Why it's time to reconnect with the fundamentals of L&Dby
Sometimes creating a sustainable organisation which delivers on its mission, vision and business plans requires L&D to go back to basics.
I’m really interested in the language that we use around learning and development compared with the day-to-day vernacular used across our organisations.
We talk about skills, knowledge, attitudes and behaviours – our colleagues talk about getting the job done. We discuss ways of helping individuals and teams achieve their full potential – our C-suite refers to key performance indicators (KPIs) and key performance targets (KPTs).
We can no longer simply plan our annual training calendar and expect it to be relevant all year long
And yet at the core of what we are trying to achieve is a sustainable organisation which delivers on its mission, vision and business plans using the resources available in the best possible ways.
How we treat our people is often included within those mission and vision statements. For example Johnson and Johnson tell us that their vision is: “Be yourself, change the world. Our vision at Johnson & Johnson, is for every person to use their unique experiences and backgrounds, together – to spark solutions that create a better, healthier world.”
The question that I feel should be at the heart of what we do in L&D is how can we respond as L&D professionals in an agile way to ensure that we meet the business needs as they change and develop? Because we can no longer simply plan our annual training calendar and expect it to be relevant all year long.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have an offering that supports our team members to deliver on their objectives, but that we should continuously review what that offering looks like and ensure that it is made up of multiple opportunities for learning and performance improvement.
Here are some of the options that we can explore as we work with our organisations to support both tactical learning (to achieve the current objectives and face today’s challenges) and strategic learning (to make ready for the challenges of tomorrow).
Create a process of ongoing needs analysis
Decide on core competencies that are required in the organisation. The World Economic Forum has identified the top 10 skills for 2025 which include analytical thinking and innovation, active learning and learning strategies plus resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility alongside seven other skills sets.
Based on the organisational objectives and strategic plans, identify specialist competencies that will be required in the short, medium and long term.
Help line managers to reflect on their best performers and what competencies they demonstrate and then discuss how they developed these
Engage line managers and supervisors in assessing the gaps by talking to them about what’s going well and areas where things could be even better. Use your questioning and listening skills to help uncover gaps in competencies. And have these conversations regularly – at least every quarter – which may mean coming up with innovative ways to facilitate these discussions.
Promote a range of learning methods
As you speak with line managers bring different learning methods into the conversation. You don’t even need to call them learning methods – speak the language of the organisation and maybe talk about continuous improvement or performance improvement instead.
Help line managers to reflect on their best performers and what competencies they demonstrate and then discuss how they developed these. Find, and share, examples from across the organisation which will illustrate how learning has contributed to success.
Encourage the use of coaching and mentoring
Coaching-style conversations are incredibly powerful because they help individuals to consider their current performance and uncover ways of improving it.
Using a mentoring approach gives team members at all levels the opportunity to share their experience in ways which don’t impose right or wrong ways of doing things, but unlock ideas which can be tried and tested on a daily basis.
Find some metrics
Lord Kelvin said: “To measure is to know",“If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it”, “When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind.”
This is our age-old challenge – how do we move away from ‘happy sheets’ and counting posteriors on workshop chairs to more meaningful measure which describe how learning has impacted on the organisation.
My suggestion would be to get interested in the KPIs and KPTs that are used across your organisation. Once you start to explore these you will be able to identify some of the ways in which learning can contribute to their achievement. Once you have done this, you will be able to articulate some measures that can be applied specifically to learning activities.
One of the accusations that L&D professionals often face is that we are attracted to bright, shiny objects
Reconnect with the foundation principles of workplace L&D
Nothing that I’ve said in this article is headline news! You will probably have read all this and be thinking ‘but I know that’. For me, one of the accusations that L&D professionals often face is that we are attracted to bright, shiny objects. The new ideas which can sometimes legitimately be called fads.
Let’s focus on core principles. The things that we know to be true and that we can back up with evidence.
My final thoughts for today:
- Our organisations have goals and objectives.
- Our organisations achieve those goals and objectives by deploying resources appropriately.
- Those resources include people.
- In order to achieve objectives, people need to have certain competencies.
- Some competencies are core and others are specialist.
- Sometimes we employ people with the competencies we need and on other occasions we help people to develop those competencies.
- At all points in their careers, individuals need to learn – whether that is about acquiring new competencies, honing existing competencies or deploying those existing competencies in new ways.
- As L&D professionals, we have access to a myriad of ways in which learning can be achieved and it is our role to facilitate learning in ways that work for our specific situations.
I hope that this has sparked some thoughts for you – even more, I hope that this has sparked some action!
Interested in this topic? Read The L&D performance imperative.
Jackie has been working in learning and development since 1990. She has worked in the following sectors and industries: Sales Recruitment Retail Voluntary sector Further education Port industry Training consultancy Prison Service Non-departmental public body Since 2000 Jackie has co-authored three books, all published by Kogan Page. She works...