We hear a lot today about lifelong learning and the constant need to upskill and reskill our workforce. But to make that a reality we need to invest in learning and development. Yet in many organizations, Learning and Development (L&D) remains in the shadows, delivering training but not really playing a strategic role. How can we transform L&D to meet the demands of the 21st century?
L&D on the margins
Often L&D’s role is limited to that of supplier and deliverer of learning, frequently sourced from outside the organization. It’s seen as a provider and not an instigator. As such its strategic importance may be diminished or overlooked.
L&D has also been tainted by negative connotations. Training is boring and something to be endured and passed and ultimately forgotten. Or equally, it is simply part of the organization’s admin process: a series of boxes to be ticked without even reading the Ts & Cs.
Finally, there persists the false dichotomy between training and working. Training is something that has to be completed before work starts. This in fact is the antithesis of effective learning.
Bringing L&D into focus
To play a greater and more proactive role and to meet the learning and development demands of modern work, L&D needs to come out from the shadows. If L&D is to be effective, it needs to be front and centre of an organization’s learning and business strategies.
Moreover, L&D needs to move directly into the workflow so that it provides a swift and agile response to an organization’s shifting learning needs.
To reposition itself L&D needs a way to articulate its vision and its potential to enhance what the organization as a whole can do and offer.
L&D has to raise its profile. It needs to market and brand itself, internally, within the organization. This can be as simple as devising an all-embracing brand that covers all the materials it produces.
But building a brand also means building trust and confidence in what’s behind the brand. The brand helps highlight and sell the key expertise and experience of the L&D team. When it has the stamp ‘produced by L&D’ you should know not only who produced or recommended it, but that it’s delivering relevant and quality learning materials and initiatives.
Let’s look at the elements that make up the L&D brand.
The first step is to explain what L&D does and, equally if not more important, what L&D can offer. L&D is not simply a supplier of classroom and online courses. It selects and recommends those courses. It provides the context in which they’re delivered. Its conduct needs analysis to determine what training employees require. And it solicits and acts on their feedback.
This information, which explains L&D’s vital role, needs to be explained to the wider organization through campaigns and learning drives. It means L&D standing up and saying, “look at us, this is who we are and this is what we do.”
Meet the team
You’ll need to introduce the L&D team. And, indeed, make sure the organization and its learners understand that there is an L&D team, and it works as a collective to bring vital learning to them.
Introduce the team through meet and greet sessions. Include the team on org charts. Provide profiles of team members on internal and external information sites. Use company newsletters, wikis and other social media outlets to post information and images. These profiles should emphasize the experience that exists within the team and outline the specific areas for which team members have a responsibility, whether it’s for compliance, onboarding, leadership or any key training area.
The marketing of L&D can be summarized in a mission statement and strapline that should accompany any learning program or initiative instigated and curated by L&D.
Once the L&D brand is established make sure it’s used consistently across the organisation whenever L&D launches new learning, conducts or markets an event or initiative. The branding marks and cements L&D’s identity within the organization.
Areas such as onboarding, compliance and leadership planning require investment in learning and development. L&D’s input is the design, implementation and evaluation of these programs is vital. The branding of L&D helps emphasise that L&D has a view across the piece. That learning is holistic and not just a set of discrete courses for disparate learning needs. L&D is the common thread by which learners move from onboarding through career development and into managerial and leadership roles.
Ultimately no-one in the organization should be in any doubt what L&D does and how and whom to contact if they have a learning need. That requires L&D to support and promote its brand through its actions.
Collaboration and involvement
While it’s important that L&D is presented as a team, it’s even more vital that L&D is seen as part of the greater team within and across the organization.
To secure its position within the business, L&D needs to engage with key stakeholders across the board, but particularly it requires managerial and leadership level buy-in. L&D’s role and vision need to be represented in key stages of planning and development. Any statement of business goals is going to contain a training element. This is something L&D needs to own.
By integrating itself more closely with other elements in the organization, L&D becomes vital to the strategic planning within an organization. It moves from being reactive (supplying training) to being proactive (proposing learning initiatives) in supporting strategic business goals.
Adaptive and responsive L&D
In the fast-paced world we work in, any department needs to be able to adapt and respond to change. This means creating an environment that allows for agility and flexibility. For L&D this means providing a learning environment that caters for and anticipates future learning needs.
The key is to engage directly with learners and make sure that all the learning provided is truly learner-centric. And making learning itself more engaging and motivating by including rewards and incentives to deliver learner buy-in.
Just as the internal marketing and branding of L&D is designed to explain its purpose and role, so the learning content that L&D designs and delivers must explain its relevance to the learners, by situating learning in context and making what’s provided relevant to the learner experience.
Enhancing the learner experience
Rather than seek to retain absolute control of learning provision, L&D needs to open its resources to learners. The traditional LMS and course-based structure of much training can be transformed by introducing a Learning Experience Platform (LXP) combined with a strategy of microlearning. This allows learners greater access and control over what they need. But also, it provides the flexibility for learners and L&D alike to respond to urgent training needs and meet the demands of learners to have information immediately available to them when they need it most: on the job.
The adoption of microlearning allows for the repurposing of existing content into easily manageable chunks that can be pieced together to facilitate the creation of individual learning paths as learners move through an organization. Also, microlearning allows for the ability to quickly plug gaps either through addenda to existing content or by linking to externally created content.
LXPs facilitate user-generated content and informal content allowing experienced employees to share their knowledge with their colleagues. This potential to unlock knowledge that already exists within the organization promotes collaboration and helps demonstrate that learning is a constant part of working.
The ultimate brand: A learning culture
As L&D markets itself, it advertises and cements its status as champion and instigator of training policy. It aligns itself with the organization’s overall business goals. But it can go further and adopt a more radical position that allows it to set the organization’s learning agenda and instil a culture of learning. This means removing the artificial barrier between learning and work and making learning a continuous process rather than a series of episodic events.
The facilitation of knowledge-sharing and the development of a learning culture demonstrate the true value of L&D. They emphasize its powerful remit as an enabler and guarantor of quality learning. L&D is no longer seen just as a vehicle by which key training is delivered, but rather as a strategic player in the maintenance and development of the business. Its profile grows as the business grows.
This is the ultimate stage in the marketing and branding of L&D, as it’s fully repositioned as a key strategic asset within the organization. It brings the L&D brand fully into the limelight.