A progressive, award-winning L&D department of a Fortune 50 company recently caved to the IT department, resulting in another back-step in a series of compromises that could hinder the company’s aggressive acquisition, retention and reskilling initiatives. In this case, “Company X” (I’ll call them “TechCo”) cancelled a critical component of their employee learning experience platform and strategy, namely the content curation functionality.
This story isn’t unique. Sadly, the decision-making tension between IT and L&D is all too common in companies both large and small. The fact that TechCo enjoys an extremely talented L&D organization and learning-passionate C-suite reveals how common it is for IT to drive HR decisions. In this story, the L&D and IT departments enjoy a relatively amicable and healthy relationship, as it should be (don't get me wrong -- L&D should go to great lengths to create and maintain a strong partnership with their IT department). Other companies may experience a more “David and Goliath” dichotomy.
In either case, why is some of the decision-making power for key learning initiatives and supporting technologies given over to a group that is often neither passionate or knowledgeable about modern workplace learning strategy? In my experience, here are a few reasons this occurs:
- The CLO or Senior Executives lack understanding of current workplace learning drivers and trends and are easily swayed. Or a new leadership team seeks to “make their mark” and makes changes to progressing initiatives. Either way, this typically involves good [bad] old-fashioned politics.
- The initiative lacks a well-defined business case.
- Budget is inadequate or has been scooped.
- Middle executives with day-to-day operational decision-making responsibility have replaced the initial leaders that cast the vision and created the plan.
- IT is Goliath and L&D is David, meaning very few people are willing to step up and challenge IT.
In the powerful Bible story of David and Goliath, the nation of Israel was being challenged and taunted by Goliath, a 9’9” Philistine champion of war. The entire army was disheartened to say the least. David, the youngest in the family and a shepherd bringing provisions to his older brothers, overheard Goliath’s challenge and took him up on it. Traditional armor was too big for young David, so he took up his sling and selected five smooth stones from a brook. One stone was all it took to fell the giant.
The intent, of course, is not to slay the IT department (no matter how frustrated we might get!) but to select the right “arsenal” to make our case for good and right strategic technology implementation and/or integration.
1. Data, data, data!
- Bersin by Deloitte is replete with empirical data and research that is an incredibly strong foundation for any discussion or business case. This article by Josh Bersin is but one example.
- Degreed has also published a number of resources that describe today’s corporate learners and how best to support them with technology, including this one to which I was pleased to contribute.
- Companies like Watershed LRS and organizations like The Center for Talent Reporting can help you understand, capture, organize and share data to make your case and continue to show the value of L&D strategic decisions.
- If your company’s competitors are ahead of yours when it comes to modern workplace learning strategy and technology, they automatically have the edge when it comes to recruitment and retention. Consider that companies competing for like-talent are not necessarily in your market! Consider Bersin’s benchmarking resources.
- TechCo is competing for highly skilled technical talent. So are a thousand other companies, and many of those companies have more advanced and integrated learning and development strategies and platforms.
- Tactfully remind decision makers of past IT-driven decisions that resulted in compromised or failed initiatives and cite the poor outcomes.
- TechCo can easily point to a number of initiatives that “went south” when IT influenced or forced a departure from the agreed-upon project plan in the past.
- Win over new decision makers and/or operational leaders by refreshing the initial vision casting, business case rationale, or executive directives and drivers. Use data (see #1) and tell the story in simple, easy-to-understand terms. Tell the truthful story in a compelling way so that decision makers feel empowered to agree with their predecessors or feel more confident in IT negotiations.
- Past leaders and experts involved in TechCo’s original project planning can be sought out to help restate the logic, reframe the strategy, and remind the project team of the initial objectives and outcomes.
- When all else fails, or as extra insurance, describe the potential outcomes that would result from a departure from the vision and project plan. Clearly describe the initial objective and intended outcomes juxtaposed by alternate outcomes attended by cost to the business.
- In the case of TechCo departing from their content curation strategy, outcomes can include higher cost of content development, longer learning cycles, frustrated employees, lower retention and acquisition rates, and higher cost to the business due to multiple content providers scattered throughout the organization with little data on use or value.
It should be noted that in the story of David and Goliath, David was very skilled at his job, having already experienced the felling of both bear and lion as he protected his flock. He also had the truth on his side. This enabled him to be both confident and persistent. When engaging senior leadership and negotiating with IT, those knowledgeable and skilled in both current and emerging learning strategy and technology should have the seat at the table. L&D should never be ignorant of company policy regarding security, technology and IT organizational structure. Armed with logic, knowledge and tact, then, like David, hopefully the first “stone” will hit its mark.
Do you have a tale of the tail wagging the dog? A David vs. Goliath victory? What was the outcome? What steps do you take to ensure L&D remains in the driver’s seat for learning strategies and supporting technologies?