Building Bridges

Keeping Your Seat at the Table

As a Learning & Development partner, do you have a “seat at the table”? This is a question we were asking and struggling with [ahem, ahem] decades ago, when I was coming up as an L&D manager. It’s as pertinent a question as ever. After all, if we don’t have that proverbial seat, how can we provide our services in a meaningful way?

There are so many things L&D managers can do to build relationships with the business leaders and stakeholders whom we support. Here are three that are top of mind for me this month.

1.  Educate yourself about the business.
Are you crystal clear about your organization’s business goals and the challenges they face in achieving those goals? Can you get your hands on related metrics? From there, you can arm yourself with questions for your business leader. As you demonstrate your ability to talk their language and engage in meaningful dialogue, you can start addressing their needs. Before my initial meetings with business leaders or clients, I did, and still do, research the organization (whether the company, function, or department). And I’m not afraid to ask questions when I don’t understand something I’ve uncovered in my research.

2.  Educate your stakeholder on whether or not training is the right solution.
Are you able to respond to a business leader’s request for generic team building or customer service training? Having the skills to ask probing, diagnostic questions to get to the root cause of their concerns will not only demonstrate your consultative ability, but also will ensure that any solution you arrive at will have an impact. Even as an external consultant, I ask these questions. Sometimes I don’t land a project that I’m hoping for, because I’ve helped my would-be client see that there are other, more appropriate, non-training approaches to addressing the situation.

3.  Keep up the relationship.
Meeting with your business stakeholder is not a once per year activity. Sure, identifying budget needs annually is critical. However, keeping up the relationship throughout the year helps the L&D manager to be more agile. Sometimes business goals change. Do you want to wait a year before finding that out? During ongoing conversations, we can also provide value-add, for example, by asking about metrics (which, by the way, we can leverage later for measuring the impact of our solutions); suggesting less expensive off-the-shelf learning options for foundational skills; or educating them on the science of learning.

In my conversations, I might make an easy-to-implement suggestion for solving a learning problem that the leader can implement herself, including a story of how I’ve seen this successfully done before. I can provide a pertinent demo or an example of a solution I’ve recently developed and how it helped the target group. I can also offer resources to aid the leader with something that isn’t within my wheelhouse or expertise.


Whether you are an internal or external practitioner, I hope these tips will help you build up your stakeholder relationships!

Read more tips in my 2020 post: Getting Invited to the Table: 3 Tips to Make it Happen