Learning professionals often enter the field after working in a non-HR position first. Many actually lack proper education and training when they enter the field; therefore, informal learning on the job becomes the way that many of us learn our trade.
Although learning professionals come from diverse backgrounds, the common thread that connects us seems to be our desire and motivation to help others learn, to improve organizational performance, and to solve organizational problems with innovative solutions. Successful organizations look at solving business problems as an opportunity to learn. Since we're in the learning and development business, this makes us ideal business partners in today's workplace.
Like many people, I stumbled into the learning profession without really knowing the power that it has to transform organizations. I began my career when a senior employee, the organization's training coordinator, retired around the same time that I graduated from college. My entry into the profession came as a result of my former organization needing somewhere to place me at the same time as needing to fill a soon-to-be vacant position.
Little did I know that this would be the beginning of a wonderful, rewarding career. Eventually, I became a business partner and used my passion for what learning and development can achieve to enhance partnership opportunities.
Business partnering wasn't always a concept used by the learning community. But it is now an established role within our profession, where we work directly within a business unit to learn about how the business routinely functions to propose viable solutions.
Two key reasons why passion matters
Being passionate means having strong feelings or beliefs about something. To be effective business partners, we should be passionate about how learning and development helps organizations achieve their business goals more effectively and efficiently. Our job is to sell remedies to organizational problems. We need to present ourselves in ways that show that we are an asset to organizational growth, not a liability. When our function is seen as a liability, our budgets may be cut, and our function may be downsized.
When we serve as business partners, we have an opportunity to prove our relevance by addressing the variety of challenges facing organizations, such as budget constraints, a limited pool of talented workers, and multigenerational workforce issues. Many people believe that our profession is only about getting training for employees. It's our job to convince organizations that we can add value in multiple ways. Demonstrating passion means that you are enthusiastic and deeply interested in using your knowledge to help organizations succeed in achieving their missions. Passion matters because
- Enthusiasm generates more enthusiasm. People gravitate toward people who are excited about what they do. Your excitement will generate energy and excitement in your business partners. If you're not enthusiastic about what you do or can do, no one else will want to hear what you have to say.
- Interest leads to partnership. Once you begin speaking the language of your business partners, you pique their interest. Most professionals like to talk about what they do with people who understand. They may be more interested in how you can help them achieve their business goals when you have some level of knowledge of their business. This makes it easier to sell your remedies to solve organizational problems. Putting yourself in positions where you can have insightful conversations with business leaders allows you to seek opportunities to form partnerships.
Becoming a business partner: 4 simple questions
Ask yourself four simple questions to help you discover how to enhance your business partnering opportunities: Where am I now? Where do I want to be? How will I get there? How will I know I'm moving?
By exploring, setting goals, planning, and reflecting on your business partnering knowledge and skills, you are increasing your value to your organization as well as your passion for the profession.
Exploration. 'Ask yourself, where am I now?' As I learned more about the power that the learning and development field has to transform organizations, I was motivated to gain more knowledge, increase my skills, and broaden my experiences. Becoming a business partner means that you're knowledgeable about
- the customer's mission, vision, products, and services
- the customer's business organizational structure, systems, functions, and business processes
- how decisions are made in the organizational structure and how power is exercised
- key stakeholders and their priorities
- politics across business units and between decision makers.
You first have to know where you are before you can know where you're going. Seize the opportunity to assess your skills in the business partnering knowledge areas noted previously. By determining your strengths as well as areas where you can improve as well, you can chart a path to long-term development, and knowledge and skill enhancement.
Goal setting. 'Ask yourself, where do I want to be?' You want to be seen as the expert. You should be able to contribute to decisions regarding the mission and vision of the organization and not learn about them in a company broadcast email. Maybe your goal is to be invited to the next strategic planning meeting. Perhaps you want to be able to identify an opportunity to improve an organization's business process or propose a program that can solve a deficiency in leadership skills. Your goals should include ways for you to be seen as a trusted advisor within an organization, where your expertise is sought after as opposed to overlooked and eliminated.
If you believe you have a basic skill level of business partnering, strive to increase your skills to an advanced level. If you have an advanced skill level, strive to increase your skills to the expert level. Your ultimate goal should be to have a seat at the table when strategic meetings are taking place.
Planning. 'Ask yourself, how will I get there?' What is your plan for gaining a seat at the strategic-planning table? Are you going to develop a concept paper for a mentoring program that will ensure that tacit knowledge will be captured when employees retire? Are you going to attend different organizational staff meetings to listen for opportunities to help offices run more effectively or efficiently and address business needs? Are you going to participate in an upcoming webinar on how to effectively benchmark organizations to share best practices with business partners? Will you develop a marketing strategy that's tailored to addressing organizational business needs? Whatever your plan, your chosen activities should position you to be viewed as a consultant.
After you've assessed your current knowledge and skill level and set some clear and measurable goals, you are ready to draft your development plan. I call it a draft because it should never become final. It's always evolving as you continuously develop your skills. This is where you list specific developmental activities to help you achieve your goals.
Reflection. Ask yourself, 'How will I know I'm moving in the right direction?' It's important to always reflect on how you are developing. You should look for signals to let you know how well you are accomplishing your goals and whether your developmental activities are working effectively. You'll know that you're moving once you are called on to assist with solving organizational business problems such as attrition, retention, and recruitment. You will begin to be invited to business meetings because of your ability to strategically align learning solutions with the most urgent business needs.
Another way to assess whether you're moving in the right direction is to ask your business partners. Find out if they feel that you are adding value to their organizational performance. Ask if you are helping them achieve their business goals with the solutions that you are proposing and helping to implement.
Get ready to take your place at the decision-making and strategic-planning table. Remember that although we all come from diverse backgrounds, what links us together is our desire and passion to help others learn, to improve organizational performance, and to solve organizational problems with innovative solutions.
Developing your passion for what learning and development can achieve will enhance your business partnering opportunities because you'll be better equipped, more confident, and more credible. When we are viewed as true business partners, organizations will seek our expertise to help them develop talent to ensure that the right employees have the right skills to keep the organization competitive.