L&D teams can no longer offer a catalogue of training courses to add value to organisations. They need to deeply understand their organisational contexts, cultures and ambitions and partner in earnest with business leaders and stakeholders to drive individual, team and organisational performance.
As an L&D profession, we seem to be having a bit of an identity crisis. The conversation has not moved on from an all too familiar theme of perceived relevance or otherwise of L&D functions in the workplace. These discussions are not only about how we are relevant, but if we are relevant.
Aspects of our role that used to set us apart as a profession are no longer viable value-adding activities. Creating and offering long lists of training courses, however enticing, does not have enough impact on the performance of the organisation or the people within it enough of the time.
The bite-size and accessible nature of eLearning has not gone as far as it should have or could have. Being largely relegated to the world of mandatory training and having to contend with openly available access to compelling, just-in-time resources on the web.
We must expand beyond the ‘design, develop and deliver’ approach to learning.
Gone are the days when L&D’s role as commissioners of high-quality training is seen as the return on investment that ambitious, commercial organisations are looking for. It is not enough to bring in the fantastic training company, offer ‘bespoke’ training packages and receive great feedback about the experience. This does not drive performance.
When we think about who we should be to ensure we are future-ready and how our roles must change, we must place ourselves at the heart of the organisations we find ourselves in. We must position ourselves as transformational learning professionals so that we can enable success – for individuals, teams and, ultimately, our organisations.
Being transformational learning professionals means being business aligned, analytically savvy, results focused, possibility enabling and unwaveringly curious.
So what does our future look like?
It is a future beyond our current reputation and perceived limits. The future is one of transformation for L&D teams and the organisations we work for.
In part it is about going beyond formal structures for learning. We must extend beyond training in the traditional sense. Of course, training relating to technical aspects of roles has a place (e.g. how to make a cocktail, how to operate a forklift, understanding our products).
But it should not end there if L&D is going to offer organisations all of what is possible.
Fundamentally, L&D professionals must be able and ready to build and facilitate partnerships with the top team and key stakeholders, using facilitation as a mode of inquiry. It is important to build trust with the board and get buy in for the learning strategy, and initiatives must impact individuals across structures, levels and departments, working with managers to figure out what matters to them through partnership and consultation.
L&D teams of the future will drive performance through effective partnerships with multiple stakeholders.
We must create spaces for reflective practice and action learning across the organisation. And we must be top notch facilitators – not just in the classroom, but across our whole approach, consulting closely with stakeholders to enhance performance.
We must expand beyond the ‘design, develop and deliver’ approach to learning. Designing programmes of learning is bread and butter stuff for L&D teams and there is a place for this. But it is not enough on its own to really drive performance.
Why? Because on its own it risks missing the source of how learning happens, which is experiential in nature. In the right climate, learning occurs in every meeting, chat at the coffee machine, conversation with a colleague and moment of reflection on the drive home. As Ed Monk, Managing Director of the LPI, says: “Learning is everywhere”.
Beyond programmes to partnership
L&D teams of the future will drive performance through effective partnerships with multiple stakeholders, from baristas to boardrooms and sales representatives to global networks.
As Andy Lancaster, Head of Learning and Development, CIPD states in the Professionalising learning and development report (Feb 2019): “It is time for L&D practitioners to review their practice, invest in their own development and commit to a new agenda to ‘professionalise.”
One of the nine key areas of the CIPD’s new Profession Map for improvement in L&D teams is Business acumen. While 90% of L&D practitioners see this skill as a priority, only 42% think their L&D teams possess the necessary business knowledge.
Without capabilities relating to business acumen, L&D will continue to function at the edges of organisations. Putting effort into work that misses the mark rather than ensuring that every action, initiative and objective positively impacts the organisational goals and aspirations.
For L&D teams, this is not the time to rest, it is the time to go beyond.
The Learning and Performance Institute’s (LPI) capability map was developed to help L&D professionals and teams assess and develop capabilities to meet the breadth of modern workplace learning needs.
Performance consulting is one of the 25 key capabilities that the LPI says is a must for the future. They define Performance Consulting as: “Resolving workplace performance issues by partnering with customers/clients to provide a systematic analysis of performance gaps, recommending appropriate performance interventions, and measuring ensuing business outcomes.”
This capability is so important to the future for L&D in that it will transform the kinds of conversations, focus and, in turn, outputs of L&D professionals. A model, which I developed in 2017, to help with this is the ART of L&D (featured in Nigel Paine’s 2019 book: Workplace learning: How to build a culture of continuous employee development). L&D functions need to ensure that whatever they offer is – Aligned, Relevant and Timely.
The ART of L&D
Alignment speaks to organisational strategy first and foremost. The role of L&D is to understand what the organisation is focused on achieving and to think about the capabilities required to deliver on it – at multiple levels, from individuals to teams to business units.
It is about ensuring that the focus relates to the frameworks of expectation within the organisation – strategy, structures, values, cultures and subcultures. This will go some way to ensuring that results make sense within differing organisational contexts.
It is also crucial to understand that this is a changing dynamic and one which we have a responsibility as future L&D professionals to calibrate to ensure continued alignment.
L&D professionals need to be close to the stakeholders in their organisations and have a full understanding of their needs through deep inquiry thanks to precise questioning and high quality listening.
Fundamentally, it is about figuring out, in partnership with stakeholders at multiple levels, what will make the most difference and focusing effort accordingly. This will be organisation-specific, and if you have aligned your focus, and consulted appropriately, it should be very clear what is most relevant.
How often are unwieldy programmes of learning designed and developed only to be ready for delivery when the moment has passed? It is nearly impossible for L&D teams to compete with real-time problem solving available via resources that are at our fingertips.
L&D must recognise and respond to the fact that individuals and teams are navigating their own learning day to day and ask themselves how best they can enhance this further; by being the initiators of new technologies, experts in getting stuff done and keen learners themselves.
For L&D teams, this is not the time to rest, it is the time to go beyond. We have a lot to offer and we need to start believing it. Start the conversation in your team, ask deep questions in your organisations, and start using ART to blaze the trail for the new dawn of learning.
About Naomi Lockwood
I am a Learning and Organisational Development professional, committed to working in partnership to enhance individual, team and organisational effectiveness. I have worked across public and private sectors to develop high performing individuals and teams.
In 2017, I won the Chief Learning Officer of the year at the LPI's global Learning Awards having been nominated by a member of my team.