What is the job of L&D?

As a consultant I’ve worked in lots of businesses on short contracts. Once I’ve figured out where the coffee is, I get around to meeting the L&D team. Invariably my experience is a meeting where the Head of L&D explains the team are:

1) just coming to terms with a new HR system
2) underresourced to deliver a huge backlog of conventional e-Learning modules

Sound familiar?

This bothers me for two reasons, firstly I’m imagining the hours of grinding monotony and frustration using an unintuitive system. Secondly, because the L&D teams shouldn’t be doing either of these things if they want to make a real difference in their businesses.

Here’s what L&D teams should be doing instead:

1) Company UX (CPX)
2) Employee performance


I can complete various complicated tasks using my smartphone – like writing this article and posting it on a global network, because the user experience of my Sony Android phone makes it easy. Conversely, businesses often make it incredibly difficult for people to complete fairly simple tasks because of bad CPX.

Here’s a map of my typical day working at a former employer.

So the dips in my day are where things get in the way and distract me from the job I’m being paid to do. L&D’s role, in my view, is to ‘iron out’ the creases in the day to day experience in a company. A good example of this is knowledge management using SharePoint. How many hours have you personally spent looking for documents on the company intranet? I don’t doubt that the rise in freelance and startup businesses – the ‘gig economy’ – is partly because people crave the freedom to choose their own day to day CPX.

Employee performance (not to be confused with employee learning)

I regularly see articles on ‘building a learning culture’. Frankly, I think this is a step or two removed from the thing L&D should actually be concerned about. There is plenty of evidence that shows people can learn something but it makes no difference to behaviour. My fav example of this is Robert Kegan (Immunity to Change).

Equally, theories like ‘Nudge’ explain how easy shifting people’s behaviour can be with the right triggers. In essence I don’t think great performing businesses only have great learning cultures, I think they have great performance cultures. Performance drives learning not the other way around.

Performance is also important because it’s about Return on Investment and impact on business revenue. Until L&D actually shows the C-Suite that it can make the company richer, it’ll be stuck being underresourced and resigned to the back office duldrums.

You can gather performance data in various ways to bring this to fruition: 360s, engagement surveys etc. The key is that you use a control group to compare those who experience your solution, and those who don’t. Otherwise, how can you tell if your work has had an impact? To put it another way the measurement process should be:

1) benchmark a participant and control group
2) identify other key business performance metrics
3) do the thing
4) measure using the same criteria
5) compare and contrast

L&D measurement is possible, the industry has just become complacent because internally it faces no competition. In the cut-throat world of consumer marketing, L&D would be dead.

So next time business unit X comes to you and tells you it needs some e-Learning, dig a little bit deeper and solve the real problem together. Find out what the business challenge is, find out if it’s being measured and identify the right metrics that will convince your stakeholders of the value of your approach.

Need help? Drop me an email SpongeParrot@gmail.com

Written on my smartphone so apologies for the bad spelling/formatting and such like.

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