Thursday, July 7

Esse quam videri

That's Latin for "To be, rather than to seem." It's the state motto of North Carolina, and that's the only way I know that, for I left my Latin studies behind long ago.

If you work for a business, be a business person.

T+D (formerly called Training & Development) is the magazine of ASTD (formerly known as the American Society for Training & Development). The cover story of the last issue tells WLP (workplace learning and performance) professionals that Business Acumen is Priority One.

The article, Build Your Business Acumen, tells us that we WLP professionals "need to think and talk like their internal customers." The article advises readers to understand the business and how it operates, to use business terminology to gain credibility, to recognize business priorities, to create a value proposition, and to advance the learning and performance business agenda. Follow the instructions and you can become an Enabler, trusted by management to help run the business.

This is fine advice but it doesn't go far enough. You can do more than sharpen your business acumen, use management's vocabulary, and position yourself as an understanding, savvy helper. Instead of acting like a business person, why not become one? "Earning a seat at the table" is not enough; you need to be invited back frequently.

If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's a duck. If a WLP professional looks like a business person, walks like a business person, and talks like a business person, why shouldn't she join a business community of practice and become a business person?

Am I being too subtle? You are paid to help create value, not to train people or design learning environments: those are but the means to an end. Make yourself profitable. Add value. Don't fake it. Just do it.

As Janis Joplin advised, "Don't compromise yourself. You're all you've got." Esse quam videri.


David Grebow said...

Jay: I agree AND I was always hired, labeled, rewarded and percieved as 'the training guy'.

No matter how much value I added, regardless of my degrees, MBA, the fact that I had started several successful companies, I was still 'the training guy' and was invited to the table ONLY when they - the Execs and Managers who percieved themselves to be the real business people - thought they needed training programs or that training programs were part of the answer.

So perception IS reality.

The question in my mind is, since 'the training guy or gal' is percieved as such, talks that talk, turns out training programs not corporate strategy presentations, and gets to the table well after the business conversations usually start, what other suggestions do you have for changing perceptions?

Walking and talking like a duck does not seem to help. And having 'the business people' take the credit for the programs they had 'the training people' deliver, that added value, doesn't help either.

Maybe we need to reframe the entire business instead of dragging an Industrial Economy tag and identity along? Has anyone reading this changed the perception of themselves as 'the training person'? What prompted 'the business people' to keep inviting you to the table (I assume this is the conference table and not the Boardroom Table)?
Have any 'training people' gotten to the Boardroom?

Meir Navon said...

Hi Jay and David,
The first issue that jumps to my mind is some kind of apologetic and even defeatist approach that many trainers project in their routine communication with the "business and C-level executives" in the organization.
We're and will always be "training people" and are very proud to be! We can and will bring great benefits to the organization by using the tools of our trade. It's very important to know the jargon of the organization, but we're not financial, operational or field managers.
A few years ago, I served as CLO of a very big bank. The business people knew they had to call us in, in order to get things done. They knew we were "only" the training people, but due to the fact that we consistently delivered, they welcomed us, very much.
In short, let's stop trying to be something or like someone, we're not. Let's improve the performance of the employees of the organization and in doing so, we'll get the deserved place in the table!

Godfrey Parkin said...

Frankly, I have never experienced the feeling of being ‘only a trainer’ though I know countless trainers who perceive themselves that way, and are, appropriately, treated that way by others.

Part of what gets you taken seriously as a business person, which many trainers are not able to do much about, is the field of expertise within which they train. Mine has always been marketing, sales, and strategy, so it is easier for others to see me as inherently part of the process of generating business. If I were a MS Office trainer, it would be more difficult. Not only would I not get the exposure to senior people, the link between the value I deliver and the company’s bottom line is a lot less obvious. Training managers who have a group of diverse trainers under them should work to maintain a higher leadership profile in those fields seen by C-level executives to be critical to revenue generation.

Another part of what gets you taken seriously is your own view of the role you fill. I have always regarded myself as a performance improver and an organizational developer (lower-case o and d, not an OD practitioner). Until I have done my homework, I do not accept that training alone is ever ‘the’ solution, and I stick to my guns. While training often turns out to be the major time consumer on a project, working on the structural or environmental issues is where your credibility is gained – and where it is most challenged.

My tenure or status ‘at the table’ has usually been directly linked to the perception of what I am doing to make the company money or move it closer to its goals.

My most dramatic example was a major Swiss bank, where I was asked to do something to improve sales across their bonds, equities, derivatives, and treasury sales. I convinced them that training was only part of the solution, and we rolled out a series of major operational changes in parallel with a training program. Within a year, sales had quadrupled in a very stagnant market and customer ratings had moved them from last to number one on the list for service. I had ‘bought’ my credibility, and over subsequent years of engagement was consulted routinely on a wide array of training and non-training issues, and had a lot of high-level business referred to me.

But I confess that participating regularly in the (unbelievably decadent) long lunches hosted in the Board’s private restaurant on Zurich’s Bahnhofstrasse eventually lost its appeal. As did having to run sessions at 5:30am so that people could be at their trading stations when the Bourse opened at 8:00…

Be careful what you wish for.

Anonymous said...

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