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Amidst rapid digitalization and automation, only 5% of organizations say they have the skills and capabilities they need to compete. That means the role of learning and development (L&D) is more important to business success than ever before. Yet, many companies sideline L&D, failing to see the tangible impact of learning on their overall business growth and culture. 

To position themselves as the key drivers of business success that they are, L&D leaders need to become more central, cross-functional, and strategic. They must learn how to place upskilling and learning efforts at the core of business strategy — a win-win move that will not only highlight the value of their role but will also drive the long-term behavior change needed to advance organizational goals.

Download the checklist below to get a summary of the 5 key steps that will enhance your L&D's strategic value.

Further in this article, we’ll dig deeper into the topic, looking at:

  1. The obstacles L&D leaders face today
  2. Key shifts they need to make to position themselves as strategic business partners.

What’s holding L&D professionals back

From its first roots in the Industrial Revolution, the role of what we call L&D today has typically been viewed as an add-on or complement to a company’s core activities. Other departments put in training requests, and L&D professionals comply. 

“A training request is too often a manager's not-so-data-driven solution to team members' work challenges. If someone's not performing well, the default thinking is that they don't *know* something; therefore, let's help them *know*,”

said L&D Expert and Founder of L&D consulting firm Nifty Learning Liz Stefan. 

“As a historical order taker with little data-driven ROI to back it up, it's hard for L&D to push back.”

While most L&D professionals understand their true value and recognize that this is now an outdated view of the field, they often still run into roadblocks when it comes to getting everyone else in their organization on board. 

Insights from Lepaya’s Impact Labs show that this often stems from two key reasons:

  1. Organizations lack time and resources to start addressing impact, with many learning teams experiencing budget cuts.

    This puts pressure on L&D to deliver training with a small team or prioritize short-term operational needs, such as feedback training, over long-term strategy.
  2. It’s hard to convince stakeholders of the strategic role of L&D.

    Many stakeholders may agree that L&D is important to improve employees’ technical skills while not grasping the full potential learning has to transform mindsets and the company overall. 

Contributing to the problem is how L&D professionals quantify their success, with “vanity metrics” like employee satisfaction or training attendance being the top five preferred indicators, rather than business metrics like employee productivity or progress towards closing workforce skill gaps. 

To start shifting these long-held perceptions, L&D leaders need to move away from the transactional form of L&D towards a more holistic one that connects learning to long-term business goals.

L&D professionals prioritize vanity metrics to measure success.

Four critical shifts to position L&D professionals as strategic business partners

The true impact of learning is realized when learners apply new skills and behaviors in their work. This definition of learning impact calls for L&D leaders to take a new approach, one that gets to the bottom of the key challenges business leaders face and addresses the performance and behavioral gaps that contribute to them. 

To accelerate this process and elevate their status within their organization, L&D leaders should make four key shifts:

1. Become less ROI-driven and more impact-driven

While Return On Investment (ROI) is often viewed as the almighty metric in terms of evaluating impact, it is difficult to measure the monetary return of L&D programs, and even when this is feasible, economic return doesn’t provide a full picture of the impact of the program. 

“The time we spend on calculating an exact ROI to 'prove' the impact of our programs could be much better spent together with our stakeholders, understanding their challenges, and how we can help them 'improve' their success metrics.

This progression from 'prove' to 'improve' mindset is a key driver for success with impactful learning”  Bo Dury, Impact Lead at Lepaya.

That doesn’t mean that you should ignore ROI altogether, but rather, develop a more well-rounded system of measurement. As described in Lepaya’s latest impact report, that system should cover:

  • Operational metrics: insights into how well the program ran and how the operational running of the program might be improved, e.g., employee attendance, employee satisfaction.

  • Learner goal metrics: how learners are tackling their challenges and what they are doing differently after training, e.g., improved employee productivity and the number of new skills learned.

  • Business metrics: how the learning is helping the organization and track improvement, e.g., progress towards closing workforce skill gaps and overall business growth and performance. 
Here is an example of the impact measurement for Picnic’s leadership upskilling program

With the Leadership Essentials Program, Picnic gives new managers the skills they need to create a productive and pleasant workplace. Here is an example of the impact measurement for Picnic's leadership upskilling program.

When communicating learning impact to business leaders, this method allows L&D professionals to highlight the overarching performance that leaders are interested in while at the same time not limiting their role to a purely monetary value.

Learn more about linking L&D and upskilling to business impact in our latest Impact report.

2. Move from a training culture to a learning culture

A training culture focuses on one-time learning events and places the responsibility of learning on the organization and L&D professionals. A learning culture, on the other hand, fosters lasting behavior change and drives learning transfer by empowering employees to take ownership of their learning, share knowledge, and innovate.

Building a culture of continuous learning should start at the C-level, with company leaders exhibiting their commitment to ongoing learning such as by participating in self-paced courses. Implementing personalized learning plans and encouraging cross-functional knowledge sharing are other ways L&D leaders can start to cultivate this mindset across the organization.

Another piece of this puzzle is finding methodologies that collect and measure behavior change data. As L&D strategic consultant Matt Ash shares:

“We need to be more intelligent and intentional in our work, and practice radical accountability.”

To start, people leaders should define the behaviors that drive real business impact and choose frameworks, such as Lepaya’s Impact Framework, that link these behaviors to L&D strategies. 

3. Find your “Trojan Mice”

The concept of “Trojan Mice” has been circulating in the startup and L&D community for a while now. It’s the idea of enacting small, manageable experiments and changes that can act as catalysts for greater change. 

In terms of shifting L&D’s role within an organization, this looks like identifying one or two business problems where a small change can make a big difference, measuring the results, and using the data and stories that come out of these experiments as proof to back up your claims and L&D approach. The next step is to draw on the methodologies and frameworks you’ve already identified to scale these changes company-wide. This is a subtle way to initiate change without running into a lot of resistance up front. 

For example, if your employees have been slow to embrace automation and new technology, you might introduce micro-learning modules that share bite-sized pieces of learning on the company’s learning platform and nudge employees to review the material throughout their week. Over time, employees will develop a greater awareness of these topics while starting to appreciate the convenience of guiding their own learning journey, which ultimately helps foster the learning culture you are seeking.

Strategically ‘planted’ trojan mice —focus on a few challenges where we can make the smallest change that has the biggest impact. Measure. Report back. Have some stories to tell.

Anamaria Dorgo, Learning & Community Consultant

4. Collaborate and build buy-in with stakeholders across the organization

In large organizations, it is easy for L&D professionals to become siloed, mainly collaborating with HR, leadership teams, and business managers. But to truly drive impact, L&D leaders need to develop relationships broadly across an organization, from C-level to customer service.

This is critical to understanding challenges and aligning priorities as well as securing the budget and resources to develop and deliver effective learning programs. With the rise of global hybrid and remote teams, this work of stakeholder collaboration and consensus building becomes even more important to cementing L&D’s status as a reliable and strategic business partner. 

To foster this collaboration, L&D professionals should schedule meetings with department heads and ask them to detail their specific challenges, develop communication plans to ensure all stakeholders are in the loop about new programs and initiatives, and offer pilot programs with different teams throughout the organization, collaborating with them on program design. When building buy-in, showcase success stories and concrete examples of how L&D initiatives have positively impacted the organization’s goals.

“Because we sit outside the teams, we have a broader view. Like those sitting in the press box during a sporting event, we can see the gaps and missteps that those on the field miss while in the midst of the game.

We can see through the silo walls. This unobstructed view provides us with a unique and powerful potential to help our organizations with their overarching goals,” Jess Almlie, Learning and Performance Strategist

Making L&D business-critical

For L&D professionals to start enacting the kind of change they want to see within their organization, they have to start with themselves. By taking time to reflect on their current position within the organization and the obstacles holding them back, they can pinpoint the necessary strategies to make their role as integral as it should be.

This starts with redefining what learning means to the organization and then making key shifts that can transform mindsets and help cultivate a culture of continuous learning and behavior change. By helping others understand and embrace the true value of their role, L&D professionals can elevate their department, and the entire organization along with it.

Download the checklist below to get an overview of the 5 key steps that will enhance L&D's strategic value.

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About Lepaya

Lepaya is a provider of Power Skills training that combines online and offline learning. Founded by René Janssen and Peter Kuperus in 2018 with the perspective that the right training, at the right time, focused on the right skill, makes organizations more productive. Lepaya has trained thousands of employees.

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Your leadership style is: Democratic

DESCRIPTION: Monkeys have fascinating, complex social structures and hierarchies that involve decision-making, communication, and conflict resolution. Macaques, for instance, are known for their ‘majority first’ approach when deciding where to forage for food. They come up with different suggestions, reach a consensus, and then follow the monkey with the most followers: regardless of its age or status. This is exemplary of a democratic leadership style. Democratic leaders allow everybody’s voice to be heard. They consider the ideas and insights of their team members, giving them the chance to show their strengths and share their knowledge. This leadership style drives participation, teamwork, and personal accountability, leading to higher levels of employee engagement, retention, and workplace satisfaction, as people feel empowered and valued.

STRENGHTS: You are Creative, Stimulating, Innovative, Empowering, Collaborative, and Energetic.

CHALLENGES: When you’re a democratic leader, you might be faced with a risk of inefficiency as it takes longer to come to a mutual consensus. Also, this popular leadership style slightly suffers from the new, hybrid workplace because of the lack of spontaneous encounters at the office.

WORKS WELL IN: Startups, Scale-ups, the Creative Industry & Knowledge-based Industries

RECOMMENDATION: Lepaya training to develop your leadership skills: Collaboration & Influence, Storytelling, Analytical Thinking

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Your leadership style is: Coaching

DESCRIPTION: When you look at horses in the wild, you’ll see that the lead mare will guide the others in a certain direction and sets the pace. If a younger horse compromises the safety of the herd or wanders off, it will be gently and patiently corrected by the mature horses, and taught what type of behavior is preferable. Providing guidance, sharing constructive feedback, helping others learn from their mistakes and improve their skills: these are all typical traits of a coaching leader. Coaching leaders believe in identifying and nurturing the individual strengths of employees, so they can develop and achieve their true potential and contribute to the success and unity of the team. These leaders are all about mutual respect, long-term individual growth, compassion, and two-way communication.

STRENGHTS: You are Supportive, Patient, Loyal, Authentic, Compassionate, Reliable, Inclusive.

CHALLENGES: Coaching leaders aim for long-term success instead of quick wins. That requires a lot of commitment and energy, and it can take a long time to see results. Another challenge for you as a coaching leader is that you might focus on individual development rather than team goals, and you tend to become too involved in day-to-day tasks and micro-management.

WORKS WELL IN: Consulting, Sales & Marketing, Education 

RECOMMENDATION:Lepaya training to develop your leadership style: Resilience, Analytical Thinking and Taking Ownership 

Do you want to upskill your team? Request a FREE TEAM SCAN!


Your leadership style is: Transformational

DESCRIPTION: The eagle is known for its ability to soar high above the landscape, its sharp vision, and clear focus that allows it to spot prey from great distances. This powerful bird nurtures its young carefully, teaching them the skills they need before they spread their wings and leave their nest. This imagery is often used to represent the transformational leader's ability to see the big picture and inspire others to work toward the organization's goals. One of the other key aspects of transformational leadership is that it emphasizes the importance of empowering others to be successful in their own right, allowing their teams to perform beyond expectations. They usually create an inspiring and motivational atmosphere, providing individual support and challenging their team to always reach for the sky.

STRENGHTS: You are Confident, Bold, Fearless, Analytical, Inspiring, Visionary.

CHALLENGES: You can be dominant and tend to concentrate on the bigger picture which can lead to a lack of focus on details. Being a high-flier, you set your own standards high. However, you can also be demanding for your team. Be careful not to create a high-pressure work environment, because that can lead to employees feeling like they can't keep up.

WORKS WELL IN: Agile companies that require thinking outside the box and a shared vision, like start-ups, the tech industry, design & media

RECOMMENDATION: Lepaya training to develop your leadership style: Empowering Leadership, Collaboration & Influence, Diversity & Inclusion

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Your leadership style is: Servant

DESCRIPTION: Elephants are highly intelligent and social creatures. They live in tight-knit family groups that rely on communication and cooperation. The image of the matriarch leading the herd to find water and food is a great metaphor for managers who like to lead by example without putting their personal ambitions first. This is common to the servant leadership style. Here, your primary role as a leader is to serve your team members by empowering them, supporting their growth and development, and creating a healthy and safe work environment. A servant leader emphasizes collaboration and inclusiveness and seeks to create a culture of trust, empathy, and respect. With their calm and steady demeanor, they focus on building solid relationships with their team, listening to their needs and concerns, and working together in an emotionally intelligent way to achieve shared goals.

STRENGHTS: You are Understanding, Calm, Determined, Responsible, Committed, and like to lead by example.

CHALLENGES: As a servant leader, you’re sometimes so focused on the well-being of others that you tend to lose sight of your own needs and responsibilities. This can ultimately lead to stress and can slow down decision-making processes. Also, you might find it difficult to confront others and hold them accountable for their actions.

WORKS WELL IN: Service industry & non-profit organizations

RECOMMENDATION:  Lepaya training to develop your leadership style: Resilience, Storytelling, Taking Ownership

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Your leadership style is: Affiliative

DESCRIPTION: Dogs are known for their loyalty, honesty, and their ability to provide emotional support. They are usually outgoing and full of energy. You’ll find that these characteristics are similar to those of an affiliative leader. The main goal of these types of leaders is to create a company culture that is positive and dynamic. It’s a people-first approach that especially younger generations relate to, as it highly values happiness, purpose, and the sense of belonging to a tribe at work. These leaders celebrate success with their teams and encourage creative thinking. As an affiliative leader, you like to foster a culture of teamwork and inclusiveness. You are open in your communication and aim to create an environment in which everyone feels valued, respected, and supported. You also value personal growth and development, and encourage your team to take ownership of their own career paths.

STRENGHTS: You are Flexible, Calm, Positive, Dynamic, Empathic, Inclusive and Trustworthy.

CHALLENGES: As you highly value a positive and harmonious atmosphere within your team, tackling complex situations can become a problem if you focus too much on avoiding conflicts and negative feedback. This might reduce productivity, lead to underperformance, and losing sight of the organizational goals and objectives. 

WORKS WELL IN: Service-oriented industries like hospitality, healthcare, retail, banks & insurance companies 

RECOMMENDATION:   Lepaya training to develop your leadership style: Taking Ownership, Collaboration & Influence, Resilience 

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