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How L&D Can Go From Order Taker to Strategic Business Partner

Do you or your learning and development team feel like an order taker in your organization when you’d rather be seen as a business partner?

Often the learning and development teams feel somewhat separate from the rest of the organization and are brought into the conversation way later than they would like.

This is a common problem in companies and can lead to a gap in understanding, which can have a significant impact on the training content that L&D professionals come up with.

If this sounds familiar, the best solution is to go from being just an order taker to becoming a strategic business partner instead.

In this episode of The Learning Xchange, Schoox’s Matthew Brown (VP of Learning and Brand success) takes you through ways to help you shift from being an order taker to a business partner. He shares his insights into how to get to know the rest of the organization and use that information to improve your training content.

Listen to the podcast below or keep reading.

Questions to ask to become a business partner

The best way to start becoming a business partner is to ask two key questions.

1. Does the business know what your team is responsible for?

What we mean by this is, does the business associate you only with the output, for example, a learning result or a training program. Maybe they don’t know everything that goes on behind the scenes.

2. Do you and your team know what each of the business leaders and departments are responsible for?

More specifically, do you know what their objectives and KPIs are? As a learning and development team is somewhat separate from the rest of the business, it can be easy for this disconnect to occur.

The result is that the learning team builds its own agenda based on what it thinks the business needs.

If, we nurture closer relationships with the departments and business leaders, we can start to really understand all the different perspectives and needs.

One department leader might have an entirely different perspective on what needs work. That’s why it’s such a worthwhile investment of your time to get to know the business, leaders, and employees’ needs.

By doing so, you can become less of an order taker and more of a trusted and proactive strategic business partner.

There are numerous benefits to becoming more of a partner, but the main one is understanding the business at all levels. This enables the learning and development team and the business as a whole to build proactive paths for career development and progression.

With more of an understanding of the rest of the business, it helps everyone give more informed and honest feedback to expose what is needed. This allows the L&D team to build only the most relevant training.  

Build engagement

When we shift into that role of a trusted business partner, it can dramatically impact engagement in training sessions. When engagement has improved, we start to see participation increase.

This means that the knowledge transfer and knowledge gained throughout the organization also increases.

If we can get to this place where the learning and development team is viewed as a trusted business partner, we have much more visibility to achieve what people really need and want.

There’s often a preconceived idea of what every department wants to focus on. However, the reality could be further from that. They may already have the skills and experience they need in their department, but what about beyond that? What about the next step in their career or business objectives?

Having visibility and feedback from engaged learners allows the L&D team to take that into consideration. This can lead to much better productivity, performance, retention, and a healthy working culture.

What can you do to switch from order taker to business partner?

There are plenty of little things you can do to make that shift. Here are the three key steps to start with.

1. Develop the relationships

The first thing to think about is how you develop the relationships. It’s not a case of showing up with an agenda and trying to fit that into the team. Instead, it’s about building a solid working relationship, getting to know the team, what they need and want.

One way you can do this is to request that someone from your team attends leadership or department meetings. This would help you get a better understanding of what’s important to that team.

When we can get into these face-to-face meetings, it allows us to earn trust, and we can see what our learners actually need.

2. Use surveys and polls

Once you have started to build that trust and credibility, a great way to get more understanding is to use surveys or polls. These surveys and polls get much better engagement if the respondent knows that the person behind the survey cares and understands them.

3. Follow up and create action plans

Once you have a deeper understanding of all the different teams and they’re in a position where they can give you honest feedback, don’t just leave it there.

Whenever you can piece together information like this, the next step is to follow up and create a plan of action.

One way to do this is to split it into three touchpoints.

Three touchpoints to becoming a business partner

Touchpoint one is a summary or recap of the main takeaways. For example, “When I joined your team meeting today, I learned lots of great stuff. The takeaways were 1, 2, 3, and here’s what the next steps look like.”

Touchpoint two is when you make an action plan. This is where you lay out everything for the team and make suggestions based on what you’ve learned. Show them what the next steps could look like and invite discussion.

Touchpoint three is where you express and acknowledge the team’s contributions. Let them know that they’ve contributed valuable and helpful information.

It also highlights their responsibilities in training. It’s not solely down to the learning and development team to come up with all the training ideas for the whole company. An L&D team needs input and feedback so it can do its job.

Highlighting your learners’ contribution is a nice way to round off a discussion that started with building trust and engagement.

This final piece of the puzzle helps to solidify the learning and development team as a strategic business partner. Not just an order taker on the sidelines.

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