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ATD Blog

How to Make L&D’s Transition to Strategic Partner Visible

Monday, March 20, 2023

A company must invest time and effort to transition its learning and development (L&D) function into that of a strategic partner. Unfortunately, efforts are often met with misunderstandings and resistance from people outside L&D. These can sidetrack and disappoint the leaders and teams working hard to bring a new vision into reality.

Consider what it might take to shift an adamant stakeholder’s perspective from “it must be a 30-hour e-learning course” to “I agree, we should first see if job aids or some enhancements to our software will do the trick.” Reaching consensus would involve conversation, persuasion, negotiation, performance observation, and collaborative solution finding. This example points to types of prework and collaboration that help set up programs and initiatives with a stronger link to learning outcomes, employee engagement, and business results.

Over time, L&D can make prework and collaboration a valued part of the rhythm of its work and for those with whom they interface. People come to understand how these front-end conversations and planning reduce resource waste while leaders notice improvements in performance and business metrics. This is part of the mission of being a strategic partner.

But alongside the prework and collaboration is another challenge: losing sight of the mission and goals if the L&D team is not receiving positive feedback or rewards in response to their work. Because transitioning to a strategic partner can be a process without a visible end, L&D teams need a way to record small accomplishments that will motivate them to move forward along the bumpy road ahead.

These steps can make your team’s “small wins” visible to them and to others who care about their change work. They will also build the institutional knowledge for how learning strategy transformation evolved in the company.

1. Create a central place to document small wins.

In a shared digital space for L&D team members, design a spreadsheet for recording the small wins. You’ll need spreadsheet columns with headers like:

  • Date
  • Person entering the win
  • Collaborator
  • Event/Action/Deliverable
  • Why it’s a win
  • Connection to larger strategic priorities
  • Follow-ups
  • How to replicate
  • A column with a head for noting something encouraging about the accomplishment

Here’s an example: L&D leader Noah and Head of Sales Marisol meet to discuss Marisol’s request for sales training. Through good question-asking and negotiation, Noah convinces Marisol to build an internal knowledge base with her senior sales managers instead of designing new hours of e-learning. Noah logs into the “Small Wins Tracker” and records the upshot of this conversation.

  • Date: 2/15/2023
  • Person entering the event: Noah
  • Collaborator: Marisol (Head of Sales)
  • Event/Action: Collaborative dialog where I shared the risks of having Marisol’s team go through a new e-learning course. Their work changes rapidly, and course content might be outdated in two months. We brainstormed other options, and she seemed onboard.
  • Why it’s a win: Usually, these conversations get shut down because leaders know what they want and aren’t asking for advice or alternative solutions.
  • Connection to strategic priorities: Sales must boost leads and closures. They focus their discovery engagements on what clients need and want and highlight how the product will improve their current state. The internal knowledge base would provide information and performance support to help Marisol’s team hold more productive sales calls.
  • Follow-ups: I am preparing a mock-up of the internal knowledge base design for Marisol to review, and then we’ll discuss scope, platforms, and project details.
  • How to replicate: We should create a conversation guide to reference for discussions like this. Marisol was great, but if another stakeholder resisted my suggestions, I wouldn’t feel comfortable or know how to continue the conversation.
  • Something encouraging: If we can quickly build out a portion of the knowledge base, execute it with the sales team, and track its outcomes over a few months, we’ll have a great end-to-end case study to use with other department leaders.

2. Encourage everyone to record their wins.

Some people might hesitate to record a win— It’s not good or significant enough. Encourage them to record all accomplishments. If a team member mentions a recent win but hasn’t recorded it in the spreadsheet, help them do it. Your enthusiasm and can-do assistance will help them over their confidence hump to share small wins with the team. Your goal is to record the team’s achievements and make it visible that everyone has a role in supporting the mission to become a strategic partner, from instructional designer to consultant to project assistant.


3. Find time for the team to celebrate the wins.

The shared spreadsheet puts a spotlight on accomplishments across team members, and those should be celebrated. During a stand-up or at a weekly team call, ask a few people to share their entries from the week. This ensures that people who didn’t read the tracker know what’s going on. Those who saw the entries can ask follow-up questions or determine if the “how to replicate” statement makes sense. A motivated team with access to shared learning will more readily introduce new practices into their work without you having to enforce them.

4. Keep tracking small wins, evaluate them, and watch them accumulate.

The more data you have in your spreadsheet, the more power you have as a decision maker. You’ll be able to identify the people and areas needing coaching and which initiatives to implement. These data will also direct conversations to hold with leaders and determine different ways to adapt your change messages and tactics.

5. Link the spreadsheet entries with ultimate outcomes.

Over time, recording these accomplishments will support everyone on the team as they march forward with their repositioning as strategic partners. Further, these small events can add up and impact your ultimate outcomes: being included in strategic planning, improving employee performance and engagement, seeing systemic issues decrease, and increasing profit. When these outcomes take shape, find a way to highlight the L&D team’s efforts that (partially) led to the outcome. Like project management boards, align the small wins (for example, sub-tasks) with these larger outcomes. Compellingly present the data so you, your team, and other decision makers in the company know the work it took to reach this point.

You could also construct a small-wins tracker in a digital app or dashboard with eye-catching information displays. These are fine high-tech substitutions for a basic spreadsheet. Ensure your tracker format is easy to use, quick to view, and asks the right questions to probe thinking before, during, and after each small win. Let me know how it goes in the Comments section below.

About the Author

Adam Hockman is the chief learning architect at ABA Technologies, Inc., a behavior-based learning and development company. Rooted in the science of behavior, ABA Tech partners with organizations to build learning cultures that promote employee engagement and behavior change that have lasting impact on business results.

Hockman specializes in behavior-based instructional design, fluency-based instruction, and systems thinking. He works across K–12 and higher education, corporate learning, health professions, and the performing arts. Hockman frequently presents and writes on behavior change and learning science.

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