Positioning Yourself for Successful Learning Leadership Series Part Five

Tracy Cox

Part Five: Avoiding Common Mistakes that Diminish Your Reputation as a Learning Leader

Read Part One of the Learning Leadership Series.

Read Part Two of the Learning Leadership Series.

Read Part Three of the Learning Leadership Series.

Read Part Four of the Learning Leadership Series.

As a colleague of mine once said, "The key to success as a leader is to see the mess just before you step in it." This rings very true for the new learning leader. Chances are you have been given this leadership opportunity for one of two reasons: Your predecessor was extremely successful and has moved on to bigger and better things or your predecessor failed miserably and you have been brought in to clean up the mess. Either way, you face a significant challenge. You must either live up to an "urban legend," or you must fix a broken learning organization and strategy. So, how do you avoid the mistakes that could doom this opportunity in the first 60 days? The answer is simple: Plan well and execute flawlessly! Easy to say, hard to do.

Recommendations and Strategies for Effective Learning Leadership

As a culmination of my four prior articles on Learning Leadership, the following is a summary of recommendations and actions gleaned from the survey of 122 global learning leaders, client experience and additional learning as to how to best avoid the mistakes often made in the early months of a new learning leader’s career. First, develop a plan (on paper) for your first 60 days before day one in a learning leadership program. What are some of the items that should be on this plan? How about:
  1. Preparing for introductions: Think through the topics, your elevator speech, your vision, your initial actions, the questions you wish to ask, the audience and what you will say about your predecessor and the current state of the learning organization
  2. Thinking about how your predecessor’s learning leadership reputation may influence the organization’s perception of you as a learning leader
  3. Learning as much as possible about the business and its leaders—your peers—through publicly available information
  4. Conducting a self-assessment for the new learning leadership role: Identify your own gaps in learning leadership skills and knowledge
Now that you are there, the clock is ticking. In addition to executing your well-orchestrated plan, here are seven recommendations to consider beginning day one in your learning leadership role:
  1. Know the Business: Understand the portfolio, structure, culture, strategy, financial statements, metrics, policies and procedures, people development processes, learning strategy; understand the key clients and their influence; get in the classroom and teach
  2. Be intentional about your social capital: Find a coach and map your informal networks; assess your social capital based on your goals and objectives; develop strategic partnerships with key "network brokers"; update and manage your network just as you would your personal finances; be aware of your network boundaries
  3. Know, Trust and Empower your Team: Assess your team’s social capital; Interview them; analyze the efficiency and effectiveness of key processes; conduct a new leader assimilation; observe team dynamics; determine and implement team restructuring plan
  4. Align with the Businesses: Begin with their strategies and goals; flow down the key strategic objectives into a learning strategy that supports them; secure quick wins; communicate the learning strategy at all levels for buy-in and feedback; implement a learning governance board that engages senior leaders; identify advocates and the opponents of your function and its strategy
  5. Learn to Listen, and Listen Some More: Approach your new role as an anthropologist; meet personally with key stakeholders and gain insights through key questions; maintain notes; understand your boss
  6. Communicate Vision and Strategy: Approach this step as if it is a political campaign; create "sticky" messages that people will remember; have the detail to support your vision and strategy but create an "elevator speech"; begin with your organization and get them excited; allow the organization to carry the message for amplification; mix your communication techniques; cover the entire learning value stream from customers to suppliers
  7. Establish Metrics that Matter: Balance your metrics with leading and lagging indicators; consider the Kaplan and Norton Balanced Scorecard approach; tie your learning metrics to key measures of the business and describe the correlation; establish a baseline for each measure, set aggressive goals and track progress in a very public way; celebrate success at both key interim milestones, as well as when the goals are achieved; assign key business leaders as metrics advisors and champions
You are now positioned for success as a new learning leader! Enjoy the ride!

First published on Human Resources IQ.