Finding L&D’s place within the business

Should L&D sit within human resources or as its own empowered business unit? Mark Bilney investigates.

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The question of whether L&D should reside within HR or as its own empowered business unit remains a contentious issue in many large organisations. However, it is an important debate to have if L&D is to remain a relevant asset to today’s businesses.

Often, even when L&D is a mature and established department, it tends to remain as a function of HR and often there appears to be a sense of detachment from the primary business drivers (provision of services or products).

When we have witnessed L&D working to align with key business areas and objectives, this has been driven by the business areas themselves rather than by L&D.

We see very different imperatives driving training procurement for a more traditional HR-based approach, versus where L&D services are procured directly by the business areas.

Overall, it often feels as though L&D are passive participants, not proactive in bringing their services and capabilities to the party.

However, with an increasing business focus on efficiencies and cost savings, competitive advantage being derived through customer experience, and the ongoing pressures of digital transformation, L&D has a real opportunity to take a seat at the transformation table.

They can do this by focusing training around specific business needs and by building cohorts of people with similar problems to solve – rather than having courses ‘open to all’.

L&D should sit where it can link closely to the business agenda and best deliver measurable, positive benefits

While we have the desire to create a Peter Senge-style continuous learning organisation, we also must appreciate that L&D cannot be a passenger on the business journey; it has to be seen as a key component within the organisation to bring about change and growth.  

L&D can impact ROI

In the main, spend on training is low – only 12% of companies have a budget of more than £600 per annum per employee. But if that training improves performance by 20%, reduces errors or complaints by 15%, reduces the cost to serve by 10%; then suddenly the spend per head is largely irrelevant, because the return on investment is both positive and very measurable.

In this situation, L&D is no longer a cost to the business, but rather a value-add service contributing to the success of the organisation.

At a time when some businesses are converting face-to-face learning to e-learning specifically to save money, L&D really does have an opportunity to show the measurable value-add and play an essential part of business growth. 

There is also a known correlation between colleague engagement and customer experience. By getting it right for colleagues within your business, you are often helping to get it right for customers interacting with your business as well – improving the human experience (something we call HX), all round.


For L&D to be a partner within the business, they must first and foremost understand the company purpose and strategy.

Collaboration is the key

Second, they will need to work in partnership with HR. If HR and L&D work collaboratively to ensure a healthy people function, which is in line with the company purpose, ultimately everything else should cascade from there. This includes measuring people’s performance and contribution.

If you understand what your customer needs and how you are going to provide that, you will be able to provide training that directly supports that business purpose.

Furthermore, when personal performance measures align with the business purpose and also the learning outcomes, the result is a positive one for all. 

Some of the most successful L&D teams are made up of a mix of L&D professionals and people from the business areas; those who understand ‘what we do and how we do it’ and can translate that into training requirements.

When a transformation strategy is being shaped, L&D need to be involved early on and those people with both the business insight and the L&D experience will play an extremely important part in ensuring the business has the skillset it needs to be successful.

So where should L&D sit? It’s probably the wrong question to ask. What is critical is that, whatever your organisational design or operating model, L&D sits where it can link closely to the business agenda and where it can best deliver measurable, positive benefits.


About the author

Mark Bilney is MD of Learning & Development at Gobeyond Partners




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