The Essential Transition of L&D into Business Partners

Let’s address the elephant in the room – in the business world today, Learning and Development (L&D) teams can’t just focus on creating cool learning programs. Our role within the workplace today goes way beyond that. Our role requires a skill that may not be familiar to many L&D professionals and could be a bit uncomfortable. Being business partners. 

No. Don’t run yet. This is important. 

Building business partnerships isn’t just a nice-to-have skill – it’s a must-have skill. 

An organization that sincerely believes in embracing a learning culture knows the importance of tying learning strategy to the bigger business picture, and they expect you to help them. 

Being able to show how L&D can be business partners and directly help the business is how L&D teams win the day. It’s how they discover the elusive “Seat at the table.” Smart L&D teams know how to use their resources wisely, connect learning to business and make a difference in the company’s success. 

Let’s discuss five ways to build your business Partnerships. 

Step 1: Act like a business partner

Seeing is believing, but walking the talk makes you powerful in the eyes of business leaders. This means getting out of our “development” comfort zones and understanding how a business operates. If you want the support of decision-makers in your organization, it’s important to pull on your boots and act like a business partner.

Now, when I say L&D needs to get out of their comfort zones, what I mean is that they need to stretch beyond just knowing about learning theories and training techniques. You need to involve yourself in the day-to-day realities of the business actively. 

This means taking a curious mindset to the business. Book time with the leaders and stakeholders across your company and ask loads of questions about the business strategy and goals. It’s about curiosity and eagerness to learn; a good business leader will help you connect the business acumen dots.

Do you understand what makes your company tick? 

  • What is the one thing that keeps stakeholders up at night? 
  • What are the company’s overall strategic goals? 
  • How does your company plan to grow and expand? 
  • What big projects are in the pipeline? 
  • How does your business make money? Lose money? 
  • Do you understand the customer journey?

This type of information helps L&D teams align learning programs with the company’s goals.

Dare I say, that you need to know the business as well as, if not better than, anyone else around you? Why? Because the more you know about the business, the better you can tailor or adjust strategy and programs to meet the overall need. 

Step 2: Understand the connection between support and goals

Speaking of knowing more about the business than anyone else around you – understanding the people within the organization is learning about themnot talking about you. Where does the business (or department) feel they need the most support? 

In order to connect learning to business goals (either by organization or department), you need to have a grasp on those goals. 

  • Where did the goal come from? Why this? Why now? Even financial goals have an underpinning reason. The sales team has a goal of 10% improvement in sales. Why 10%? Where are the sales numbers now? Did they reach the goal last year? If not, what was the barrier? 
  • How are decisions made? Regardless of the organization’s size, multiple people will always be involved in the decision-making process. Knowing how decisions are reached and how alignment is gained on priorities across departments is essential, giving you an advantage in managing projects that may come your way.
  • How reactionary/flexible does your organization (or department) have to be? Organizational/department goals can change based on market conditions, competition, or internal changes. Do you know the impact of any changes? Being aligned with the necessity to change may force you to be more adaptable – in a good way.

Step 3: Communication Matters. Speak business, not learning.

Good communication is the superpower of any successful L&D professional. 

However, many times we speak Greek when we are in France. So, it’s time to ditch the “teachy, teachy” jargon. When I suggest that L&D should ‘ditch the jargon,’ I’m saying that we need to steer clear of technical or academic language that might sound like gibberish to anyone outside the learning field. Save the geek speak for your communities.

Instead, use the kind of language everyone can easily understand. This isn’t just about making sure people understand the words. It’s about ensuring that, as a department, L&D is make learning feel inclusive, approachable, and relevant to everyone. For example, learning objectives. Yawn, boring and very teachy. Use “goals, aims or actions.”

Speaking the language of the business means using the terms, phrases, and everyday lingo that are common within your company. When using business terms, you demonstrate that L&D is woven into the fabric of business, not an alien with three heads from Mars. By communicating in a way that resonates with everyone, L&D teams signal that they’re in sync with the company’s culture and everyday operations.

Step 4: Practice the language of numbers and data

In the world of business, numbers talk, and BS walks. Using data and numbers is a powerful way to make a compelling case for future plans and current investments.

But let’s face it. Where communication may be an L&D superpower, numbers are…less so. The first step is for L&D to become more data-literate. Data analytics can be daunting. However, understanding how to collect, analyze, and present data in a meaningful and impactful way can make the difference between a project being approved or not. It’s about being able to turn raw data into a compelling story with actionable insights.

Think about the different ways data can tell the story you need:

  • Helps to identify skill gaps. Tell the story of current skills versus future need. The right data can help you spot trends to anticipate the skills the business will need to meet future goals. 
  • Reduce turnover. Use retention data to tell the story of employee turnover. Does a particular role have higher turnover rates? What does the data tell you about the needs of that role? 
  • Increase productivity. Use productivity analysis data to tell the story of efficiencies. Do certain tasks take longer than others? Why? What does the data tell you, and how can that data support change?
  • Organizational health. Use benchmarking data to tell the story of your competitors. Match industry standards against your company and competitors. 

Step 5: Create Ambassadors

Building business partners is a crucial task that requires your best relationship-building skills. It’s about persuading different stakeholders in the organization – from top management to frontline employees – to see the value and potential impact of not just learning initiatives but learning cultures.

Creating a culture of learning within an organization is no easy feat – it requires buy-in at every level. Having ambassadors in your back pocket, ready to fight the good fight, can help you advocate for learning, especially when competing priorities come up. 

And they ALWAYS come up. 

Identifying and nurturing ambassadors can be the key to embedding learning in your organization’s DNA. Ambassadors help drive enthusiasm, maintain momentum, and ultimately ensure the success of your learning initiatives. Culture eats strategy for lunch! Your relationships here help build a culture. 

Beyond building a culture of learning, ambassadors help your future business case in a variety of ways:

  • They support and influence others. Their support can help sway decision-makers if they are on the cusp. 
  • Give you credibility. When respected people in the organization give you the thumbs up to decision-makers, this lends credibility. It could make or break your next project. 
  • Helping to overcome resistance. Resistance to change is a common issue in learning. Ambassadors can be out on the front lines alleviating ears and addressing concerns. 
  • Be your advocate! You need ongoing support between projects or ramping up for a new one. Ambassadors can provide support and reinforce the value of continuous learning. 

In order to truly drive growth and improvement within an organization, L&D must position itself as a strategic business partner. The steps above will help you to connect and build relationships throughout your organization. Break out of your silo, and build relationships with IT, HR, marketing, finance, operations, front-line managers, and those with actual boots on the ground. 

By becoming better business partners, we can ensure efforts are aligned with business goals, address real organizational challenges, and ultimately, significantly impact the company’s bottom line. 

And who doesn’t want that? 

Shannon Tipton

Shannon Tipton

As Owner of Learning Rebels, Shannon Tipton is a skilled learning strategist, content developer and International speaker. Shannon has over 20 years of leadership experience developing successful learning strategies and infrastructures for training departments within organizations in North America, Europe and Korea.

Shannon works with people and organizations to develop learning solutions that brings actual business results. Recognized as bringing real-world expertise into the learning field, Shannon integrates technologies and social learning tools to strengthen workplace alignment, enhance collaboration and increase learning connectivity.

As author of “Disruptive Learning” Shannon frequently speaking at conferences across North America and Europe and ranks as one of the top 100 L&D influencers on Twitter (@stipton).

6 thoughts on “The Essential Transition of L&D into Business Partners”

  1. Hello Shannon,
    I really enjoyed the Coffee Chat on Friday, May 19, 2023. The information interaction and exchange of experience was enlightening. Thanks.

    • Hi Tom! Thank you 😊

      It’s always interesting to me to get different perspectives on issues such as these. That’s the best part of the chat! Until next time…

  2. Ambassadors are so often overlooked. All the webinars, blogs, books, etc., speak to the first 4 steps, but few bring up the idea of Ambassadors. As L&D people, building those relationships and gaining champions within the business is so important. They’re the ones that make sure we hear about what is going on and get us to the table so we’re not consumed with the rest of the strategy.

  3. All of these a super important! I have to say, the data piece is always a challenge for me, so I tend to rely – heavily – on making sure I don’t use L&D-speak with my leaders and that I take advantage of any opportunity to collaborate with my business partners.

  4. All of these are super important! I have to say, the data piece is always a challenge for me, so I tend to rely – heavily – on making sure I don’t use L&D-speak with my leaders and that I take advantage of any opportunity to collaborate with my business partners.

  5. I found myself drawn to number 4. Knowing what the organizational, or even departmental, KPIs are allows me access to the other 4 elements. If I can identify a need and have a solution in my pocket, I can use that as a conversation starter to get my foot in the door.
    It is important, though, that once you get that meeting to fine tune the resolution, so that it actually targets the pain point. The worst thing one can do is bring up a shiny brilliant solution, implement it, and then have that idea flop spectacularly. Remember the Simpsons monorail? I think we all learned from that episode.


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