L&D has a bad rep - and it needs to fix it

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This is not ‘click bait’ (as my 11-year old twins tell me is the correct phrase for attention grabbing headlines fronting disingenuous articles of little related value) - this is reality street.  Let me share thoughts and provide some evidence to substantiate this.

First off, it’s nothing personal: most of the people I meet in the L&D world are lovely people, yet the operational management of the businesses that employ them increasingly don’t value the contribution L&D makes.

In fact in many operational spheres, L&D is viewed as a “necessary evil” and/or “part of the problem” (not part of the solution).

If you work in a regulated business then chances are this management animosity toward L&D is probably more marked and probably extends throughout the majority of the employee base.

Let’s look for some key indicators that these statements are indeed reflective of reality, i.e. true!

  • How many of you have seen training budgets cut over the past 5 years?
  • How many of you are increasingly being told to focus on ‘required learning’ (regulatory-type training)?
  • How many of you genuinely struggle to get line management to release delegates to attend courses?
  • How many of you find yourself chasing employees to engage and complete e-learning?
  • How many of you have a voice on the Board like IT & HR do and I don’t mean via HR?

The killer question for me is this: how many of you are genuinely consulted by functional leaders in your organisation, asking how you (L&D) can help them create additional value and help them to exceed their targets? 

Now I don’t mean being asked to ‘train some of their people’, I mean consulted as a business equal, like IT are?

If the Sales Director is seeking productivity & process improvements she goes to IT and says ‘what can you do to help me?”

IT are straight into consultancy mode and after spending loads of money just on ‘scoping’ (mmmm since when does L&D get to charge the business simply for engaging?) they come back with recommendations.  Then they implement those recommendations and eventually, perhaps, L&D are called in to do a bit of training. 

I just know there will be a bunch of people reading this who are convincing themselves that they really are consulted and are a key part of the business growth strategy of their business.

Sorry to be so blunt but I reckon they are in denial. The harsh reality of life in this rapidly changing digital age is that L&D is at best a tactical after-thought. Ultimately they are working themselves out of a job!

Here’s another one for you...

Take your L&D budget and divide it by the number of employees in your business. Don’t forget the part-timers. I bet you that the per head training budget is really low and if you work in an office environment the per head spend wouldn’t be far off the stationary budget!

So if you are still reading this I’m making the assumption that some/all of what I am saying is resonating with you in some way?

The million dollar, career-saving question is what does L&D need to do in order not to go the same way as the dinosaurs? What do L&D need to do to become a go-to strategic solution provider? A valued and trusted resource that delivers results that positively contribute to the growth of profit? What do L&D need to do to fix their credibility issue and become the first choice solution to the problem?

All is not lost. I am not a defeatist.

I genuinely believe that L&D could - no, should - have a key strategic role to play in helping every performance-focused organisation achieve their short and long-term growth aspirations.

With Brexit just around the corner and UK worker productivity at its lowest point relative to the other 6 G7 nations (we are 18 points behind the average of the other 6 in 2014 according to the Office of National Statistics) if there was ever a time for L&D to step up to the plate its now!

What needs to happen?

  1. L&D needs to stop talking divisive mumbo-jumbo that no sane functional leader cares about (70-20-10, et al) and start talking the language of the people tasked with running the business and delivering the performance improvement. 
  2. It’s not just about changing the language it’s genuinely understanding what practical challenges the functional leaders face and what hurdles they need to overcome.  This means changing the relationship L&D has with the rest of the business. Consulting on what challenges face the functional leaders NOT on what training you can deliver cheaper this year than last!     
  3. Once L&D genuinely understands the Operations Director’s scorecard and what KPIs on that scorecard are a function of employee capability, knowledge and competence – then L&D becomes a valuable asset that the business will want to consult, listen to and fund.

The trouble is even when you follow Steps 1-3 above, training doesn’t work and this is a key factor in the L&D reputational issue.

If L&D can help the Operations Director understand (and evidence with facts) that the reason 1:50 calls results in a complaint is a function of engineer incompetence, then that same sponsor is going to be far more willing to collaborate over a training-based fix.

But we all know training doesn’t work and never delivers against the promise because employees forget the vast majority of what they are trained well before they ever get to put it into practice.

So not only do L&D need to change the language you use, understand what make the business work and win back the trust of the functional leaders and management you also need to stop warbling on about training and start living up to your name and delivering Learning.

After all, an employee cannot hope to act on what they have been trained, only what they have learned. 

How much of your budget do you spend on ensuring what you train is actually learned?

Two years ago we asked 200 L&D professionals the same question and only two could substantiate that they spent anything at all ensuring that training stuck and knowledge was retained and even then what they did spend didn’t work.

If you work in L&D and genuinely care about your professional reputation and want to be treated seriously and become part of the solution, the first thing you really need to fix is to guarantee your employers and functional leaders that training does equal learning.

As soon as you can prove that then you have a fighting chance of getting your sponsors to listen, engage and invest.

Until you can do that you might as well add the prefix ‘saurus” to your surname and start looking for a new career!

For those who are up for it and want to make a difference you might want to take a look at www.elephantsdontforget.com/trainingzone.

About Adrian Harvey

Adrian Harvey, CEO Elephants don't forget

Adrian Harvey is an ex-MD of British Gas and e-On. Now CEO of Elephants don’t forget, a company that guarantees employees retain the knowledge they are taught by using Clever Nelly. 

Clever Nelly is an Artificially Intelligent application that provides an engaging way of retention through daily interaction, taking up no more than 2-minutes at a time per user.

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11th Apr 2017 16:27

Totally agree Adrian - great article. So much needs to change but it's all 'changeable' and I truly believe L&D can make a huge difference to business but also needs to change its approach.

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