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Best Training Practices
Will Kenny
3927 York Ave N
Robbinsdale, MN 55422

A Seat on the Bench Beats
a Seat at the Table

supporting several teams can easily beat leading just one

(reprinted from The Training Tipsheet)

Gather together the leaders of training functions from various corporations -- chief learning officers, training directors, and so on -- and pretty soon you'll hear them talk about how much they want "a seat at the table." They want to be welcomed at the highest levels of the organization, to have their training/employee communication function be regarded as the equal of the other departments that get executive attention (marketing, technology, etc.).

It's great to be a starting player, but it might be even better to be on the bench, playing a supporting role. We're talking about the kinds of players who are called in when their particular skills are needed, when the situation calls for them to step up and make a special contribution.

We often hear about the "depth" of the bench, how those supporting, non-starting players can make the difference in a playoff series, say. Some players are on the bench at the start of the game, not because they are poor players, but because they are fairly specialized players, because they are called upon in certain situations when they can make a huge difference to the outcome.

Well, aren't we, in the training business, specialized players? More importantly, can't we sit, not just on one bench, but on all the other benches of all the other functions that have those coveted "seats at the table"?

Contrast your impact under these two scenarios:

  1. Equal Player: each function gets the same treatment. Marketing talks about their plans, a finance officer or a product manager gives a report, and so on, until we come to the training report, same as all the others.
  2. Supporting Player: you don't end up with a slot that equals all the others. Instead, each of them includes you as part of their team, reporting on their challenges and how they will overcome them.

As a bench player, in that second scenario, your proposals are much more closely tied to the specific work in each of the other functions you serve. Presenting training and employee communications this way is about achieving clearly identifiable results, bringing a concreteness and specificity to your plans that adds to their appeal to your business partners.

Plus, support is a two-way street. This approach takes you well beyond simply supporting organization objectives to supporting individual functions, and individual executives and managers, in their work. Surely those individuals will be ready to support your efforts and provide the help and resources you need.

And it is no small matter that you end up with perhaps the most visibility in the group.

Visualize the league of teams in your favorite sport. Can you imagine how you would take notice if one player played on several teams in the league, if you saw the same player coming into games again and again, no matter who you were watching on TV?

That bench player, supporting multiple teams, would be more visible, and probably contribute more, than even the greatest star on a single team.

Frankly, I think a "seat at the table" is great for your ego. But it may not be as great for your results, for your long-term effectiveness, and perhaps even for the sustainability of training and employee communications as a separate function.

Being part of the bench of several teams can be much more powerful than having your own team, with your own "seat at the table". Put your ego aside, join those other teams in a supporting role, and watch your impact grow!

© 2008 Best Training Practices -- Will Kenny

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