The value of networking for Learning and Development

Written by Helen Blunden on 9 March 2016

There is much discussion online about the future of Learning and Development and how teams can support their workforce to build capability during a time of constant change and volatility. Yet, how much do L&D teams understand and experience this pressure first hand from their client's perspective?

Some organisations have centralised their learning teams to streamline processes, reduce costs and build efficiencies across departments. On the one hand, this has saved organisation money.  On the other, it has disconnected learning teams to understand the critical day-to-day operations of their business.

Every morning I walk for an hour for my daily exercise. I use this time to listen to podcasts that educate and provide me with ideas to incorporate into my work.  

This morning I listened to Paul Morgan, Head of Learning and Development at Telefonica O2 be interviewed on LearningNow Radio. He talked about the importance of L&D to network.

This made me reflect on the times when networking both as a member of an L&D team and also now, as an independent consultant, was critical for me to understand the business of my clients.

My background is a performance consultant, having received my qualifications, skills and experience when I was in the military. The performance consultancy skills have helped me understand my client, their business and their challenges and at the same time, allowed me to become their trusted business advisor.

However, performance consultancy was also a source of constant frustration especially when the expectation by some was that I was there instead to design, deliver and create training and compliance content rather than solve business problems.  

Listening to Paul’s story reminded me of the time in my recent career when my employer had implemented a flexi-desk policy that meant that we could sit anywhere we liked.

I thought that this was a perfect opportunity to work in different workplaces and get to know the business. After all, my reasoning was we were all from the same company, so what’s stopping me from working outside of head office?

I called up retail shops, business centres, customer contact centres across metropolitan and suburban areas and asked if I could work with them on certain days of the week. My particular favourite was working in my own suburb because it connected me with my local community.

Team leaders were open to the idea of me sitting amongst their team, attending their daily team meetings and in general, listening and observing how the team functioned and worked together. As an external observer it gave me clarity of the performance issues, their workplace environment and the challenges that these team members and line managers faced. It also gave me an appreciation of their dedication to their work, fellow team members and their customers.

In return, I was able to offer customised and specialised solutions to their performance problems that together, as a team, they would discuss, consider and deliberate a plan of action to implement, measure and evaluate.  

Working out in their teams also had other advantages. I was able to bring new work back to my own team at head office and see more opportunities for cross departmental teams to connect and collaborate with each other. Many times, the solutions were never about forcing training but more about facilitating connections and relationships to occur. This, in turn, allowed me to promote the services of L&D as connectors and business partners.

I would recommend that if you wanted to understand your business client and if it the opportunity was available, to immerse yourself into their daily business operating environment and experience it first hand for yourself. Working with your clients in their own ‘space’ gives you an appreciation of what the problems are and why they do the things they do. You are then able to devise appropriate solutions which are aligned to their needs and in the process, build trust and credibility for the services that L&D provide to their business.

 

About the author 

Helen Blunden is the Founder of Activate Learning SolutionsHelen can be contacted via helen.blunden@activatelearning.com.au and on Twitter @ActivateLearn

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