September 29, 2023

What’s the CEO want to see

Author: Clark
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This issue came up recently, and it’s worth a think. What would a CEO hope to see from L&D?  And I think this is in two major areas. The first is for optimum execution, and the other is for continual innovation. It’s easier to talk about the former, so we’ll start there. However,  if (or, rather, when 😉 L&D starts executing on the other half, we should be looking for tangible outcomes there too.

Optimal Execution

To start with, we need specific responses for the things an organization knows they need to do (until that can be automated? Orgs must do what matters, and address any gaps.  Should our glorious leader care about us doing what we’re supposed to? No. Instead, this individual is concerned with gaps that have emerged and that they’re fixed. Of course, we have to admit problems we’re having as well.

The CEO shouldn’t have to care how efficient we are. That’s a given!  Sure, when requested, we must be able to demonstrate that our costs were covered by the benefits of the change. But the fact that we’re no more expensive than anyone else per seat per hour is just assumed!  If we’re asked, we should be able to show that, and it can be in a written report. However, mentioning efficiency in the C-suite is a ticket out.

What a CEO (should) care about are any performance gaps that have arisen in previous meetings and the changes that L&D has achieved.  You know, “we’ve been able to decrease those troubling call handling times back down to x.5 minutes” or “we identified the problem and were able to reduce the errors in manufacturing back to our y/100 baseline” These may even include “saving us $z”.

To do this, of course, means you’re actually addressing key business impact drivers. You need to be talking to the business units, using their measures and performance consulting to find and fix the problems. It’s not “ok, we’ll get you a course on this”, it’s “sure, we can do that course, and tell me what the outcome should be, how will we know it worked?”

Yes, particularly at the beginning when you’re establishing credibility, you may be asked for ROI. How much did it cost to fix this. You do want the fix to cost less than the problem. But that won’t be the main criteria. The CEO should be focusing on strategy, and fixing problems that prevent being able to execute on those directions.

Continual Innovation

That strategy, of course, comes from new ideas. And, to be fair, so too due the fixes to problems. That’s the learning that occurs outside the course!  Research, innovation, design, trouble-shooting, all these start with a question and ultimately an answer will be learned. It comes from experimentation and reflection, as well as looking at what others’ have done (inside and out).

What are the. measures here?  Well, if we take the result that innovation comes from collective constructive friction instead of the individual brainstorm, then meaningful social media activity would be one indicator. Increasing either the quantity of quality discussions would be one.  Just ‘activity’ in the social systems has been one initial measure. But we can go further.

We should expect the impact of these activities to impact particular outcomes. If it’s in sales, we should see more proposals generated, higher success rates, lower closing times, lower closing costs, and other such metrics. In operations, we might see fewer errors, more experiments, more new product ideas generated.  And so on. E.g. “we increased the percentage of…” The point is that if people are sharing lessons learned, we should see faster learning and higher success rates and/or greater innovations.

Of course, we have to count these. Whatever method, whether xAPI or proprietary, we should be tracking activity and correlating with business metrics. With a little thought, we can be looking for and leveraging interesting relationships between what people do in learning (and performing) and what the outcomes are.

We could also be reporting out on the outputs of sessions that L&D facilitates. At least, initially, and then the overall increase in innovation metrics would be appropriate. The key role of L&D in innovation is developing capabilities around best principles, and that includes facilitating and developing facilitative skills.


The take-home is that the CEO shouldn’t want to hear our internal metrics on effectiveness and efficiency. Don’t expect that person to know about learning theory, best approaches, nor L&D benchmarks. They want, and need, organizational impact.  Even the number of or percentage of employees who’ve taken L&D services isn’t enough. What has that done?  Report impact on the organization. Let the CEO know how much you’ve helped the key metrics, which are directly tied to the bottom line. Yes, you have to start working with business partners. Yes, it requires breaking some molds. But ultimately, L&D will live, or die, by whether they’re accountable to, and contributing to, organizational success in demonstrable ways.

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