves. But there is no excuse for failing to let your best people know the value of their contribution in specific and meaningful terms. By doing so, you create an environment in which your staff will trigger the kind of development upon which the future of your organization depends. You will engage the best and brightest to complete this crucial and rewarding mission with excellence. When you invest time in this way, you invest wisely and you answer the ultimate question.
Fred Harburg is a private consultant, writer and speaker in the disciplines of leadership, strategy and performance coaching. He has held numerous international leadership roles at IBM, GM, Motorola and Fidelity Investments. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.