Building Bridges

Getting Invited to the Table: 3 Tips to Make it Happen

Have you ever been in a situation like one of these, experienced by two different colleagues of mine:

  • An IT group decided to upgrade a systems application and proceeded with the project. Dozens of elearning courses had already been developed for the legacy system. The L&D team was not included in the conversation about the upgrade but received direction to update all courses near the end of the conversion project, and was given a very tight deadline.
  • A subject matter expert taught new employees how to perform a process during on-the-job training. There were no job aids or checklists, and the SME was frustrated that the learners’ error rate was so high.

These issues resulted in unnecessary costs of dollars and time. It shouldn’t be a surprise that having an L&D leader at the table in business line decisions can not only be helpful, but also can make all the difference in preparing employees to perform effectively.

I was a panelist in a recent meeting of our local ATD Measurement & Evaluation special interest group. The conversation focused on using data with stakeholders. For example, how do we present findings and get on their agenda in the first place?

One of the takeaways from the panel was that you shouldn’t expect to just get invited to these stakeholder meetings. It takes a while to earn a seat at the table. So, what are some ways you can do that – whether it’s about discussing measurement and evaluation or what training is needed? Here are some ways that I’ve been successful.

1.  Plan for the year (a.k.a. start of a needs assessment): When I was a training manager, I had responsibility for multiple lines of business. I scheduled meetings with each business head my team supported. My goal was to document their business objectives for the coming year (or next few months) and identify where they felt the employees in their group might be challenged in working toward those goals. I dug deeper into these performance gaps and identified additional managers to speak with to determine where training might help close the gaps. One of my favorite references about this process is the Robinsons’ book (see resources below).

The key to being invited back is building the relationship. In these meetings, I am letting my stakeholder know that I care about and understand their business (because I’ll have researched it first if I needed to), that I want to help make a positive impact on achieving their goals, and I am a partner.

Business goal-setting and budget-planning often start in the fall. In what ways can you engage with your stakeholders now as they plan?

2.  Nurture the relationship: A couple of meetings a year doesn’t grow a relationship. Regular consultative contact can. What is important to the leader with whom you are meeting? What actions are you taking to help them achieve their business goals? What roadblocks do you anticipate in promoting a performance or learning strategy to support the goals? How are you striving to overcome those roadblocks, and what can your stakeholder do to help you? Eventually, once the learning strategy is implemented, you’ll have data to share with your stakeholder.

What are two things you can do this week to reach out to a couple of stakeholders? How can you help them?

3.  Focus on building trust: While this is part of nurturing the relationship, it is worth singling out. David Maister, et. al., include a table in their book The Trusted Advisor that illustrates how crucial trust is. The table lists levels of a relationship from service-based (answering questions, providing information) to trust-based (focusing on the client as an individual, having the ability to influence). While that last level will take a while to work towards, the levels in between these might be realistic as you continue to build trust. Those are needs-based (you help solve problems, provide solutions) and relationship-based (you provide insights and ideas). Identifying ways to focus on solving problems with or for your stakeholders will help you build the relationship to the point that they will seek you out when their decisions may impact employee performance.

What level are you at in your relationship with a stakeholder? What are two things you can do in the next month to move up to the next level with one of your stakeholders?


Dana Gaines Robins and James C. Robinson, et. al. (2015). Performance Consulting: A Strategic Process to Improve, Measure, and Sustain Organizational Results. Berrett-Koehler Publisher, Inc.

David H. Maister, et. al. (2000). The Trusted Advisor. Free Press.