Learning & Development: Manage or Deliver?

A few weeks ago I found myself in an interesting debate on Twitter about the role of learning & development (L&D) professionals within organisations.

It all began when one of my fellow HR twitterati tweeted that he was shocked at number of internal L&D roles that are about the management and provision of L&D as opposed to delivery and facilitation. In turn, I responded that I was shocked that he was shocked at that.

A number of years ago, ‘training’ departments seemed to reinvent themselves as ‘learning & development’ functions and, with that, came a shift in the role they needed to play within organisations. ‘Training’ had very much been seen as a luxury, an expensive headcount and on cost to the organisation, difficult to measure its commercial return and value-add. As a result, team sizes were reduced and there was a need to look at different ways of continuing to provide a ‘training’ service.

So in the move from ‘training’ professionals to ‘learning and development’ professionals, what changed?

With the reduction in team sizes, in house L&D functions began to function as commercially-driven support functions focused on the internal and external management of L&D services rather than pure delivery itself. The roles today focus so much more on building self-service Academies and business partnering with the leadership teams within an organisation to understand their key commercial challenges in order to work on finding the right leadership and technical solutions to leverage organisation growth against the strategic direction. For me, the key benefits of repositioning the L&D headcount to move away from an internal delivery model to one of management of the service are as follows:

1. You get to stay current. With leaner organisational structures and operating models, there is no way we as L&D professionals could possibly be experts in everything we need to provide. By outsourcing provision of key training and learning interventions, you will always be working with partners who are true subject matter experts at the top of their game and able to keep their expertise current, putting it into practise with, and learning from, other organisations. Therefore we get far more than simply a trainer who loves their subject with case study examples drawn only from their personal experience but ones who can draw from multi-industry experiences.

2. Scalability and pace. We can deliver and cascade multiple programmes on scale, consistently and at a pace so much greater than if we were to do it ourselves. Working with external organisations allows us to focus more on supporting our line managers and organisation leaders to embed and sustain their learning rather than on the design and delivery itself. Yes we would still be involved in the design of key programmes but the key focus of our role is the output of the training and the longer term sustainability.

3. Creating organisations that learn from themselves. My personal view is that we should only do in the classroom what can only be done in the classroom and that if, outside of work, people don’t typically learn in classrooms, then why do organisations still have extensive course curricula? By stepping away from delivery, we maintain our focus on the holistic side of our role which is to ensure that we are creating blended solutions which embrace new technologies and the principles of social learning. Rather than organisations seeing building capability as L&D’s job, our role as professionals has become one where we need to help our organisation’s leaders and line managers to own 70:20:10, supporting them to encourage their teams to focus on the 70% of the learning model, i.e. putting their skills into practise, whilst pushing themselves to deliver on the lynch pin of learning which is their role in providing coaching and feedback on the job.

As organisations face head count and efficiency challenges, learning and development departments have to prove their value more than ever. Gone are the days of large scale training teams whizzing around the country with ‘training kits’ in the boot of their car. Organisations need quality, consistency, scalability and longer term value.

So the final question is then, in order to be an in house L&D professional of today, do you need to have a background in training or knowledge of the subject that needs to be delivered? My personal view is that you don’t. Our role is to act as the catalyst for helping people to align to strategy and so understanding the mechanisms of the operational and commercial drivers of the organisation allow us to focus on outcomes rather than input. We need to be curious, engaging, collaborative, planned, and be able to source and manage the right delivery partners whilst working along the true subject matter experts within our organisations. This is where we earn trust and our value is proven as we facilitate bringing their strategies to life through embedding new skills and practices.

And the future? There is still a place for all of us – trainers, facilitators, managers, but as the digital and social learning evolutions come to fruition, it’s surely only a matter of time before we see a shift in focus once more.

I would love to hear the views of other learning & development professionals to see where our thinking does or doesn’t align and where you see our future direction so that collectively we can always be the best we can be.

Gabriella x

Disclaimer: please note these are my personal views and not those of my employer.