Do we need L&D?

performance support consultants

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Towards the close of a recent E-learning Network (ELN) event the discussion got around to whether organisations need learning in the shape and form in which it is currently supplied by the L&D department. The point is that learning feels like an activity that is disconnected from the business. Very few organisations would place L&D in the mission critical category. Often it’s seen as a cost which should be minimised wherever possible. The question was asked – ‘Would the organisation survive if L&D was axed?’ And the answer is probably a resounding yes! Learning would still go on of course but it would be self directed, informal (even social). This disconnect from the business is a big problem for L&D and it always has been.

Would the organisation survive if L&D were axed?

The name learning and development is in itself an issue because when we use the term development we are referring to the individual. We put people through learning interventions to develop them but we struggle to check whether this ‘development’ provides value to the business as well as to the learner’s themselves. If I send an employee on a management development course they may learn a lot but does what they learn make a difference to the business or are we just using L&D opportunities simply as an employee benefit.

During the discussion we suggested that a name change might be appropriate. What about going back to ‘training’ which somehow seems closer to the coal face. More popular was the idea to use the word ‘performance’ to make the link between learning and performance. Most organisations will happily allocate resources to activities that improve performance – especially if those improvements can be measured in some way. There is increasing pressure on people these days to do more and to perform better but L&D seems increasingly disconnected from this competitive imperative.

New approaches are being explored with the emphasis on the learning that really goes on in an organisation – the 70:20:10 framework and the focus on informal learning and social learning. It’s not really possible to manage social/informal learning – only support or encourage it and provide tools that improve it’s effectiveness. Maybe this is where L&D needs to go? Trainers should become ‘Performance Support Consultants’ and instead of delivering programmes to those who happen to turn up they should be facilitating performance improvements in specific areas of the business. This would place learning at the heart of the business and turn L&D from a cost centre into a profit centre – a potentially powerful one if we could get the metrics right. But it also needs L&D to be closer to the operational coal face and to really engage with the DNA of the business. In an increasingly competitive global knowledge economy learning (in all its guises) is way too important for it to fall between the organisational silos.

A case in point…
I have been involved in a number of sales training e-learning programmes over the last couple of years. In all cases the learning need came from the recognition by management that sales people were ‘resting on their laurels’ and that now the marketplace was much tougher they would need to ‘up their game’. The solution – some extra training. Now I wasn’t involved in any of the post learning evaluation (if it happened) but I’m sure that although the training would have been ‘useful’ it wouldn’t have solved the underlying problem (not enough sales). The reason is that training is a top down solution that is very rarely targeted effectively. Think  ’Bomber Harris’ not ‘Stealth Bomber’. What would have worked better would have been localised performance support initiatives. What might these have looked like? Well that’s a question for another post!

Coming Soon
Learning Metrics – Kirkpatrick in 2012
The ROI of Learning
What we can learn from KM?
Performance Support and the Five Moments of Need

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  • Sheridan Webb

    Thought provoking and relevant. The days of ‘sheep-dipping’ people are pretty much gone (there may still be specific occasions when it is appropriate), and that’s good. People need to prioritise their time (and learning) to focus on the things that will bring the best results. As a training designer myself (not elearning), almost all development programmes I’ve created have been ‘pick and mix’ with some aspects being core and others optional or flexible. This is true of everything from Induction to long management development programmes. I think it’s good for organisations to provide a framework via L&D, but then let it be user-driven.

    Sheridan Webb – Keystone Development

    • John Curran

      Sheep dipping is still very much alive in conventional e-learning I’m afraid but interest in the wider application of learning technologies (what I prefer to call online learning) is beginning to open new avenues for L&D to explore. I’m passionate about learning and about technology – together they really can fly bit we need to balance the learning and the technology appropriately.

      I’m currently looking for forward thinking L&D practitioners to help shape an online offer that is more orientated towards performance support. Interested?

  • Innovation Central

    Some interesting points put across, but struggle to agree with all of them. It is a prerequisite for an L&D department to understand the culture of the organisation. Any L&D intervention should have at its core the aim of enabling the business to achieve its strategy. Aligning the people strategy with the business strategy is why L&D exists…any L&D department worth its salt will understand this!

    All training/learning interventions should be undertaken with the express aim of improving performance…otherwise you may as well just flush your money down the toilet. Amending the titles of those facilitating the interventions to make them appear more dynamic will have no impact in my mind.

    In reference to your ‘case in point’…I agree that whoever commissioned the sheep-dip approach in this instance really hasn’t done their job properly. However, if the supplier doesn’t truly believe that such an approach will embed lasting change/performance improvement, then the onus is on them to make this clear to their Client…that comes down to integrity and believing in what you do

    • John Curran

      I agree that L&D (or rather HR) should be seamlessly aligned with the business strategy and I hear lots of HBR like strategic statements that sort of give you confidence that L&D/HR are on the case but it often falls down when it comes to the tactics (implementation). Too often L&D interventions are top down with very little attempt to find out what people really need to perform better. I’m drafting another post on Kaizen L&D or Lean L&D to try and explore what bottom-up might look like.

      Of course bottom-up is much harder than top down and so many pressed L&D departments do the best they can with the resources they have but this often ends up with a ‘training course’ (offline or online).

      • Innovation Central

        Let me know when it is out, be interested to have a look.

        The implementation does require a good deal of planning and skill to achieve maximum return…but a thorough assessment of needs, benchmarking of results and needs analysis always works wonders. Content should always be designed specifically in line with the org need, ensuring the tools, behaviours and techniques shared are easily applied back into the workplace.

        Additionally the L&D department have a responsibility to engage with the organisations line managers in order for them to support the long term application on the lessons learnt – leadership and management through the line.

  • Innovation Central

    John…the last point I made…to clarify…I wasn’t questioning your integrity and hope it didn’t come across that way! Pete

    • John Curran

      Pete – I was worried there for a bit but it’s actually a serious point. I do try and influence clients to do the ‘best thing’ but sometimes you end up in transactional relationships (especially after you win a tender) and then I just do my very best to deliver what the client wants (even if I have some reservations about its efficacy).

      • Innovation Central

        Yep sorry John, I typed in haste and then panicked when I read it back!

  • Robert Weeks

    I’m full-time in a company, and when I joined there was very much a view (not from senior management but from colleagues) that if I wasn’t stood up in front of people delivering a powerpoint session then I wasn’t doing anything at all.

    I have slowly tried to change this viewpoint, and my role is now “operations support”. This might sound like an odd development to some in L&D but in this company it makes sense. I don’t just deliver training, but also ensure – along with a small team that work under me – that all our new products and services are ready to sell. That means sales people can sell it, customers can sign up for it, we can bill it, the support team can support it, and customers can cancel.

    That’s a lot more than simple training people, but since so many training requests are actually not for training needs, it means that I can help improve performance in other ways, for example through better job aids, more on demand assistance and even implementing process improvements.

    I see my role as helping other people do their jobs. Maybe that’s through e-learning, maybe it’s a workshop, maybe it’s customer documentation or kick starting some self-led learning. But maybe, just maybe, we need to make a small tweak to an order form.

    I think it goes back to the adage of the hammer and the nail. I now have the ability to help other teams and people do their roles without having to try to convince them that a training course is not necessarily the solution to sales guys filling out an order form correctly.

    • John Curran

      Robert….sounds like you already are a Performance Support Consultant! What size company do you work for and do you use any tools or platforms (such as an LMS or a collaboration space such as Yammer) to support your work?

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