What’s keeping your stakeholders awake at night?

Focusing great questioning and listening techniques while being confident is the way to build credibility in organisations. Lee Jones explains more.

Imagine the situation…

You’re an experienced learning and development professional. You think you know people development well and after several years working within the corporate world, you’re confident in your ability to do your job.

You’re sat in a monthly senior meeting within one of the business units that you partner, and you’re waiting patiently for your agenda slot to talk about ‘training’.  Maybe you have a new management development initiative to roll out, or an update on the deployment of a new LMS, or maybe you are facilitating this month’s talent review.

Before your agenda item arrives, the discussion turns to performance of an area of the business that you are knowledgeable about. As the opportunity occurs, you step into the conversation to share your view that the people under discussion could be developed to enable them to do their job more effectively.

You also suggest that a coaching capability uplift for line managers that’s run in tandem would enhance the likelihood of better outcomes.

You move your dialogue onto the importance of developing potential and then highlight some of the limiting factors that could lead to failure; the commission scheme that doesn’t align to the behaviour required, operating processes constraining demonstration of the right skills, and leaders who are not acting in support by removing the barriers currently inhibiting great performance.

Ask the right questions at the right time, and irrespective of your profession or job title, to show that you are working together to help solve problems

You pause and wait for the rapturous applause… It doesn’t come. The stakeholders around the room resume their discussion, and slowly but surely you slip unacknowledged into the corner of the room.

This was typical of my life as a learning and development professional.

When I moved from that organisation into a consultancy role with a people development business, I was asked a short time later, how it was going? And I was happy to say that I was having very similar conversations to my previous job, with the major difference that people were actually interested in my point of view.

It got me thinking about what had changed and why people use a different lens when they’re engaging with an external consultant versus an internal L&D business partner.

When you sit at the table as a consultant, your customer is buying your insight and expertise. They’re looking for new ideas and pragmatic solutions that reap the benefit of your experience. They want you to help them solve the challenges they are facing.


Big lightbulb moment for me. I had been getting it all wrong in my previous role! I went to meetings with a list of the things that I wanted to talk about. As a learning function we had been delivering initiative after initiative, many of them brilliant, but they just weren’t what the business needed or wanted.

What they were after was new starters getting a great welcome and a robust induction that meant fast speed to competence and lower attrition. They wanted front-line people to be equipped with the skills to deliver great customer service. They needed confident and competent leaders who supported people through change. These were the things keeping my stakeholders up at night.

As an internal L&D professional, there are two key things that will influence the credibility you have with your stakeholders. First, whether you are listening to what they need and proactively helping them find and solve problems.

And second, your ability to deliver an informed opinion with confidence and conviction. You can have all the skills and experience in the world but if you’re not doing these two things, you’re always going to be that person in the corner.

So, where to start?

To be a consultant means to ask the right questions at the right time, and irrespective of your profession or job title, to show that you are working together to help solve problems.

It’s particularly true of L&D professionals, like similar questions posed by Clayton M Christensen and Michael E Raynor in The Innovator’s Solution, what is the job our work is expected to do? What is the outcome the business wants? What would the people who benefit from your work really love to happen?

Asking the right questions increases the odds of your work having a positive effect on others by 4.1 times and 2.7 times more likely to make positive impact on the bottom line. And that leads on to the second point….

Confidence and credibility feed each other and credibility starts with the right intent and a track record of delivering on your commitments. If, like me in my previous role, you’re making the mistake of focusing on the learning agenda rather than asking questions about what your stakeholders and customers need or want, your voice, and credibility, will fade into the background.

Once you have built up credibility and have started to solve problems with stakeholders, maybe then they’ll be interested in looking at your new talent programme and your brilliant idea to launch a new wellness portal on the LMS!


About the author

Lee Jones is sales director at Elev8 Performance


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