Escaping the L&D Echo Chamber

March 8, 2019

L&D has been talking about the need for change for what seems like a very long time.

We know the narrative off by heart. Digital transformation, new patterns of working, new organisational structures and a constantly changing skills landscape, have combined to leave the role of L&D in question, never mind the impact (if any) it is delivering for the business.

Alongside this is the talk of an L&D department that is acutely aware of the need to evolve; to take on a more strategic, commercially-focused role; and to deliver competitive advantage in a skills-driven future economy.

L&D knows what’s needed and we’re hell bent on delivering it.

That’s how the story goes… at least in the L&D industry.

Step outside the L&D echo chamber and you might be surprised to learn that there is a whole other perspective on L&D’s place in the world, both now and in the future.

Another side to the L&D story

We recently carried out research exploring L&D’s role within organisations today, the internal and external factors that are impacting upon it, and how best it should re-invent itself over the coming years. You can read the full white paper, How to solve a problem like L&D, here.

Significantly, we didn’t just ask L&D professionals for their opinions, as valuable though they are. We also spoke to business managers, the people responsible for assembling, managing and retaining teams, and whose success comes down to the skills and competencies of their talent.

It may seem blindingly obvious, but it’s a point on which the L&D industry should reflect.  Our research actually found that 44% of line managers are frustrated by L&D’s lack of collaboration and alignment with the business. Too many L&D departments are still operating in a silo and clearly that’s a problem.

The word from the business

By talking to the wider business, we’ve confirmed some things that we already knew or at least suspected. Business managers want L&D to become more proactive, to get better at predicting future skills and to align measurement to tangible business metrics such as productivity and performance.

But we’ve also uncovered some really interesting and surprising insights, three of which I will touch on here, and are worth consideration for any L&D professional. (There are lots more in the white paper, which you can find here).

Firstly, line managers are significantly more positive about L&D’s current value than L&D professionals themselves and, far from wanting the L&D department to be put out to pasture, they are actually demanding a more influential, strategic and empowered L&D function at the heart of the organisation. The situation isn’t as bleak as we sometimes make out.

Secondly, there is a stark disconnect between L&D and business managers about who should take responsibility for day-to-day training requirements across the business. Line managers are adamant that L&D must hand over responsibility to them, whereas L&D professionals remain reluctant to do so, even though they acknowledge the need to focus their efforts on more strategic activities.

It’s possible that this refusal to ‘let go’ is the single biggest reason why L&D has struggled to evolve in line with business needs over the last couple of years.

Finally, despite differing opinions on where L&D should be focusing its attention over the next two years and how it should approach its own transformation, business managers and L&D professionals do share a common vision of how L&D can best serve the needs of the organisation in the future. That’s an L&D function that connects people, processes and skills, enables organisational change and drives transformation.

It’s time for L&D to stop worrying about the future and to start listening to our colleagues around the business. We need to recognise line managers as valuable partners in delivering skills and instilling positive learning cultures across our organisations.

There’s an exciting future out there for L&D – we just need to listen a bit more.

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