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Moving From Order Taker to Strategic Partner

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Talent development leaders often face a misperception from other departments (and even HR) that traditionally view TD as order takers of training requests. However, TD professionals must enhance their strategic influence through living their organizational values, aligning better cross-functionally, using business analytics, and elevating strategic performance management.

Danger of Being Viewed as a Transactional Implementer

Although some TD team members may be clinical, the leaders often gained their expertise in a learning field. Healthcare organizations, therefore, usually view TD as transactional implementers. For instance, early in my career, I joined a healthcare company while finishing my second graduate degree, specializing in e-learning. They were considering blended learning, featuring a mix of classroom, self-paced online, on-the-job application, and webinars. After starting the job, I learned that clinical leaders viewed my team as order takers because only some were nurses, and those leaders were not seeing the expected results. Operations leaders were the experts in their processes and dictated the training details to those that they viewed as inferior in business acumen.

When we implemented a blended learning solution, leaders dictated how they wanted the training delivered because they were the content specialists. They leveraged the TD team only for the tactical creation of training materials, and micro-managed throughout the process. I quickly learned that I needed to enhance my strategic influence in order to lead the learning initiatives—instead of just implementing others’ ideas.

This misperception ironically limits everyone’s success. First, subject matter experts wait to involve TD until the project is nearing implementation. When I joined each company in my career, I faced a situation in which my team had a list of projects and due dates with short timetables for creating training. Their frustration level was high and morale low because they were expected to produce quality learning modules in an unrealistic timeframe and complained about a lack of trust and respect from other departments. The error, though, lies mainly with those of us leading TD teams. We can expect nothing more until we demonstrate our TD expertise while also enhancing our strategic influence, consulting skills, and knowledge of other departments.

Living Our Values as a Strategic Partner

At Parkland Health & Hospital System, we call our values “CIRCLES.” This stands for compassion, integrity, respect, collaboration, leadership, excellence, and stewardship. As the chief learning officer, I tactically lead the learning function, but I must also lead as a role model of our values. Enhancing my strategic influence requires me to lead through collaboration while showing respect and compassion for other leaders’ expertise and dedication to operational excellence. That strategic influence through living our values results in organizational integrity as employees exhibit performance behaviors of safety, quality, and leadership. We also have stewardship because we are taking care of our current resources in order to provide lasting value for our patients, employees and organization.

Frustration occurs through micro-managing or politically assuming duties outside of our intended role. TD leaders touch every functional area, and one of the greatest strategic influences we can have is to become the expert in living our organizational values as we partner with other leaders on each learning initiative.


Case in Point: Using Alignment as a Strategic Partner

TD leaders must demonstrate the value for others to involve us collaboratively during the project’s concept stage. At Parkland, we gained project success through early alignment and produced impactful training deliverables that meet the purpose and success criteria for each of the stakeholder groups identified. For instance, annual compliance training moved from mainly head knowledge training concepts to an interactive learning experience demonstrating real-world examples of quality and safety standards. Had we simply moved content PowerPoints into an online format, we would have created a lower-quality training that focused purely on academic topics. Instead, we partnered immediately at the project kickoff meeting to align on purpose, stakeholders and success criteria.

Alignment on Purpose
Each project kickoff meeting should expect cross-functional alignment on the training’s purpose. That seems like an obvious statement, yet how often do we ensure all key stakeholders agree on a documented purpose statement? For instance, is the purpose of annual compliance training simply to meet the regulatory requirements? That is a limited view. It should also ensure all employees consistently demonstrate the stated compliance behaviors in order to guarantee quality, safety, integrity and living of our values. Often, we push out training content without gaining alignment on what we are solving. True, we use learning objectives, yet sometimes they are stated with non-observable verbs like “understand” or “appreciate” instead of “consistently use,” “explain,” or “differentiate.”

Alignment on Stakeholder List
That kickoff meeting should also document the stakeholders we’ll have an impact on. Are there physicians who won’t need the training because of their limited role, or is everyone required to complete it? If we create training and hear that we missed some learners half-way through our development stage, then we will need to rework the content or add development time to focus on additional content.


Also, who is the ultimate decision maker for content approval? I’ve seen too many projects stall just prior to implementation because a final decision maker looked at the content and required edits. The root cause of this delay is that we had not previously involved this person, assuming she would approve based on others’ prior approval. That bad assumption frustrated my team, the SMEs, and even the decision maker simply because we did not identify early the role of each stakeholder.

Alignment on Success Criteria
Business analytics are relatively new to healthcare HR teams, yet clinical, operations and finance groups consistently use them to quantify their area’s business impact. Alternatively, TD groups tend to list weak success criteria: number of training completions, number of training hours and course evaluation scores. Those metrics are weak justification for having employees leave patients or to attend training. Interestingly enough, often the operational or clinical requestors of training also struggle to quantify their desired training outcomes.

The organization needs us to build that alignment on metrics that show true business value. At Parkland, we are seeking to reduce compliance and quality/safety issues while increasing employee engagement, patient satisfaction and HCAHPS scores (Level 3 evaluation). Eventually, we will focus on the financial impact (Level 4).

Bottom line: Talent development leaders have a professional obligation to elevate their influence beyond tactical leadership and into a strategic partnership role. Being sure to align to business goals is one way to do that.

Next time, we’ll take a look at how TD leaders can partner with other parts of the organizations on the strategic use of talent reviews.

About the Author

Becker’s Hospital Review named Paul Rumsey one of the 10 chief learning officers to know in 2016. At Parkland, Paul supervises leadership development, influencing more than 800 leaders. He partners with the C-suite on the strategic plan implementation and succession management. Previously at TGI Fridays, Paul led the global learning and development strategy while also facilitating C-suite talent reviews and succession planning. From this assessment of employees at all levels, he implemented global initiatives in customer service, sales, process improvement, cross-functional alignment, and leadership development. At MicroStrategy, Paul led the global education services team, which focused on software adoption management worldwide for large clients such as Facebook, Visa, Swedbank, Saint-Gobain, and eBay. He also led teams at UnitedHealth Group (Fortune 20) and various education organizations, primarily focusing on operations, customer service, IT, and leadership development. Teams under Paul’s leadership won the CareerStat Emerging Leader Award focused on frontline employee development, and the Cornerstone RAVE Award for Advancement in Reinventing Work.

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