How to Position Learning as a Strategic Asset for Your Business

female Chief Learning Officer presenting learning intiatiaves as strategic assets in board meeting

What does it take to convince other business leaders that learning is strategic asset for your business? How can you make sure that learning is prioritized in your business continuity plans? In this blog post, we will answer these questions and more from the first-hand insights from Chief Learning Officer of the Year 2020, Dr. Sydney Savion, who is currently Air New Zealand’s Chief Learning Officer.

Driving change with Dr. Sydney Savion: Why learning is a strategic business asset

It’s never easy to join a new organization in the midst of a global pandemic and begin to drive change. It takes more than just a project plan and determination; it’s about changing mindsets by establishing relationships built on trust.

Which of course, is never an easy feat, regardless of role or situation.

Which is why for this particular subject, we are looking to the experts for answers.

In our Speexx Exchange podcast (episode 19), workplace learning expert Donald Taylor sits down with Dr. Sydney Savion to discuss her industry experience and how she was able to overcome common challenges that come with the role of CLO, namely, explaining what someone in L&D could do if they are looking to find ways to convince other executives to prioritize learning when it comes to business strategy.

With over 20 years of experience in learning, culture and workforce development, Dr. Sydney Savion is an L&D veteran.

When it comes to getting her business counterparts onboard with learning initiatives, Dr. Savion is able to tap into her passion of serving others and find the common denominator in the workplace that drives collaboration and achieves success.

L&D team positioning learning projects as strategic assets

Getting stakeholders onboard with strategic L&D initiatives

“In order for learning to be viewed as a strategic asset, the business leaders need to view it that way.” – Dr. Savion

Unfortunately, many learning leaders still face the challenge of finding ways to convince internal stakeholders to prioritize learning not only when it comes to budget, but also when it comes to strategic initiatives for driving business success.

Continuous learning programs are known to improve employee engagement and employee retention rates. But they are also helping companies identify opportunities for internal to fill skills gaps.

In fact, HR analyst Josh Bersin claims, “it has now become clear that opening up internal opportunities is of the most powerful management practices in business. Not only does it engage people and help them grow, it helps the company identify skills that reduce the need to constantly search for external talent.”

Learning, after all, is an integral part of company culture and business growth. So why is it so difficult for business executives to understand that learning is also a strategic asset for the business? What can we do as HR and learning leaders to push our business counterparts to get behind learning and training programs, and to invest in learning innovation?

Here are the top four points from Dr. Savion on how to ensure learning becomes and remains a strategic asset for your business.

a team sitting around a table discussion new strategic learning projects

4 practical tips to convince stakeholders learning is a strategic asset for the business

1. Build relationships and work together to create strategic learning assets

Your employees invest a significant time in their work. And before the pandemic, most likely they also were spending 40+ hours a week (physically speaking) at the workplace.

With so much time invested in your work, building relationships with your coworkers makes sense not only for the practical and professional reasons, but also for mental health reasons.

According to Gallup’s “State of the American Workplace” report, “forming friendships with your co-workers increases your levels of happiness and makes you a more engaged employee.”

Founding good relationships with your coworkers from the start of employment has a multitude of benefits, but it also increases the likelihood of your workforce improving collaboration and achieving business targets.

As Dr. Savion says in her chat with Donald Taylor, “We all want the same thing, the solution.”

Learning leaders therefore should focus more on the “what”, meaning, the solution, versus the “how”. Start from the ground up by establishing strategic relationships with your colleagues in various organizations, or as Dr. Savion puts it, “find ten new best friends”.

With these relationships, you will be able to explain all of the benefits of a strategic learning program, and explore opportunities based on their experiences.

In this way, you will be sure that you will be aligned with the have the right stakeholders as you continue the learning transformation journey.

2. Speak the target language of your audience

“Being able to identify a problem that learning can help solve or moderate is key.” – Dr. Savion

Each business unit has a common “language” which they speak to get things done. For instance, Finance may not talk about customers as passionately as someone in Customer Success might.

As a learning leader, it’s your job to understand the different vernacular of each organization so that you can not only understand their goals, but also so that you can understand them.

When it comes to the language of business leaders, Dr. Savion may have cracked the code. There are two main concepts you will need to be fluent in if you want to assimilate into the executive culture- dollars and data.

If you need a place to start, Dr. Savion offers a few useful turns of phrase to capture their attention:

  • Cost reducing
  • Time to proficiency
  • Reduce accidents
  • Increase productivity

In conclusion, the best way to speak the language of another department is to speak to the things which they care about the most. Being able to associate a dollar amount and the data behind your learning initiatives is one of the most effective ways to begin to show the evidence of how learning is a strategic asset for your organization.

3. Experiment with different strategic learning approaches

In an era of increasing change, we are facing more and more ambiguity in our work and in our lives. While the challenge maybe unprecedented for some, it has also given rise to new technology and improvement in change management processes.

Not only this, but also has opened up a greater chance for you and your team to prove why learning needs to be considered a strategic asset at this point.

What we have also learned is that experimentation in HR and L&D should not be avoided, but rather explored constantly.

If we go back to the first tip from Dr. Savion, (building relationships), we already have an established foundation with our professional community. This community is where we find the solution to the new challenges we are facing in the new normal. Because if we know our people, we also know the source of motivation in the workplace for our people as well.

Motivation is the energy that drives us, that contributes to our goals and that excites us in our personal and professional lives. It may be different for everyone, but there is something for each employee.

Of course, in times of global crisis, this motivation might be more difficult to identify. Learning what employees want and expect from their work is going to be part of your reasoning for why learning is an essential asset for your business.

How can you do this? Dr. Savion suggests to meet with each learning group and to hear them out. Discover what’s working well, and what’s not. From there, prioritize what’s not working well and then continue the process with each department.

The key here is to listen and empathize with each learning group without trying to solve the problems on the spot. Giving your employees the space to open up and speak honestly about their challenges establishes trust and helps you see the bigger picture.

4. Include stakeholders along in process to building strategic learning assets for the company

There are always a million reasons preventing change from happening in the workplace. That’s why L&D leaders are the right people for the job; they enjoy the challenge!

The final tip from Dr. Savion to get stakeholder buy-in on learning initiatives is to follow up and include stakeholders along in the transformation journey.

Shedding light into the process provides transparency and fosters an open dialogue with the business that may have not been there before.

Being as open as possible about your work, intentions and the process is how you start differentiating yourself and your department within your company and also how you start uniting departments under a single roof – continuous learning as an integral asset of business strategy.

a female learning executive talking to someone over a video call

Digital learning and L&D is a strategic business asset for the future 

When we think back on the effects of the global pandemic, we see the different reactions from various companies and industries. Unfortunately for many, the result was that they just weren’t ready to handle such drastic change in such a short amount of time.

In short, what we learned was that digital learning is a strategic asset for the future of any business, and that moving from face to face to digital learning is not only possible, but also has compound benefits for both your business and your employees.

Going forward, we should be thinking more strategically about preventing learning from being left behind in any business continuity plans, or from any discussions rather where business critical functions are being considered. Prevention is the key, and now this the opportunity for you to prepare and plan for the future of digital learning for your global workforce.

Dr. Sydney Savion

About Dr. Sydney Savion

As General Manager, Learning for Air New Zealand Dr. Sydney Savion is instrumental in shaping an iconic workforce and workplace and enhancing its learning, development, and measurement strategies in alignment with talent development and business goals. Throughout her dynamic career she has created and executed strategies for fostering an innovative learning culture and a high-impact learning organization. Passionate about her research interests, she stands at the forefront of translating growing behavioral and neuroscience findings that link how people learn and learning interventions.

If you are interested in finding a strategic partner for driving change at your organization, contact Speexx today.