Creating an agile L&D function

Rachel Kuftinoff and Joe Tidman discuss the importance of agility in L&D.

An agile learning strategy must be capable of handling cultural shifts within an organisation. Photo credit: Fotolia 

Agility is creating a learning function with rapid development built in, to meet the demand of changes in the workforce. Providing up-to-date, relevant content for employees is a core mandate for L&D teams and there are many challenges that make this difficult. 

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At the World of Learning event, many comments came from delegates about the difficulties of achieving an agile learning function. Budget is one of the more common factors, alongside language barriers. Another is the perception that employees are all doing OK, which leads to a lack of motivation to create change.

Speed of decision-making within an international organisation is a factor, and Joe Tidman, director of learning capabilities at GSK, addressed this issue. He went one step further to say that not only is the ability to respond quickly important, it has to be a response to the right signals, and what is needed for the organisation. 

Learning and Development departments can sometimes have the culture of order-takers. We are told to do something, and we go and do it. Are we treating the symptom and not the disease? L&D need to investigate whether the requests are really learning needs, and whether the action will have any value. 

Outsourcing an organisation’s learning spend and implementation of a new, global curriculum can keep track of the management of the learning strategy while moving towards three aims: prioritising what is important, spending time on learning consultancy, and involving L&D within business strategy. 

It is fundamental to introduce a global capability model. Without a single structure it is much harder to measure success, and a range of different models with similar, confusing language means you can’t compare apples with apples.

An employee logging on to a learning portal to find hundreds of pages of results for the topic they searched for is confusing and time consuming for them. The resources are there, but not easily accessible, and certainly not agile. It is not uncommon for the number of learning solutions in an organisation to reach several thousand, and it’s rare that more than 10 per cent of them are actually used. 

You can increase the credibility of your online and virtual offerings by altering this. The challenge lies in managing these ever expanding libraries to ensure that learners can find the content they need. This was achieved at GSK by switching online learning provisions off before re-uploading the relevant content by creating a clear gap and distinction between the old and the new.

An agile learning strategy must be capable of handling cultural shifts within an organisation. IT provision cannot be taken for granted across the company as bandwidth supply and the availability of devices, computers or even internet cafes must be taken into account. Affinity with technology is not always an age-related issue, but it can be a factor.

Organisations must also take the time to look at demographics and languages and take into account the differences between global and local, and each country’s individual culture. 

Modality is another issue. Learners may profess that they only like to be taught in a classroom, but that is because they have only ever experienced learning through school and earlier workplace learning.

When people say they don’t like virtual training, it usually means that they don’t like how it’s been done before. By concentrating on the design of the new learning strategy using cross business teams, cultural shifts can be combated.

There is currently a general trend of L&D leaning away from instructor led training. The move away from mainly face-to-face means that companies need to shift to find the correct balance, and the right mix of modality is important. GSK now uses an 80/10/10 combination with online learning, instructor led training, and classroom learning respectively. 

Standardisation versus personalisation is another balance that must be considered carefully. The standardisation must come first, with a consistent level of resources available across the company. Once that is in place and robust, with high quality content and capability, you can then start to look at personalised training. 

Personalisation is the future. Think of mobile phones – we all carry one around – and we are used to it being personalised to our choices, our apps, our preferences and contents. The typical amount of time that an employee can spend on training is one per cent. Employees, especially millennials, expect to be given what is ‘right’ for them. 

They haven’t got time to undertake a course that isn’t relevant and personalisation is all about relevancy. As this advances, we will start to see a further shift towards individual role personalisation, but the agile learning and development function must be in place and working first.

About the authors 

Rachel Kuftinoff is Learning Consultancy Director at KnowledgePool (part of Capita Learning Services) and spoke at this year’s World of Learning event alongside Joe Tidman, Director of Learning Capabilities at GSK


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