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Is the Learning and Development Bubble About to Burst?

March 7, 2018

The L & D industry and profession is in an identity crisis. This is the time to recognise that, and take steps to change, not bury your head in the sand.


Like all other parts of the business, where people and their roles are continually evolving, it feels like L & D has stuck in the frying pan of evolution. Don’t get me wrong, there are professionals and organisations who do seem to get the fact that L & D is there to support the development of high performance, productivity and prosperity, but it doesn’t seem to be the common language yet.


What does the L&D profession do?

There is a sense that professionals sit on a continuum at one end working with the management and delivery of training and at the other end with leaders of performance and transformation with measurable business value. There is a feeling that there is an identity crisis — people and organisations are unsure where to place the very people that could potentially give them the ticket to success and resilience for the future.


Evidence it’s not working

We hear many stories where organisations, after significant investment, find little value in the technology and training interventions they have invested in. Great supplier marketing and sales teams plus a ‘little’ bit of social norming (“they” are using this, so it must be good) have businesses signing up to expensive contracts with little or no real value. To reinforce this lack of value add from investment, L & D professionals are overheard saying “we have set up great content and a system to support their audiences but it isn’t being used”. There is a disconnect between the audiences who are hungry to achieve and deliver and the means to getting there.


We have formal structures and processes in organisations for learning and development but people are bypassing them :

  • Traditional learning and development teams are going to other areas of the business to get optimum delivery

  • IT departments are leading with their digital transformations

  • Managers ignore Learning and development needs to achieve their next step to success

  • Marketing departments or agencies are being asked to enhance business performance and productivity

  • Small Medium Sized businesses who have had some training and not seen any changes or benefits totally dismiss the idea of using any form of learning and development. But they are keen, and in fact are using, facilitation interventions, for example for team coaching, strategy workshops and collaboration innovation workshops.

  • Informal networks are being created to solve problems either through the use of social media like WhatsApp or meeting over a coffee table to share, learn and solve problems.


Research and Metrics isn’t being utilised to its best effect.


I worry that although the industry is getting great research and metrics from the likes of Fosway, Towards Maturity and Watersheds its people are burying their heads in the sand rather than facing up to poor decisions.


Whilst at 2018 Learning Technologies I was shocked to see research from Fosway that “only 18% of L&D effort goes on developing performance”.


This confused me — what do people in L & D think they are there to achieve? If L & D isn’t there to develop performance, increase productivity and prosperity (wellbeing) what are they doing?


This is the best opportunity we have had — take it


What next for L & D?

With the massive shift to a fast momentum in business, you need to be agile, creative and ready to deliver in a beta world. (beta = as good as damn it ready for release…no product is ever perfect and the product will then just evolve as needed).


The role of L & D is up for grabs, now is the time to make it significant whatever the context, mindset or budget through:

  • Listening to audiences

  • Collating and actioning data and research

  • Taking lessons from ineffective learning interventions

  • Keeping your antennae tuned to future human intervention (and skills)

There is a need to build a reputation of impact on business results, defined at the start, so you can get through the belief system throughout business that L&D is for training that has little impact.


So is the bubble about to burst?

Some would argue it has done so already, which is why people are circumnavigating the very function which should have the skills and tools to support them. There are multiple options which may take place in the ecosystems of organisation communities but will it happen at the higher level?


What are the options for L & D?

The options are numerous — here are a few for consideration:

a) Training plus OD/Change functions are separated for away from HR.

b) L&D stays as a function that is know and delivers 3 key things: digital transformation, facilitation of performance / productivity and prosperity (wellbeing) and analytical experts.

c) L &D is disbanded and the whole performance enhancement piece is decentralised across the business and individual communities drive their own interventions to support growth.

d) Strategic Innovation people support business growth through org design, skills development and performance enhancement


Options for #gettingstarted

Whether you are in the profession, about to join it or a customer of it we all have a responsibility to support high performance. How you can affect this will be dependent on your ecosystem.


Five steps:

  1. Establish with your stakeholder community — if you had a blank sheet of paper how would you support the business with building and maintaining high performance, productivity and prosperity (wellbeing).

  2. With data in your hand — ask yourself what value am I giving and where are the key opportunities right now?

  3. With the evolution of skills requirements in business — how can I support the business to grow beyond todays goals and be a resilient business for the future?

  4. With papers of the future of work devise your team winning skills— What skills do my team and I need to have to be viable contenders for transformation and business success? What is the journey to get there?

  5. Join the developers, innovators and creators — What communities are the ‘outliers’ in L & D supporting the next generation of real business impact? How can I join the conversation? Who is my mentor to keep me on track?

The very nature of what I have written is somewhat controversial but energising — there is real opportunity here. I’d like to think we are leaders in meeting the ‘future of work’ skills needs and in doings so creating high performing, productive and prosperity (wellbeing).


About the Author

Lizzie Rhodes James is a Performance Coach and Facilitator who specialises in helping teams and individuals exceed their potential at work and in life. Having successfully transitioned from a successful Army career into the Corporate world, Lizzie brings an exceptional and distinctive blend of discipline, focus and agility into her practice. Lizzie is also passionate about health and wellness, and adds a depth of thinking to align body and mind, enhancing overall performance and encouraging clients to transcend their limits.

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