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Three Steps to Getting a Seat at the Table

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Talent Development leaders do some of the most important work in an organization. Day in and day out, their focus is centered on developing ways to invest in their most valued asset—their team members. These individuals play a key role in the success of major strategic initiatives by layering in learning strategies to support change management and successful adoption. Even though this work is critical to an organization’s growth, it is often a secondary priority to revenue-driving activities. In many cases, the learning aspect of a major initiative is focused on in the latter stages of a project, often in the implementation stage. This leaves talent development leaders wondering, “How could I get a seat at the table so that learning can be at the forefront of the conversation with the C-suite rather than an afterthought?”

When talent development leaders can truly become strategic business partners with the C-suite, they will be called upon for guidance in the beginning stages of a project rather than at the end to carry out the plan already in place. As Amy Borsetti stated in this video, gaining a seat at the table is a journey and takes time. As she shared, one of the fundamental aspects to getting a seat at the table is to be a leader who truly understands the business and is part of the plan for the organization to reach its goals. This is truly the definition of a strategic business partner.

Beyond understanding the business, there are three steps a talent development leader can take to accelerate their journey to becoming a strategic business partner.

1. Demonstrate clear ROI of learning initiatives.

Proving the value of a learning program is a fundamental component to building a successful talent development function within an organization. This is important because learning is typically thought of as a cost to the business. But strategic business partners look at learning differently. They frame their talent development program proposals to leadership in terms of how much the organization will need to invest and how much return they will gain on that investment (ROI). Developing learning initiatives with this mindset leads to an entirely different conversation with your leaders. If you are looking for more expertise on this topic, check out the work of Jack Phillips and Patti Phillips, who have spent a lifetime dedicating their work to helping organizations determine the return on learning investments.


2. Contribute to a “symphonic C-suite.”

The second way that a talent development leader can differentiate themselves as a strategic business partner is to connect with other C-suite leaders and bring them together on major initiatives. In 2018, Deloitte presented the concept of a symphonic C-suite: Instead of operating as independent subject matter experts, the C-suite must operate as a cohesive unit to achieve strategic objectives. One of the great opportunities a talent development leader has is to facilitate this type of culture, identifying how different functional areas of an organization will be able to support one another through learning initiatives. For example, if the accounting department needs to become more efficient in using their technology for process improvement, an alliance between the chief financial officer, the chief information officer, and the talent development leader might lead to a great learning program that could create real outcomes for the business.

3. Connect learning to organizational objectives.

In many cases, learning is looked upon as a task that is taking team members’ time away from revenue-generating activities. What separates an everyday leader from a strategic business partner is the ability to define how proposals for talent development initiatives will directly support organizational objectives, such as expansion, product differentiation, and market share. For this to happen, talent development leaders must act quickly once they learn of a strategic objective and answer these questions:

  • What skills will our team members need to improve upon for the initiative to be successful?
  • Are there new skills that need to be acquired for goals to be reached?
  • Do we need to attract different types of talent to fill in the gaps in our organization?

Once these and other important related questions are answered, talent development leaders can connect with key organizational leaders to develop learning proposals to support major strategic initiatives.

Talent development leaders play one of the most important roles in an organization. But unless you can become a strategic business partner who is willing to work alongside executive leaders and be a part of the solution, you risk the learning function becoming an isolated segment of the business.

Need more guidance on how to make talent development indispensable at your organization? Download the free whitepaper How to Get a Seat at the Table.

About the Author

Julie Cummings is a consultant, coach, speaker, and trainer committed to helping talent leaders transform cultures and build great employee experiences. During a 12-year career at BKD CPAs and Advisors as Chief Human Resources officer, she leveraged this philosophy to build an HR department from the ground up and operationalize the people function to provide high levels of internal service to employees and leaders. This includes creating effective hiring practices, optimizing performance management programs, delivering a comprehensive total rewards package, and maintaining high levels of compliance.

In her more than 25 years of HR experience, she has remained committed to lifelong learning and advancing the human resources profession by serving in a variety of leadership positions for local and state HR associations as well as mentoring young professionals launching their HR career. She has received recognition with the Springfield Business Journal’s Top HR Professional of the Year and Most Influential Women awards. She has been featured in Profile Magazine as well as the Harvard Business Review.

Julie is an active member of the Society for Human Resources Management where she holds the Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP) designation. She also holds the Senior Professional in Human Resources® (SPHR®) designation from the HR Certification Institute®. Julie is a graduate of Missouri State University, Springfield, with an M.B.A. degree.

To learn more about Julie, visit

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