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Journey toward a strategic role in business: 3 L&D leaders share their views

Journey toward a strategic role in business: 3 L&D leaders share their views

Written by:
Bo Dury
Reviewed by :
Date created
June 13, 2024
Last updated:
June 27, 2024
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5 min read
L&D leaders
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Key takeaways
  • L&D leaders can have a number of important roles to fulfill in an organization, with their priorities depending on what their organization needs.
  • L&D managers often wear many hats, including being the sensor of what’s going on in the organization; making stakeholders aware of the bigger picture and finding, testing, and scaling learning solutions.
  • As L&D teams navigate uncharted waters, they face common challenges like measuring impact, scaling solutions, and getting business stakeholders on board.

Impactful workplace learning is an imperative for successful organizations — if you don’t do it well, your business will be left behind.

But learning is not only important to keep up with technological advancements and rapidly changing ways of working; it’s also key to maintaining a profitable organization and engaged culture. So in a world where thousands of CEOs believe that 40% of activities in their company are unproductive, how are L&D leaders balancing priorities to support their organizations?

To dig into this topic deeper and learn more about how top L&D leaders see their role today, we talked to Makoto Makabe, Director Corporate Learning & Development at Freudenberg, Joti Joseph, Director, Talent and Learning at Vontobel and Martine Russel, Senior Manager of Leadership and Management Development at Booking.com.

In our conversation we explored their unique organizational setups and needs, the ways they add value in their L&D role and the challenges they feel as L&D leaders.

A closer look at L&D leader’s role

Different organizations are structured differently, and their L&D teams are organized in different ways too. This means that L&D leaders can have a number of important roles to fulfill, with their priorities depending on what their organization needs at any given time.

The role of the L&D manager involves:

  • Being the sensor of what’s really going on in the organization — what are people struggling with, what’s going well, where are things heading — while ensuring that everyone is on board with initiatives.
  • Helping business stakeholders be aware of the bigger picture and the obstacles coming their way.
  • Finding, testing, and scaling solutions that drive impact, while being flexible to how the business is changing and measuring and sharing the success of these solutions.
  • Bringing vision and focus to L&D teams, helping teams move from a reactive position to a strategic advisor for business stakeholders.

To get a sense of the similarities and differences between their organizations and the role L&D managers play within them, we asked the three leaders to reflect on their organisations and the roles they take on that are the most important for their business right now. 

First-hand experience of three L&D leaders

  • Dr Makoto Makabe, Director Corporate Learning & Development at Freudenberg

Freudenberg is a 175-year old global technology group that develops innovative products and services across approximately 40 markets. By decentralizing into smaller business units, each responsible for their own domains and outcomes, Freudenberg has enhanced its ability to navigate challenges and seize new opportunities.

As an L&D leader, Makoto views his role as helping teams understand the organization's broader vision and identifying upcoming obstacles, while respecting their autonomy to navigate their own paths. Ensuring quality of learning and development initiatives is another important aspect of his role as an L&D leader. With Freudenberg renowned for their excellence, Makoto ensures that the training is aligned with the organization’s high quality standards and goals.

  • Joti Joseph, Director, Talent and Learning at Vontobel

Vontobel is a global investment firm with Swiss roots, specializing in wealth management, active asset management, and investment solutions. The 100-year-old bank has grown from a small, family enterprise to an international investment firm. Their L&D team has mirrored this growth, finding ways to set themselves up for large-scale success as they have grown.

With five generations co-existing and collaborating within the organization, Vontobel leverages its history and has the foresight to leverage current and future opportunities. 

Joti sees her role in Learning and Development as an enabler in strengthening the collaboration within the organization and through collaboration in delivering tangible value to its clients. She keeps an open mind and observes curiously what’s going on across the organization with a focus on how she, through learning can create strategic value for the clients and colleagues. 

  • Martine Russel, Senior Manager of Leadership and Management Development at Booking.com

As one of the world’s largest online travel agencies, the Amsterdam based Booking.com has grown from a tiny startup to a huge corporation in just 25 years. With such rapid growth, a lot of people within the organization still view the company as a scale-up. 

Martine joined Booking.com less than a year ago, after 15 years in different HR & learning roles at ING.  Heading up a vibrant L&D team with lots of energy for tackling new challenges, Martine is proud of their journey so far and has as a main focus building out, scaling and further aligning their leadership portfolio to the strategic priorities.

The overarching challenges on the horizon for learning and development leaders

With organizations increasingly in need of strategic people development initiatives to achieve their goals, L&D leaders have a wide range of roles to fill. That makes defining their exact place within the business more important than ever, not only to cement their status as strategic drivers of the organization but also to ensure that L&D is maximizing business impact.

After hearing from L&D leaders across industries, three main challenges stand out:

1. Measuring and tracking the impact of learning initiatives, and therefore, learning strategy

L&D leaders are grappling with the best way to evaluate the effectiveness of their learning initiatives. The challenge lies in not only quantifying return on investment but also capturing qualitative improvements in employee performance and engagement. The goal is to provide solid evidence that links learning activities directly to organizational success, convincing stakeholders of the value that L&D brings to the table.

2. Scaling solutions that work while remaining flexible within a business and industry context

As businesses evolve at an ever-accelerating pace, L&D leaders face the task of scaling successful learning solutions across different regions and departments, adapting to diverse learning needs while maintaining consistency and quality. This means crafting flexible programs that can quickly adjust to the shifting demands of the market and organization, ensuring that learning remains relevant, practical, and aligned with the broader business strategy.

3. Bringing business stakeholders along and working together with them on strategic goals

A significant hurdle for L&D leaders is ensuring that they are in sync with business stakeholders, aligning learning goals with the company's strategic direction. Collaboration with these stakeholders is vital to create learning initiatives that resonate with business objectives and to foster an environment where continuous learning is valued as a key component of organizational growth. L&D leaders must engage stakeholders in meaningful dialogue to ensure that learning and development is not an isolated function but an integrated driver of business success.

As each organization transforms, each L&D team takes up the role that’s the most needed to ensure a smooth & effective transition. What’s clear is that taking time for reflection is critical. When learning teams take the time to understand where their business is heading, what their stakeholders need, distill their own north star and communicate their plans & priorities, they are more likely to get to where they want and need to go.

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