Does Your Board of Directors Know What You Do?

I had the opportunity last week to talk at a conference of corporate board directors focused on human capital. In a publicly-traded company, corporate directors are the people who hire and fire your CEO and provide oversight on all critical issues. In other words—your CEO reports to the board.

I shared with them the impact learning can have on corporate results and how it can be measured. I also shared the concept of aligning (or creating) learning to directly support the company’s top goals and examples of business-like reports to be used throughout the year to ensure planned results are delivered. These are brilliant people, many CEOs in their own right, and quickly understood the concepts and the impact learning could have.

I then asked if they had ever had a presentation by their Chief Learning Officer (CLO) or whatever they call the person responsible for learning. Only one said they had. Most of the others didn’t even know if the company had a CLO or someone similar. Mind you, the average size of the company in attendance was 10,000 employees and $5 billion in revenue. I am sure most of them had someone in charge of learning at this scale, but they didn’t know it.

Then, my question to you is, “Does your board know that they have a CLO or VP of Training?” If the group I addressed is representative, they may not. Do they know what you do for the organization? Your priorities? Do they know you have created programs specifically to help the company accomplish its goals? Do they know you are responsible for leadership development and programs and offerings designed to increase employee engagement and improve retention?

While your CEO or Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) may mention learning and development in passing during board meetings, given my experience last week, this is not enough. Your CLO should make a presentation annually to the entire board or at least the governance committee. This would be an opportunity to tell the board about your focus and critical programs and how learning is contributing to achieving the CEO’s top goals.

There are two more items your board of directors should know. First, do you have an annual business plan for learning and development, including the business case for the requested budget and staffing? Second, do you have a high-level governing body dedicated to learning? This body would meet quarterly to provide direction, set priorities, and approve the annual plan. Ideally, the body would be chaired by the CEO and include senior leaders from across the organization. If you have both of these elements, your board of directors should know about it. They don’t need a lot of details. Still, from a governance perspective, they need to understand that the critical and strategic function of learning is aligned strategically to the company’s goals, has a business plan, and is governed by a high-level body.

The good news is that corporate directors will appreciate hearing more about learning that helps accomplish company goals. The bad news is they are not being informed of even the basics, like whether the company has a CLO. Work with your CHRO and CEO to get more visibility for what you do.