Why Does L&D Exist In Your Organisation?

Following on from the fascinating conversation sparked by Sukh Pabial, continued by Myles Runham and most recently by Anthony Williams, I want to make a couple of further points.

Last week, Sukh and I enjoyed a rich conversation about the current purpose of L&D, but a key point that has been slightly lost is that my contention was that, I believe, L&D needs to move beyond ‘learning’ to focus on ‘performance’ outcomes. For this to happen, a Performance Consulting conversation at the outset, rather than a Training / Learning Needs Analysis, will start us on a better footing but the key to it is recognising our purpose before engaging in the conversation – and well before we apply a ‘solution’.

The way I think we fast-track to our purpose is by considering how we present ourselves to our company CEO, President or owner. Imagine them taking a welcome interest in your L&D function and asking you:

“What do you do then?”

Those at the top of organisations large enough to have a Learning & Development function generally have something about them (understatement). Usually very smart, commercial, not afraid to make tough decision, and yet good with people… and they don’t suffer fools gladly.

If your CEO asked you “what do you do then?” what would you say?

I think this is a useful way of considering why your function exists in your organisation because L&D is introduced – and then run – to meet specific needs, in the context in which the organisation – and its people – operates.

I recommend this exercise because, in my experience (too often), L&D do ‘stuff’ – and talk about ‘stuff’ – that limits our potential. For example, running programmes because there wouldn’t be any programmes otherwise, is not a good enough reason to exist. Again, too often, programmes are designed and delivered because it’s what L&D can and want to do. Imagine saying that to your CEO: “I run programmes.” Fair enough. If you’re fairly low down in the hierarchy, your CEO might nod and tell you to crack on. As Ben Betts said in a recent Mindchimp podcast (a brilliant series of podcasts, by the way), “the reason everything matters in e-learning, is because the stakes are so low…” and I think that could be the case for L&D more generally.

I don’t know about you but I don’t like that what we do may be considered ‘low stakes’. Perhaps, it’s because I see the potential of our function in helping everybody to be better at their jobs, to overcome challenges in their work and careers, and develop the capability the organisation really needs. And that’s what I’d tell my CEO I do.

The reason I want to talk about this (why L&D exists in our organisations) is because I see and hear such soft and abstract reasons for our existence and think we’re missing the point. Does your CEO want to know that you:

  • Change behaviours?
  • Change mindsets?
  • Help people learn?
  • Run engaging programmes?
  • Provide learning content?

I think these soft and abstract descriptions of our value diminish our true potential – and our credibility.

I might be wrong and your CEO might be happy with one of these descriptions of why your L&D function exists but as the profession continues it’s shift from ‘learning’ to ‘performance’ outcomes it could be worthwhile to reassess and ensure that your raison d’etre and subsequent activities speak to what your CEO and their board values and not just what is expected from a traditional L&D function.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this conversation as it’s continued, since Sukh and I caught up last week, and look forward to it continuing…

David James is Digital Learning Strategist with Looop and was previously Director of Talent, Learning & OD for The Walt Disney Company’s EMEA region.

Now an authority in contemporary L&D practices, David works with businesses to develop and implement social, agile and digital learning strategies that make learning work, with Looop.

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