New to Managing the Learning Function? Start Here

So, you are new to your role as a training manager or VP/director of learning and development, and you want to know how you can make a valuable impact early in your tenure. As with any new role, we want to do our best. However, the question is, "If I want to make a measurable impact on the business, where do I start?"
There are five actions you should take very early in your knew role as a learning leader that will help you make an immediate impact, and also help you grow in your role over the long-term. These four actions are:
  1. Educate Yourself
  2. Learn the Business
  3. Make Best Friends
  4. Set Achievable Goals
There is no particular order in which these actions must be taken, and some can be performed simultaneously. However, you will find there is a natural progression that will take place, as you begin.
Educate Yourself
One of the very first things I have always done when I took on a new project or role is that I go out and buy a stack of books on the subject. I did it when I took on a leadership role in a Y2K project in 1999. I did the same things when I took on the role of web content manager, and I did it again when I became a training manager. In my opinion, there is no greater boost to idea generation than reading a few good books on the subject of a new project.


So, as you take on your new role as a learning leader, I suggest finding a few good books and dive in. I would even go so far as to set a goal to read one book a week for the first few weeks you are on the job. It is good discipline to set this kind of a goal, and it might also help motivate you to get through a few books. Find a few books that interest you, but if you do not have any book names on the tip of your tongue, I have a few suggestions for any learning and development leader that you might find useful. These books are certainly not the only good books, just a few I found valuable when I was starting out.
  1. Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning
  2. Run Training Like a Business
  3. Chief Learning Officer
  4. The New Leader's 100-Day Action Plan
  5. What the CEO Wants You to Know
There is no magic order in which you should read these or other books, just start with one that interests you most. On the other hand, if you want to make the most of the next action, you might start by reading  What the CEO Wants You to Know.

Learn the Business
This might be the most important action you take. If you consider the sole function of the learning function is to help the organization achieve its goals, one of your top priorities should be to understand the organization goals and deliver learning initiatives to help achieve those goals. There are three things you can do to learning the business.
First, schedule meetings with each notable leader in the business that you support and interview them about what they are trying to accomplish. Learn their goals, what they need to success, and get copies of reports, if you can. Second, get in on staff meetings. Do not think of yourself as a leader in a separate training department. You are now a peer of every line leader in the organization you support. You do not have different goals from the business, you have the same goals, and you are trying the achieve those same goals just like everyone else. So, if you must, invite yourself to those staff meetings because the best way to know what the business needs is to participate in the weekly team discussions. Third, do the job for a while. This may not be so practical if you support several different job types, but if you primarily support one or two functions, like customer service or sales, you might consider spending a week doing the job or doing as much of the job as you can. Nothing will help you understand the learning needs of people better than having to learn and do the job yourself.
Make Best Friends
As with any new role, you will be more effective if you are well-connected in the organization. I suggest making some new best friends. And as a learning leader, who can be seen as an outsider, this is a critical part of your job. Make best friends with line/operations leaders, finance, and IT.
Line managers: You are now a peer of every manager in the organization you support. Take them to lunch, ask for advice, talk shop at the water cooler. Whatever. By making friends with the line managers you will develop an intimate understanding of what they need to run their businesses.
Finance: Any attempt to properly measure the effectiveness of training, will require input and data from the finance group. If the purpose of the learning function is to help the business improve performance (and it is), and performance is defined by some combination of increased revenues, profit margins, productivity and quality (and it is), then you will need data from the finance group.
IT: Now more than ever, a learning leader needs to be a technologist. Enormous benefits can be delivered to the organization through the use of learning management systems, enterprise social networks, electronic performance support systems, authoring software, and virtual classroom tools. Learning leaders will need the help of the IT group to select and implement these technologies. The better the relationship you have with IT, the better your learning technology selection and implementations will go. And a side benefit is that IT folks are just plain cool.
Set Achievable Goals for the L&D Function
Just about any advice you receive on how to start a new role successfully is to set short-term goals and achieve those goals. If you want to make an impact long-term, you need to demonstrate that you can help the business in the short-term. Since you have been reading, learning the business, and making new best friends, you are discovering lots of "low hanging fruit." Go after easy, visible, and achievable short-term goals that will help your new best friends. Don't worry so much about aligning your learning goals to the business. In fact, I would ignore articles on that subject entirely. If you follow the advice above, you will know what the business cares about most. If you focus your learning offerings on improving those things the business cares about most, you are automatically aligned with the business.
What About Facilitation and Learning Design Skills

You may have noticed that very little in the advice above suggests improving your skills in training, facilitation, or learning design. I am making the assumption that you already possess those skills, but certainly, you should continuously hone your skills in your discipline. In fact, I wrote a blog post about  how to stay current in the learning and development field that you might find useful.
Go ahead. Start.
What advice do you have for others just starting out? What has worked for you? What mistakes would you tell others to avoid? Comment below.
Bill Cushardauthorblogger, and head of learning at Allonhill, is a learning leader with extensive, in-the-trenches experience building learning organizations in start-up and hyper-growth organizations like E*TRADE, the Knowland Group, and Allonhill.

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