What does a 21st century L&D leader look like?

Tina Seth reflects on her career in learning and organisational design and development and asks how does L&D and OD connect?

In a previous life in the public sector I was an L&D practitioner and I am struck by the way my role has evolved over the years. Upon reflection, I’m not sure that it does represent an evolution maybe I have just come full circle.

Newer trends like e-learning and mobile learning make delivery much easier but are they as effective as face to face interaction? We will be exploring these trends in a networking event for Heads of Organisational design and L&D on 1st November. Key note speakers include Andy Lancaster, Head of L&D at the CIPD  and Naomi Stanford, leading DWP transformation.

Phase 1Give the business what you think it needs
In my early days my work was a menu driven delivery of face-to-face courses. I started out in the days of OHPs and flip charts, PowerPoint was still a little bit of an unknown, delivering a fixed schedule of repeated courses like: ‘Recruitment and Interviewing’, ‘Effective Communication’, ‘Performance Management’ and so forth. We picked up the trainer briefs and delivered the courses, week in week out to an unknown and random group of civil servants who generally left happy.

There was the odd light-bulb moment in a delegate’s eyes and the rarer, powerful moment when you shifted an entrenched view through skillful challenge, thinking on your feet and making a connection.

The skeptic seeing why hypothetical questions won’t work in an interview as you role play the scenario on the spot; or a brash lawyer finally conceding that SMART objectives will work for their job because you’ve demonstrated how in 20 seconds on a flip chart. I’ve read hundreds of articles on the digital learning revolution – MOOCS, webinars, Ted Talks, holograms and robots and they do have their place – but only human interaction will work for those deeply entrenched notions.

The big questions remain though – did my delegates perform better? Did the learning translate to business improvements? Or even were there any business expectations?  This menu driven approach shed little light on these issues.

Phase 2 – Find out what the business needs
I then moved on to a new and exciting role in L&D consultancy. My brief was to reduce spend across departments  and align what we offer to the business strategy, my mantra was to establish a line of sight from the  business plan or strategy to the L&D department.

I turned this into an art form, delivering many presentations to senior management teams, proudly displaying my beloved ‘line of sight’ – facing quizzical and unconvinced looks. They still asked for what they thought they wanted “drafting skills please because no-one writes properly” despite the fact that the drafting ‘skills’ were defined by their own stylistic preferences and idiosyncrasies.

Phase 3 – Does the business know what it needs? 
This was a pretty radical question and so I moved to organisational design and development – always gaining momentum. Are we organised in the right way to deliver the strategy, is the culture right, what needs to change? How do we get people to change?

Here I had my own light bulb moment that L&D is the last piece in the jigsaw, but it’s seen as a panacea, train people and everything will be all right. There is little alignment with the training and the culture of the organisation.

An operational leader can attend a progressive leadership course acclaiming the current Civil Service leadership standards and then return to the same command and control hierarchy. They have changed but their organisation has not, what point is there learning how to innovate when a risk averse culture, deep in layers of control sets the agenda? Therein lies the rub, how much can training – even the best quality training – make a difference if the organisation is not aligned?  

So my question is – what does the savvy and inspiring L&D practitioner need today to break the deadlock? How does the OD and L&D world connect?

About the author

Tina Seth is a learning consultant at Dods Training. Click here to register for the event. 

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