Is your L&D department business-focused enough?

In the first of a two part-feature, deputy editor Jo Cook looks at the performance of L&D teams. 

You’ve all heard the accusations, around L&D’s lack of focus on performance in the business.

It’s not surprising: the 2017 Learning Transfer Research report shows that in Australia and the UK “28% of respondents feel they are seen as strategic advisors within their business. Moving to more of a strategic advisor role is seen by many as being critical to the future success of the L&D function.”

Yet the same report highlights that “learning is still limited at creating real change” with 67% of respondents reporting “less than 40% of learning is sustained into long term job performance improvement.”

It also paints a terrible picture of our industry by stating it’s finding that “in the UK only 11% of respondents have any kind of success evaluation to analyse the effects of training on job performance.” So perhaps the accusations are fair.

What’s your reality?

An important element to this discussion is context. In the 2017 Workplace Learning Report, LinkedIn Learning Solutions found that 330 of the 500 US and Canadian L&D professionals they surveyed were centralised in the organisation.

If you are a learning professional in a team within an organisation, when was the last time you asked what the business strategy was and how your team contributed towards that?

The remaining third were spread across HR or other operational departments. They also found that smaller organisations focused on technical skills whilst the larger organisations looked more at career development and soft skills.

So with this disparity in even where L&D teams are located we can’t make sweeping statements of a whole industry. We can only use the data (usually, but not always, from L&D managers) we have about the types and sizes of companies in the geographies that they represent to get an understanding of what is going on.

We also have to take into account that the learning industry is a people industry within a work industry. There’s a lot of breadth to what we do.

The 2017 Workplace Learning Report showed that less than a quarter of respondents were “willing to recommend their program to peers. Perhaps connected to this is the fact that only 60% said L&D leaders have a seat at the table with their C-suite.” 

Are these two facts causally related? If you think that your learning programme isn’t very good, is that related to your own standards of work or the amount of decision making you can perform in your own role? Or is it related to the bigger issues of the technology available to you, resources of budget and time, which might well be the role of the L&D manager or further up that chain?

The challenges section of the report will also be very familiar, with answers around budget, ROI, buy-in and data being things that are often shared in the L&D rhetoric. At least ‘aligning to the company’s overall strategy’ is in the list, though it’s fifth out of 11 challenges.

Where is the business focus?

The report also asked what the main objectives of the company’s L&D strategy was, with answers including “develop managers and leaders” and “train all employees globally in one cohesive way”. But is this question shooting ourselves in our L&D foot? Should we not be asking how L&D are supporting the business objectives?

If you are a learning professional in a team within an organisation, rather than a vendor, when was the last time you asked what the business strategy was and how your team contributed towards that? And if you are any kind of consultant and vendor how do you know what the business objectives are and how the teams you are working with support that?

Alarming results

“What are the top ways you measure the success of L&D at your company?” is the last section of this report I’m going to focus on here. I’m shocked at the results. Out of the 14 answers, five of them are a version of “bums on seats” and five of them are a version of “happy sheets”.

Not one of the answers was anything to do with the performance of people in the organisation or the business drivers. This is something that frustrated me during the TJ Awards judging, how little focus on the business impact there was in the applications. You can read more in my magazine column.

Jo Cook will be on the panel for GoodPractice’s live podcast ‘L&D: What’s the state of the nation?’ recording on the evening of day one of the CIPD L&D conference 2018. Register for a free ticket here.


About the author

Jo Cook is deputy editor of TJ.


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