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Jane Daly


Founder and Chief Insight Officer

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Are L&D professionals ready to transform the industry?


High-performing learning organisations are extremely good at developing the L&D function itself. But among the rest of the industry, the continual professional development of learning practitioners is not seen as a priority. This needs to change if we want to remain relevant to businesses.

Addressing the low confidence levels in the L&D profession is first a matter for L&D itself.

The L&D profession is under pressure to transform and become future-fit in order to stay ahead of the demands of work and workers. Today, L&D is not famous for up-skilling or re-skilling entire workforces, nor for experimenting or taking risks. In fact, it’s known for quite the opposite.

With 48% of L&D practitioners saying they are ‘extremely concerned’ about the lack of time they can spend on their own learning and only 36% of L&D practitioners saying they are able to measure specific business metrics when evaluating the effectiveness of learning, it’s no wonder confidence levels are low.

As experts whose core purpose is to increase corporate capability, we are more aware than others that lack of investment in learning leads to low levels of motivation, engagement, capability and, ultimately, performance, yet we feel guilty to invest in ourselves.

L&D practitioners are trapped in a vicious circle whereby the lack of capability investment hinders innovation and influence, which in turn reaffirms the limited expectations of leaders and workers of the value that L&D expertise can add.

If we are to gain confidence, we need to close our profession’s most critical capability gaps quickly and sustainably.

What’s happening for L&D in high-performing organisations?

At Towards Maturity we see that over 90% of high-performing learning organisations (those companies that see the biggest business impact as a result of learning) ensure their learning professionals are given relevant continual professional development (CPD) opportunities to develop their skills. These companies invest in their experts and this approach creates high-performing L&D teams.

There is a huge divide in the differences between high-performing L&D teams and the rest.

The majority of L&D leaders and teams are struggling to keep up with the pace of change required. More often they are finding the organisation is ahead of them; getting on with up-skilling their functions by using open source tools or their own budgets because they do not believe L&D can respond to their needs in time, within budget or deliver the level of impact required.

However, leaders are now seeing that these ‘quick fixes’ are not bringing the long-term change and performance impact required. Organisations are realising that they need the knowledge and capabilities of L&D experts to show how effective learning should be undertaken. Yet our data indicates that L&D are far from ready for this.

To be ready we must transform our own capability and confidence first

The first step must be for L&D professionals to establish robust personal development plans that will transform the knowledge and capabilities of L&D teams and create strategic, data-driven and evidence-based performance consultants who are accredited and have the commitment to engage with CPD to remain ahead of the curve.

If we are to gain confidence, we need to close our profession’s most critical capability gaps quickly and sustainably. We are not short of aspirations, but we lack the ability to transform our own effectively.

In 2015, 84% of L&D professionals identified performance consulting as a priority for understanding business requirements in the future. However, in 2018 only 34% have that skill in-house.

Furthermore, 94% identified facilitating collaboration as a priority yet only 23% have achieved that today. And 92% identified digital content creation as a required skill, but today only a third have this skill, despite 45% delivering content created in-house.

The only way to successfully transform our reputation is to bring fresh thinking and modernise our approach, knowledge and capability.

Five key capability areas for L&D

Our evidence highlights five key capability areas that high-performing learning organisations are focusing on that the rest are not:

  • Connecting to the need to drive performance means they are 4x more likely to have performance consulting skills and analyse problems before recommending solutions

  • Creating content they use themselves means they are 28% more likely to recommend learning based on their own experience and have user-generated content strategies

  • Being data-savvy means they are 5x more likely to have data analytics skills and more able to harness intelligence effectively

  • Enabling learning in the flow of work means they are 9x more likely to have the skills to support workplace performance

  • Focusing on their L&D professional capability means they are 5x more likely to provide their L&D teams access to performance coaches and 63% more likely to apply adult learning theories, heutagogy and proven techniques such as spaced learning to aid learning transfer, retention and application. They are also twice as likely to provide ‘micro-learning’ resources as part of the learning blend.

Putting the development of L&D teams first is critical

The evidence is clear and highlights that L&D leaders and teams in top performing learning organisations invest significantly in themselves as they plan for change and then make it happen.

By addressing their own development before supporting the critical capability requirements in their organisations, they are able to provide the expertise and agility required and to become the credible learning experts their organisations need.

It is through the investment in professional development, qualifications and networking that the knowledge and capabilities of L&D professionals will be transformed. And it is this that will have an impact on the four critical levers of organisational success: growth, transformation, productivity and profitability.

The only way to successfully transform our reputation is to bring fresh thinking and modernise our approach, knowledge and capability. The only way to do this is to invest in ourselves first before helping others.  

Data in the article is taken from:

The Transformation Journey (2019), Towards Maturity:

Professionalising Learning and Development (2019), CIPD & Towards Maturity,


Author Profile Picture
Jane Daly

Founder and Chief Insight Officer

Read more from Jane Daly

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