Your Executive Should Be Your Biggest Learning Champion. Here's How to Make That Happen.

October 5, 2017

Here's how to make your CEO your biggest learning advocate, according to Elliot Masie.

A constant struggle for learning and development (L&D) leaders is getting their employees to allocate time for learning. Well, according Elliot Masie – the man who literally invented the word “eLearning” and founder of The MASIE Center, a learning think tank – the solution starts at the top.

“The number-one thing you can do to set the tone for a learning culture is have leaders be active, transparent and iconic learners,” Masie said.

That means making your CEO to be your biggest learning champion at your organization. Their influence will cascade down throughout your workforce, inspiring all of your employees to learn.

So, how do you make this happen? Masie suggests following these three tactics:

1. Encourage your executives to talk about their own learning journey.

If an executive designates an activity important, employees are likely to emulate that behavior. And this certainly applies to learning.

“Promote learning from the top-down,” Masie said. “Have the CEO or other C-level officers post key articles or content that they curate from places like LinkedIn Learning."

When senior leaders post articles they’re reading or courses their watching, employees are more likely to the same. There is a psychological reason for this called transference.

Michael Maccoby, leadership expert and president of The Maccoby Group, talks about the power of transference. Transference refers to the unconscious redirection of feelings or experiences from one person or experience to another; generally from a parent to a child. But, according to Maccoby, “Paternal transference has been so prevalent in traditional corporations that it has been considered normal behavior.”

This means that if an executive suggests you spend time learning, most employees will follow suit.

2. Give your CEO learning metrics they’ll care about.

Measuring the business impact of learning is not an easy task. According to LinkedIn research, business impact is the biggest measure desired by CEOs, yet only 8 percent currently see the business impact of L&D.

"Make learning measurable,” Masie said. “Give leaders metrics that are easy to leverage on their own. Hold leaders accountable for the culture shifts in their organization.”

Here are a few models that help L&D professionals provide the metrics help execs support learning initiatives:

8-Step ROI Institute Results Model:

  1. Start by answering the question ‘Why this program?’ 
  2. Select the right solution rather than any solution
  3. Design the solution for results that matter to the organization
  4. Make the solution matter to participants
  5. Make the solution stick through learning transfer and subsequent impact
  6. Tell a compelling story that is logical and credible
  7. Optimize results by analyzing what worked, what didn’t, and where to go from here
  8. Show the value of projects and programs

The Kirkpatrick Model:

  • Level 1: Reaction. The degree to which participants find the training favorable, engaging and relevant to their jobs
  • Level 2: Learning. The degree to which participants acquire the intended knowledge, skills, attitude, confidence and commitment based on their participation in the training.
  • Level 3: Behavior. The degree to which participants apply what they learned during training when they are back on the job.
  • Level 4: Results. The degree to which targeted outcomes occur as a result of the training and the support and accountability package.

3. Take advantage of down periods.

During tough times, employees and leaders alike are most open to new ideas. This is where L&D departments can slide in – by pointing to ways employees, and the organization as a whole, can learn from mistakes, invites the vision for an optimistic future.

"Look to learning when times are tough,” Masie said. “Leaders need to talk about the gaps in learning culture or learning readiness when there are business failures or downswings. What did we fail to do to leverage learning internally as an asset?"

In the Financial Post article, “Surviving Downsizing: 7 Ways Leaders can maintain high productivity when times are tough”, the second action the Post recommends is to provide “opportunities for employees to take constructive action.” Encouraging employee learning provides the much-needed answer to the question, “what can I do to help?” or “how can I make myself most valuable during this time to keep my job?”.

It also helps employees feel that executives still believe in them. Rather than looking outside, an investment in learning says – we believe in your potential, and we are going to provide you with the tools needed to get you there.

Looking for more tactics on how to woo executives and gain their support? Check out The Modern Playbook: How to Overcome Top Challenges to Advance Your Learning Culture.