How can L&D improve its brand?

7 Feb 2019 By Haydn Bratt

Smarter internal networking and a focus on narrative will help learning professionals improve their influence, says Haydn Bratt

Branding, and in particular personal branding, has become a hot topic in business recently. And intrinsically wrapped up in idea of brand is the concept of reputation – after all, as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is famed for saying: “Brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room”.

This was brought home by the recent CIPD Future of Work is Human literary festival in London, which included a talk by David Waller covering the key themes of his book The Reputation Game: The Art of Changing How People See You.

As I reflected on what David shared, it made me consider the reputation of the learning and development sector. In his short talk, David discussed three pillars and two dimensions of reputation – and in these simple concepts there is a key opportunity for L&D professionals to grab hold of and enhance their own reputation.

The three pillars on which reputation is built are:

  • What you do – the work you deliver and the results you generate
  • Your network – both internal and external. Jim Collins (author of Good to Great) measured success as the average of the five people you spend the most time with. The networks we develop and the relationships we focus on will automatically impact our reputation
  • The narrative you create – a compelling story that gives people a reason to want to engage with what you do. Why should people care if you don’t give them a reason to?

David went on to share two additional dimensions which in my mind are the catalysts that make the pillars come to life They are:

  • Competence – across all three pillars, your ability and results will clearly impact your reputation; you need to be good and show up at your best. For me, the true measure of competence isn’t how I think I am doing but how my customer (internal or external) rates my abilities.
  • Character – the kind of person you are and the way you treat others. Again, character has to be a measure of how others feel when they engage with you. We are deeply tuned into how people make us feel as human beings – and our character is a real measure of this.

What can L&D professionals take from this? Clearly, we need to focus on what we are doing and ensure everything we deliver is brilliant. However, more than ever I believe it is the imperative of the L&D community to work extra hard to truly understand what our clients want – rather than what we want to give them. For too long, L&D has pumped out content it believes is important and failed to really find out what the business thinks matters most.

This change will be driven by expanding our network and really engaging with the business and key influencers – both internal and external. Focus on building relationships and serving the organisation, even if this means fundamentally changing everything you do. Every single L&D professional should be reflecting on the five people in the organisation they spend the most time with – if, on reflection, your key client stakeholders are not among these five then you really must figure out how you can get closer to the business. 

This is a really simple thing to do – just think about your last week and record the number of hours spent in conversation or discussions with key internal clients. If this does not outweigh the time spent in your own domain, you are not maximising your influence in the business.

Creating more time to be with your internal network will enable you to create a positive narrative and influence your client group to challenge their ways of working and open them up for new ideas and suggestions based around your thorough understanding of their world. 

Once you start to influence from a position of knowledge and understanding, using empathy as your central value, you will create a reputation of competence and trust. This will start to power up your interventions with the magic dust that credibility brings. When you are viewed as highly credible, everything you do will be seen as effective and impactful – and you will start to create a pull for your services. When people start to ask for you to be involved, you will know you have gained a position of influence and are truly making a difference.

In many organisations, L&D can often be a simple solution provider as opposed to an influential partner to the business – if this is how you feel, I would encourage you to look at where you are currently focusing your attention and see how you might be able to change the way you work in order to improve your reputation.

Haydn Bratt is author of MicroLeadership and Partner at Mindset Associates

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