Learning & Development has taken on many guises and it is time to reimagine the role once again.

Gone are the days when ‘one size fits all’ (if they were ever here in the first place) and the last decade of technological advancement means we now have learners demanding the same learning experience at work they can enjoy at home.

When you want to know how to change the oil filter on your car, or wire a plug or use a new piece of software you don’t even think of looking for a course on the topic; you likely turn to either the internet and video tutorials or you ask someone you know. Today’s learners expect the same at work and L&D need to meet those expectations else they risk becoming irrelevant in the workplace.

What about the needs of the organisation? What is the role of L&D within the business in the future? Certainly not what it currently is or perceived to be. Today’s L&D is seen as a ‘jack of all trades but master of none’, existing only to deliver on-boarding or compliance training – or to fix things that are wrong as if just attending a training course is a magic pill.

Wrong.

What does L&D need to be? An enabler. A fully paid up and integrated stakeholder within the organisation and working to meet the business need rather than training needs.

L&D professionals are still creating all-encompassing courses, not allowing any stone to remain unturned in case something comes back to bite them, yet that is often NOT what the business needs. Trainers have become risk averse to such a degree that we train everybody as if they are all at the same level, all needing exactly the same learning and at a time of our choosing. That is not a realistic business objective. Don’t train people on things they already know. The business likely couldn’t care less about a course aim or training objectives. What they care about is the difference the training makes, what impact it has on the bottom line or the service being provided to their customers.

How does the modern L&D deliver something so different? Go back to basics and identify the reason L&D exists – to deliver business outcomes. That’s it. If training content does not directly and positively impact the business then why are we doing it? And if you don’t know what business objectives you are working to deliver how will you know if you have delivered them?

L&D will be working in full partnership with the business to identify business skills gaps and knowledge gaps, to ensure compliance training is in place and delivered in the most appropriate, relevant and timely manner for each person. True, on-boarding will still need to be done at the same time, when they join the company, but does it need to be delivered in the same way? Rather than time consuming and costly face to face training, provide them with access to a personalised series of interactive modules that take into account previous experience and knowledge, allowing them to explore their new organisation and their role the way they want to. Let’s given them access to training videos, podcasts, slideshows and e-learning modules away from work so if they want to they can do them outside of work, probably on the train to and from work.

Don Taylor has challenged L&D departments everywhere to “abandon the things that you love”. Why? Because those things are now outdated – but we are really good at them. We are great at creating courses, writing training objectives and responding to phone calls asking if we can ‘fix my team’ or digging out training records from 5 years ago when dealing with complaints that ‘I wasn’t trained to do it that way’.

We often lose sight of our reason for existing – and so does the organisation we support. Training is only part of the journey it should never just be the destination. Once the training has been delivered there must be an ongoing investment in that person’s learning and development that extends back in to the workplace. If someone says after 12 months in the job that they weren’t trained to do it that way then - yes it is possible the training is at fault, but - it is more likely a lack of effective management and on the job development. L&D must fit into the overall business picture and not be treated or act as a silo, something that is just pulled out of the cupboard when something is needed, or blame needs to be apportioned.

L&D has a wealth of experience and knowledge of the business they work in but more than that they also have – or should have – an excellent understanding of how to break that business’s functions and requirements down into perfectly crafted scenarios, lessons, videos, photos or user guides – whatever the learner would most benefit from using. It’s L&D that have the expertise in how best any training can be delivered, not the rest of the business. Yes, the business can have their opinions and suggestions, but learning is not their business. It is ours. So, when a manager phones and asks for a course to address a need they have identified, it’s not our role to say yes – it’s our role to ask why a course is needed and say no if necessary. Let’s do our job properly and identify training needs accurately, which often results in a course NOT being the answer. Why? Because we are delivering business needs and outcomes not training needs and outcomes. Yes, we can provide a course, but should we and will it deliver the required change?

So what’s the point of L&D? First, to live up to our name and learn and develop ourselves and reimagine our future role. Deliver what the business needs in a way that meets the individual learners’ needs. Become a fully integrated part of the corporate structure and one of the stakeholders that delivers business outcomes. Start letting go of past, successful methods and look for new ways to deliver personalised and collaborative learning rather than training.

And then, when we get it right, it will probably be time to do it again.

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