Transformational L&D

James Flanagan explores some of the key factors a specialist needs when delivering first-rate learning

Behind every great learning and development (L&D) specialist stands an even greater CEO. A CEO who utilises the skills of his L&D manager to align the thoughts and behaviours of his people to create an organisation that is greater than the sum of its stakeholders.

The ultimate aim of L&D is to lead people to personal growth. Growth which leads to action. Action based on sound understanding and enlivened by contemplation, self-discipline, initiative, integrity and accuracy.

L&D specialists transform. Transformation occurs when they, the specialists, understand how functional organisations are structured. They have a systematic structure to training analysis and delivery but most importantly, they have a personal philosophy that allows them to both meet people not only where they are but as their equals.

To do this, the L&D specialist must be free of personal derailing baggage. Not everyone wants to change and therefore may not want to learn and develop. Free of their own derailing baggage, the L&D specialist can enter the world of those they are trying to change and understand their world view, attitudes and their origins.

How functional organisations are structured

In sailing, before navigating a route, the captain knows his ship, where it is and the resources available.

Similarly, the L&D specialist needs to understand the organisation, where it is, what resources it has and where it can go. As with the experienced sailor, the first question for the L&D specialists is to discover where the organisation is and then determine given its resources where it can get to and the approach necessary to make that happen. That means creating the conditions to help people develop their skills and creating an environment that allows the continual interplay of experience, reflection and action to move forward.

A functional organisation is formed of a structure, enablers and behaviours that align and support each other. At an enterprise level, the structure comprises of the organisation chart, the mission and the strategy. At the team level, it is about process design, team roles in the processes and the cross functional relationships between the processes. For the individual, it is about their job roles and having the necessary, skills, accountability, authority and responsibility to conduct them effectively.

The enablers that make that happen are, at the enterprise level, the organisational goals and strategies. At the team level, it is the departmental goals and the information flow from whom to where, when and how. For the individual, it is skill level and the reward system to make it happen.

The behaviours required at the enterprise level define the culture and disarm strategies that undermine the organisation goals and mission. At the team level, it is about providing support and leadership development programmes. At the individual level, it is about monitoring the attainment of goals and taking appropriate actions for non performance   

An understanding of this alignment and relations between the parts or elements of organisation will give the specialist a firm foundation to conduct their training needs analysis (TNA).

Training needs analysis

A thorough TNA is the foundation of a robust L&D programme. It is the catalyst for developing awareness in both the individual and the organisation. Developing awareness is the foundation to creating an environment where people think more creatively and laterally. Awareness also increases the confidence necessary to implement changes to the way we think and work; we are prepared to try something new. If we are more aware of ourselves, we also become more understanding of the people we engage or work with. This understanding creates a more co-operative environment or changes competition into co-operation and thus creates a more flourishing organisation.

The TNA begins the L&D process of change and moving the organisation to one where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire. New and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured and collective aspiration is set free.

A TNA is a review of the learning and development skill level and needs of the members of the organisation. It analyses the competencies, attitudes, skills, knowledge, thoughts and behaviours of the people. If conducted effectively, it will sow the seed of change and begin ‘the unfreezing’ of the status quo. The results from the TNA are an input into the L&D strategy and plan.

The TNA is conducted to ensure the L&D programme that will be developed and delivered is effective and meets the specific requirements and needs of the organisation. Its purpose will depend on why it is being undertaken, it may be because the organisation has set new goals, it feels it is underperforming and is not achieving its potential or the organisation is designing a new IT management system and people will need to know and understand how to use the
system effectively.

Those leading the TNA need to be aware both of their own attitude and that of the people undertaking the analysis. L&D does not always have a positive image within organisations. Those leading the analysis need to be aware they are dealing with people; people who have potential. The TNA is being undertaken to harness that potential and allow people to become more than they are.

An effective TNA will also highlight other important issues within the organisation, people’s attitude to L&D, the morale and the culture. This information needs to be harnessed and communicated to the relevant departments e.g. there may be a morale or communication need and corrective action will need to be taken. 

An awareness of the TNA needs to be created and people need to know there is benefit to them and the organisation if they complete it. Rumours do develop and escalate and it is important people do not feel it is a witch hunt. The role of the communications department is therefore important in making people aware of the survey, why it is being undertaken and why it will benefit them. People like to feel part of something big.

The method of conducting the analysis is also important. Most people will have access to a computer and will be able to complete it online. But an email in their inbox may be missed or if it is just read, it may not generate the enthusiasm or interest required to generate the meaty results that are required.

In our age of computerisation, it is easy to abdicate responsibility to IT. An electronic survey, however, does not capture feelings, emotions or desires. Nothing can replace the value of one-to-one contact and human interaction. Spending time with people and asking them their opinion adds weight and creditability to the survey. People speak more freely than they will write. Interviews, although time-consuming, allow for verification of the findings; people will accept the findings because they feel they have been listened to. Being listened to is affirming. Once involved personally, people will want to know more and be more involved.

An effective TNA is the bedrock of a flourishing organisation. When conducted properly it will help to gauge attitudes and morale within the company. Involving people by interviewing them for verification will help it to gain momentum. The initial outcome of the TNA is greater awareness, we know where we are. The training solution must nurture this and develop it so the culture of the organisation becomes one of continuing learning, adaptability and therefore guaranteeing the long-term success of the organisation.

Training delivery

How much we learn depends upon our experiences, what we observe, our reflections and what we draw from them.

Kolb1 identifies learning as a process not just a result. It is about relearning and the re-examining of beliefs. It is about adaptability to the world. Conflict, disagreement and differences are what drive the learning process.

Knowledge results from a combination of active conceptualisations, concrete transforming experiences and reflective observation.

Experiential learning is a process of constructing knowledge that involves a creative tension among the four learning modes that is responsive to what is happening around us. Experience, reflecting, thinking and acting are the four modes and touch all the bases. A recursive process that is responsive to the learning situation and what is being learnt. How much we learn depends upon our experiences, what we observe, our reflections and what we draw from them.

We all have different and preferred learning styles and this must be captured and reflected in the solution designed. Some people learn through listening, others through observing, others through experimentation.

The learning experience must move beyond rote knowledge to the development of the more complex learning skills of understanding, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation.

To utilise Kolb’s model, the instructor, encourages the students to gather and recollect the material of their own experience. They then create the conditions where they can distil what they understand already in terms of facts, feelings, values, insights and intuitions they bring to the subject matter at hand.

Later the instructor guides the students in assimilating new information and further experience so that their knowledge will grow. The instructor lays the foundations for learning by engaging students in skills and techniques of reflection. Here memory, understanding, imagination and feelings are used to grasp the essential meaning and value of what is being studied, to discover its relationship to other facets of human knowledge and activity and to appreciate its implications.

Reflection should be a formative and a liberating process. Initially it can be terrifying and shapes the consciousness of students – habitual attitudes, values and beliefs as well as ways of thinking – so that they are impelled to move beyond knowing to action.

The role of the instructor is to see that opportunities are provided that will challenge the imagination and exercise the will to choose the best possible course of action to flow from and follow-up on what they have learnt.

What they do as a result in their workplace will be a step in that direction and towards that goal, even if it merely leads to new experiences, further reflections and consequent actions within the subject area under consideration.


It is not the role of the L&D specialist to convince the executives of the benefits of L&D and their role in making it happen. But rather it is the role of the executive to seek out a L&D specialist who knows how functional organisations work, can conduct an effective TNA and design a L&D solution that brings learning alive by making it about experiences, observations, reflections and what we drawn from them.


1. David Kolb, 1984, ‘Experiential Learning: Experience As The Source Of Learning And Development


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