How can L&D become more relevant to the wider business? Not by claiming a 'seat at the table', but by changing the roles within L&D to become more performance focused.
Successful organisations are those that change in response to evolving environments. To remain still in a world of change is a recipe for irrelevance.
L&D is not an exception. It needs to change in order to avoid irrelevance.
But change is often hard and complex. Throughout my entire career I’ve heard L&D leaders call for ‘a seat at the table’, yet many find it impossible to make the changes required for increased organisational relevance.
In some cases, I have heard L&D professionals say they believe that, at the appointed time, they will emerge like a butterfly from under the hems of their HR, OD and talent colleagues to be accepted as important parts of their organisation. Of course, this is a pipe-dream.
A seat at the table isn’t something that is bestowed upon, or even necessarily needed for, L&D to improve its impact. This can be achieved in other ways. Additionally, as organisational hierarchies slowly flatten and turn into wirearchies the issue of ‘pecking order’ will also diminish into irrelevancy.
The change needed for L&D is more systemic than addressing ‘seats at table’ and hierarchical status issues.
Being business relevant
What will change the perception, role and position of L&D within organisations? The function’s measurable impact on: influencing, supporting and implementing strategy; increasing readiness for change; improving quality; reducing risks; increasing knowledge sharing and learning; reducing barriers to the development of expertise; and improving team working.
Each of these is bound up with business relevancy. Every L&D department needs to change and develop its business model with a laser-like focus on becoming more business relevant.
New L&D roles
One part of this journey towards business relevancy involves changing the functions and roles within L&D.
Most L&D processes and the roles that carry them out emerged in an era when the sole focus of the function was structured training. Until recently the function of L&D was to formally educate individuals in the workforce to a level of competence so they could (hopefully) do their jobs.
This approach almost universally took the form of developing structured learning programmes through the channels of classrooms, workshops, eLearning modules or learning-focused activities in the workplace.
For many the link between formal learning and measurable impact on strategy, readiness for change, and other business-critical factors was not considered part of the L&D bailiwick. Our job was to train and to do so by producing instructionally sound courses and content.
As such, current L&D roles are primarily educational and based mainly on formal learning solutions.
However, we now know that L&D has an important role to play beyond the process of training and, if we are to fulfil this new role, one area we need to address is defining a new set of L&D capabilities and the tasks required to be carried within these capabilities. In other words, we need to adopt new roles.
To achieve real success, we need a new L&D business canvas approach.
At the 70:20:10 Institute we have developed a methodology involving five new roles for L&D.
To achieve the core objective of helping to make L&D more relevant, we designed these roles from the premise that the traditional learning-focused approach wouldn’t be adequate. A performance-focused approach was required.
We reasoned that if L&D remains in the learning domain, it will never achieve business relevance. So it is important to take a performance-centric approach rather than a learning-centric one.
Details of the five new performance-centric roles for L&D are explained in the book ‘70:20:10 Towards 100% Performance’ written by Arets, Heijnen and me. See the outline provided below (some of the text is taken from the book):
The five new roles are:
Performance Master Builder
Performance Game Changer
The Performance Detective systematically evaluates performance problems. This entails conducting business analysis, performance analysis and analysis of influencing factors. The influencing factors may be linked with systems and processes that are absent or not working, with mis-aligned expectations and incentives, and with other factors that have nothing to do with an employee knowledge or skills gap.
Not all problems brought to the L&D department can be solved by improving knowledge and skills. The outcome of the Performance Detective’s work unpicks the problem and provides the input for the Performance Architect.
The Performance Architect then works with the client/stakeholder to co-create prototypes that solve individual and organisational performance problems. The Performance Architect designs for the ‘100’ using an agile set of principles, has an open mind, works in a structured way and validates the design with the client before it goes on to the Performance Master Builder.
The Performance Master Builder works from the Performance Architect’s design and the critical tasks that have been defined to co-create effective solutions. The Performance Master Builder uses standardised processes and checklists to combine sources and goals, resulting in the production of effective, carefully thought-out solutions.
The other two roles in our 5-role approach close important gaps in the L&D department’s armoury
The Performance Game Changer has a dual function. This role involves managing the solution implementation by engaging the relevant stakeholders and the key actors in the workplace. This means acting as a ‘change manager’ and taking responsibility for embedding the changes that the solution delivers into the culture of the workforce.
The Performance Game Changer also plays a role as ‘project manager’ by ensuring that the project progresses to schedule and delivers on time.
The Performance Tracker has responsibility for agreeing critical metrics with the key stakeholders, constructing a measurement plan, monitoring progress and delivering reports. The Performance Tracker’s work starts alongside the Performance Detective. If metrics and measurement plans are not agreed at the outset, then the value-add being provided by L&D will not be clear.
Each of these roles has a set of defined critical tasks that need to be completed. Without the structure based around critical tasks it is impossible to deliver a consistent approach and consistent outcomes.
New roles alone will not deliver the systemic changes needed to change L&D’s overall role as a creator of real value.
Roles not people
These five new roles are not solely intended for L&D professionals. They can also be performed by managers or other staff members.
For instance, the Performance Detective and Performance Architect roles can be carried out by managers, organisational consultants and safety and quality specialists. Part of the Performance Game Changer role can be carried out by marketing and corporate communications specialists. The Performance Tracker role can be carried out by managers, finance and business process specialists, and by organisational consultants.
It makes sense to work in teams to improve performance, with different people having different roles, managed by experts who are closely aligned with core business objectives monitoring the progress and results.
Additionally, personalities, preferences and skills may lead to a certain amount of overlap between these roles, for example between the Detective and the Tracker, the Architect and the Master Builder, and the Game Changer and the Tracker.
L&D can be enriched by incorporating other types of collaboration, which are possible because of the clear definition of roles, tasks, task steps and results. This creates a form of standardisation that simplifies the process of coordinating roles and people.
More than new roles
We believe these new roles are important for improving the quality of L&D services and for aligning closely with organisational requirements. However, new roles alone will not deliver the systemic changes needed to change L&D’s overall role as a creator of real value.
If L&D is to step beyond being an order taker or even a learning-focused provider to contribute consistent measurable organisational value, we need to look beyond simply changing roles. We need to adopt a more systemic approach.
As part of this systemic approach it is important to review our whole value proposition and address engagement with our key partners and providers, the channels through which we deploy our solutions, our customer relationships, cost structures and other factors.
To achieve real success, we need a new L&D business canvas approach.
New roles are an important part of a business canvas approach, but only a part of the whole system.
More detail on the 5 Roles for L&D are available in the book ‘70:20:10 Towards 100% Performance’ by Arets, Jennings & Heijnen. Available on Amazon. Full details here. Some of the ideas here will be published in a new book by Arets, J. in 2019.
About Charles Jennings
Former academic and Chief Learning Officer. Co-founder of the 70:20:10 Institute.
Also Director of Duntroon Consultants and the Internet Time alliance