We learning leaders often spend too much time trying to educate stakeholders on the language of training and development — and merely hoping that if our CEOs better understood what we do and how we do it, they would be more willing to allow us to do what we do. However, if we are going to properly service our stakeholders, it would be wise to learn their language. If we learn what is important to our constiuents, we can design and deliver training programs that will directly help them achieve their goals.
I was inspired to write this post after reading Jay Cross's column in the recent Chief Learning Officer magazine. He gives us a glossary of workplace learning terms, which is quite useful and a little bit fun. As I read, it reminded me of a book I read many years ago, "What the CEO Wants You to Know" by Ram Charan. In this book is a simple message: The CEO of any business wants us to know what drives the business. If everyone in an organization understood these few concepts, everyone could contribute to the growth of the business, and the organization will be far most successful. The following is a list of terms every learning professional should know.
A major reason new businesses fail is lack of attention to managing cash flow. If you are proposing a new trainning program that costs $50,000, consider that spending cash on a purchase impacts the organizations ability to meet other obligations. Ask yourself this question, "Will your training investment lead to performance improvements that will generate more cash in the future?" If you can answer this question, you will have a much easier time obtaining funding for your project and you will earn the respect of the CEO, if you can deliver.
Margin is the difference between revenues and expenses (profit margin). Every business wants to make its margin as wide as possible. The only way to do this is to inrease revenues faster than expenses. In other words, do not propose a $50,000 investment in training if you think you can earn $50,000 in additional revenue. That's a wash. The point is that increases in revenue might not always be a good thing. To help increase margins, propose a project that will generate more revenues than the cost of the investment. The other way to increase margin is to cut expenses. Perhaps you can create training programs that help increase productuvity or cut expenses.
Velocity is the speed at which you sell (turnover) inventory. The faster inventory sells, the more cash is generated by the business and the faster a company can grow. If you are in a service business (with no physical inventory), velocity would be the speed at which customers sign contracts for services and services are delivered. Can you propose training initiatives that speed up the sale of inventories? Can you develop training programs that reduce the time to proficiency of a new hire? How about a training program that reduces the sales cycle or speeds up the time it takes to deliver a service to a customer? These are all increasese in velocity. The higher the velocity, the faster sales are made, thus increasing cashflow. Speed is everything.
Every business needs to grow to survive. It needs to grow its customer base, revenues, product lines, profits, and cash. Even non-profit organizations need to grow...grow membership or donations, for example. Do you know how fast your organization is growing? Do you know how fast the CEO wants the company to grow? What training programs could you create that helps grow the business?
Customers make an organization's world go around. Without customers there is no business. Learning professionals should ask several questions. Who is the customer? Why do our customer's buy. Why do customers remain loyal customers. By understanding customers, we can develop training programs that help employees help those customers.
This is a short glossary, but it is essential. In the end, all of our training programs should improve one of the items on this list. When they do, training adds value to the organization and becomes as essential as marketing, sales, and customer service.
Bill Cushard, Chief Learning Officer at The Knowland Group, is a learning leader with more than 12 years experience in training and performance improvement at companies such as E*TRADE Financial, Accenture, and Time Warner Cable.