L&D – Why Are You Here?

“The frogs that fell into the well now think that’s the universe”
Jim Harrison

I was grateful to spend the day at a brilliantly organised event for L&D leaders in London last week. This annual gathering reinforced some well-worn themes for this audience:

The “future of work” is already here for many organisations – just unevenly distributed

A “seat at the table” always was (and still is) the wrong goal for ‘L&D’

“Learning” and “performance” are two completely different things

Change is slow…

These themes reflect much of my own work to support L&D leaders facing new challenges and shifting priorities, which I’d summarise as follows:

The role, priority and focus of workplace learning still needs to shift from the industrial mindset of producing standardised workers to fit specific roles.

This change is urgent because the ‘bureaucracy model’ no longer guarantees businesses stability and longevity. The goals for workplace learning need to be realigned with the way that human workers contribute and create value for their organisations.

Consider this delicious opportunity – L&D leaders can now deliberately help to change the traditional culture of work and leadership if they choose to.

However, defining ambitious new goals and a connected strategy to progress towards them remains a struggle for many L&D leaders; (see list of annual conference themes above).

I believe the L&D status quo is rooted deep in organisational culture and, has been reinforced by the choices made over the last three decades. I also believe that reflecting on and acknowledging the current norms in L&D is the first step to help leaders to move forward. So here’s my reflection on the current L&D landscape and how and why I believe we have ended up here:

In the beginning…

The ‘L&D’ function was created as a tool for ‘Management’ to scale compliance and standardisation across an organisation. Control was the over-riding goal for a successful business in the cost and efficiency led industrial era. This position in the hierarchy shaped and reinforced L&D’s work and relationships and, its resulting level of influence.

Which meant…

Positioning L&D lower down in the organisational hierarchy drove insecurity around it’s value, which persists today. However, rather than looking outwards, to collaborate and to challenge in order to define it’s own unique success measures, L&D chose to align itself to “solving business problems”.

Which led to…

L&D’s adoption of familiar, safe, “business as usual” bureaucratic language and approaches; (“learning programmes”, “learning requirements”, “learning solutions”, “capability framework”, “learning metrics”).

Which was a problem because…

In reality this approach only served to reinforce the myth in the minds of busy senior executives that “learning” (training) was simply another thing to do to people. “So, we can simply set our “learning plan” alongside the other control plans for finance, operations and sales…”.

Which shaped and ingrained…

Another consequence of this approach was that it allowed leaders to passively contract out their responsibilities for role modelling learning from and through their own work. (And yet, expect L&D to ensure a supply of fully-contributing workers). (AKA the “free-rider problem”: Individuals enjoy a benefit without contributing back, because there is no cost associated with doing so).

Which meant the default L&D approach to make an impact in the organisation was…

Adopting the now customary “learning gate-keeper” control model:

Take a hot topic from the business >

Develop ‘content’ >

Place / broadcast the content >

Measure and report on the level of attention for the content >

Repeat annually

Which is linked to and perpetuated by…

L&D’s obsession with new tactics, tools and technologies to support this cycle.

Which all begs the question – As an L&D leader, what will you now choose to do to reset your focus?

About the author – Paul Jocelyn:

Experienced strategic Head of Learning & Development now helping teams build the knowledge, thinking and learning culture needed to deliver a business strategy.

Paul works alongside business leaders and teams to grow capability and improve results. Paul is also an approved LPI Accreditation Mentor – find out more here.

Connect with Paul on LinkedIn

Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulJocelyn

Learning Live takes place on the 09 & 10 September 2020 – simply click here to find out more and to pre register


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