Liability or Asset? I'm conducting some research and would love to know. . .

I'd like to conduct some quick-and-dirty research into the perceptions that your organisation has of its L&D (or training, or whatever you call it) function.

The simple question is:

Does your organisation view your L&D function as a liability or an asset?  Please just respond with either "liability" or "asset."  If you'd like to justify your response then please do.

Thanks in advance.


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That's brilliant David - many thanks.

Hi Jonathan - in my experience there is a huge correlation between the perception of the L&D function and the percentage of their time spent on compliance/ risk avoidance (as opposed to performance). The greater the percentage of compliance the more it's seen as a nuisance; perhaps liability is a bit harsh - especially as most line functions are delighted not to have the "compliance monkey" on their backs.

It tends to be those L&D organisations that enable people to work smarter that are perceived as assets.

Hope that contributes to the discussion - what do others think?

Asset, our training is viewed as a strategic advantage, these are tough times for us and our competitors, training is there to assist our staff in maintaining a high level of productivity with less, while at the same time preparing for the upswing that we're certain is  just around the corner. :-) By continuing to invest in the future of our staff, we invest in the future of our organisation and in society as a whole. 

Alan and Andrew,

Good points from both of you.  Clearly the performance angle wins hearts within organisations yet we're still seeing enormous pressures on L&D budgets.

Why, despite the good news do you think this is; or is it that very few people (understandably) date admit that their department is a liability?

Would be interested to hear what people think.


Jonathan, talking from personal experience, I believe that a lot of it is down to the churn in the training world over the past few years. In 2008 60% of our team, all management, were made redundant. As a result training lost connection with senior management, we also lost a lot of experience and knowledge of what a professional training provider did and was responsible for. For example, it took me until 2010 to realise that I needed to ask for budget, and justify it, in August. This meant that I needed to undertake needs analysis in June, and not January, as I previously believed. We were not a professional training provider to our business.

My belief is that this is likely to have happened across the industry, and that where experienced staff have been retrenched other's have been expected to pick up what they could, leaving a large number of fairly important gaps unfilled, and these gaps are likely what added the most value.

So back to your initial question, even though training has been effected by redundancies and budget cuts, it's not personal, most departments and organisations have had the same experience. We've just looked at it as another opportunity to build a solid a reputation for delivering results, in good or bad times.

If we walk around with our heads in the sands, believing that our business sees us as a liability, then we are in fact seeing ourselves as a liability, and it becomes self perpetuating, however if we look at what it takes to be a professional in our industry, and realise that we need to take the good with the bad, then we have a chance of making a huge difference in workplace learning. 

Thanks for your reply Andrew.  

I agree that the concept of a self-fulfilling prophecy is almost inevitable during times of hardship and change.  It's also very interesting that as an L&D department you changed your approach (needs analysis) to better fit with the needs of the business and also tailored your approach to budgets too.

Perhaps, dare I suggest, you made the effort to move your department from a position of liability to one of an asset and this is why you now have a more enlightened outlook on the future.

Those organisations that work on the basis that L&D adds value - as opposed to requires a budget - seen to me to have far less pressure on budgets. I sincerely believe that L&D's fundamental position is that it needs management support (dare I use the word governance) to determine those areas in which it can create the greatest value-add - and then execute. I do see many L&D functions drawn into activities that do not maximise value-add, and then get drawn into difficult budget discussions! 

So, to cut to the chase - focus on value-add (performance benefit or risk avoidance) rather than the budget itself. That way, you're putting your management into a position in which they are denying the organisation value rather than authorising expenditure!


Based on personal perceptions of the team's impact, but also on feedback from business stakeholders. And to support the  points made above, our function (L&D) is only marginally involved with delivering compliance training, and our clear focus and vision is on performance enhancement aligned to business goals.


Also if we were a liability we would not be here.  Like Andrew's experience our 'training department' was reduced by 50% in 2007/8, whereas in 2011 we were able to increase headcount again - with strong suport from the business

Thanks for this Simon.  Again it would seem that business alignment (as we've always known) is a key element for success.

Alan raises an excellent point. Working in the public sector, it is very difficult for L&D to move away from the all consuming, ever changing constraints of legislation and compliance stuff into a more transformational role....and yet, more and more we are asked to prove our impact on the business in order to justify spend. Difficult to do when so many 'boxes require ticking' and the boxes keep changing!

So, with heavy heart I guess we fall into liability...?.! But I think there is a lot to learn within our L&D department regarding making the links back to learning activity from business impact - not something we have historically done or made time to do. Also we are rather reactive, not enough data analysis from not so obvious places in order to inform key learning opportunities.

Hi Gwyneth,

This is becoming an interesting discussion.  Clearly within your organisation there is an issue with demonstrating the real impact to the bottom line which is causing you to say 'liability.'  I would however (lightly) challenge Alan's view that spending time on compliance is not a performance driver for an organisation.

In my experience it's the way that compliance (and other such training) is approached that can make the real difference.  Yes, compliance training can be a real pain, but doing it well, and avoiding compliance related issues within the organisation can be 'sold' on a performance basis.  Just get it wrong a few times and see how much it costs the organisation in terms of fines, reputation and management time to sort it out!

As with other posts, it's clear that business alignment and clear demonstration of added value helps enormously.

Agree but more frequently its hard to do anything but compliance related training! We're developing new ways to deliver it now and really starting to move forward through learning technologies - hoping that this will make a difference. Of course you are right re performance but we have to 'manage' the compliance training better in order to free up the resources to impact on some of the other areas of business. Until then we're just the people who deliver 'that mandatory stuff' rather than 'the ones who transformed a service'.

One more point on compliance related stuff - its extremely difficult to demonstrate anything other than a contribution to the performance and the measurement of that contribution can be a difficult one. Answers on a postcard!



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