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Nehal Nangia

Josh Bersin Company

Director, Research L&D

Read more from Nehal Nangia

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Corporate training is failing employees and killing their career paths

Nehal Nangia at The Josh Bersin Company discusses how new research reveals that most L&D functions are falling behind when it comes to corporate training
Scary eyes looking through a wall

Work and the workplace keep evolving. Huge economic, political, and societal changes are in play, and employee expectations have changed. Big or small, public, private or third-sector organisations, across industries and geographies, have been on a journey of constant reinvention as they respond to all these changes.

Dealing with change is tough

L&D has done its best to keep up. Consider all the work dedicated to establishing corporate universities, digital academies, and online learning systems. L&D functions are managing the shift to hybrid work, licensing new content, building skills taxonomies, experimenting with VR and AR, and exploring virtual cohort-based learning. 

And of course, new joiners still need to be onboarded, managers need to be trained, and leaders need to be created. L&D professionals are moving faster than ever, in a context of endless change. And the truth is that L&D professionals are struggling to keep up. 

78% of respondents told us that L&D is one of their top C-suite level priorities and see learning as vital — yet only 12% are successful at enabling true learning in the flow of work

‘Learning in the flow of work’ was a novel concept when it was socialised by Josh Bersin, way back in 2018. But today, it is table stakes for any true learning culture, and every organisation has been endeavouring to do it right. And it turns out that learning in the flow is about how people learn, but it isn’t about what people want from learning — the connection between the two is what is missing.

At The Josh Bersin Company, we asked over 1,000 organisations about their L&D practices in our latest report, The Definitive Guide to Learning: Growth in the Flow of Work. No less than 78% of respondents told us that L&D is one of their top C-suite level priorities and see learning as vital — yet only 12% are successful at enabling true learning in the flow of work. Even more concerning is the fact that four out of five companies are lagging in every area of L&D.

We need to pivot wholesale to reconnect L&D to achieve true workplace learning fit for the tough 2020s we’re living in. That needs to start from a realisation that learning is not the end goal, it’s just a vehicle to enable growth. That’s where L&D organisations need to refocus and reprioritise efforts. After all, if you don’t create opportunities for growth, employees will find them elsewhere — outside your organisation.

Re-orienting for growth starts with caring for their skill development. By building the right learning experiences and developing critical future skills, learning for growth cultures can help workers amplify their future growth potential. Plus, by illuminating pathways for workers to use those newly acquired skills and experiences to grow within the organisation, L&D functions can help employees grow while building critical talent for their organisation’s future needs. 

We have developed a Bersin Corporate Learning Maturity Model that may help. Essentially, it’s a roadmap for assessing where you stand and how far you have to go. It shows a progression of capabilities and practices across four different levels of maturity. Here, high maturity indicates an ability to outperform other organisations in critical business and talent outcomes such as financial success, customer satisfaction, innovation, and employee engagement. Let’s see how to get there:

Organisations build learning solutions to support the talent strategy through major touchpoints in the talent management lifecycle

Level 1: Programmatic Training

L&D organisations at this level operate as a structured teaching function, to create and deliver training programs and modules. The core skill set of L&D professionals at this level is instructional design and content development. These Level 1 organisations create and deliver a wide array of instructional content that is often mandatory, and compliance-focused. Structures and processes take priority over strategy and purpose.

Level 2: Self-Directed Learning

At this level, L&D is starting to move beyond basic training to operate as a support function. Organisations build learning solutions to support the talent strategy through major touchpoints in the talent management lifecycle. They support employee development by curating a vast variety of vendor-provided as well as internally-developed content. They focus their energy on learning experience platforms, which make learning a ‘self-discovery’ process for employees.

Level 3: Tailored Development

At Level 3, the organisation takes the self-directed learning infrastructure and starts to go deeper. The L&D function is starting to curate, design, and integrate a wide range of self-development assets into journeys, career paths, and specific skills development solutions. Learning at this level is tailored to support the development of critical business capabilities tied to various business roles and functions, but also the development of leadership capabilities at all levels.

Level 4: Facilitated Growth

Level 4 organisations translate learning into career growth, focusing heavily on illuminating clear trajectories for people to move into new, future, or higher-level roles. They leverage systems of talent intelligence to identify critical future skills and help employees develop those skills so that they can have long-term and future-proof careers within the organisation.

At this level, organisations facilitate not just short-term career growth akin to promotions but also enduring and equitable career growth. In many ways, this is the ultimate goal of L&D — not only to make someone more proficient in their current job but to help them advance to what’s next.

For us all to get there, L&D needs to forge deeper connections with the business

At Level 4, the highest level of learning maturity, L&D teams truly facilitate growth for the workforce. These organisations have significantly superior talent and business outcomes and are almost 30 times more likely to be great places to work.

For us all to get there, L&D needs to forge deeper connections with the business, with talent acquisition, across functions in HR, with IT, with skills and data architecture teams. They also need to synchronise priorities with management to not just enable learning, but facilitate growth in the flow of work. 

Does the CLO (Chief Learning Officer) need to give way to a new position of ‘chief growth officer’, so that corporate training departments can take the company and its people where it needs to go? If that makes L&D more relevant, then the answer has to be ‘yes’.

Interested in this topic? Read How to pick the best skills assessment method for your learners.

2 Responses

  1. I’m just an old L&D
    I’m just an old L&D practitioner and it’s been more than a decade since I conducted any type of academic research, but I have some concerns with this article that may just be my misunderstanding it.

    The article highlights the challenges faced by L&D professionals in the ever-changing workplace but doesn’t delve into the underlying causes. A few questions up front is what organizations, industries, etc. were surveyed? What questions were asked? Who was asked?

    The article states that “learning in the flow of work” was a novel concept when it was socialised by Josh Bersin in 2018, but fails to mention that TWI was a workflow learning process back in the 40s, the works of many including; HPTers Geary Rummler, Joe Harless, and the 5 Moments of Need from Bob Mosher and Dr. Conrad Gottfredson which I learned about back in 2008.

    The article mentions that 78% of organizations consider L&D a C-suite priority but only 12% have been successful in enabling true workflow learning. Are there any specific examples and insights into why this gap exists and what successful organizations are doing differently?

    The article also suggests that organizations need to “pivot wholesale” and “reconnect L&D.” While these are essential concepts, are there any specific recommendations for L&D professionals based on current practices by the same successful organizations?

    In the same thought process, the call for L&D to “forge deeper connections with the business” and other departments is valid, is there any guidance on how to achieve this.

    In summary it may be my misinterpretation of the article, but it appears to promote using a one-size-fits-all approach and framework without considering the the unique needs and contexts of various organizations.

  2. This article resonates with
    This article resonates with my experience in the corporate world. It’s evident that L&D has faced immense challenges in keeping pace with evolving workplaces. The statistics are concerning and reflect the need for a significant shift in approach. Prioritizing growth and tailored development is vital for retaining talent and driving organizational success. The proposal of a ‘chief growth officer’ role is intriguing; it could potentially bridge the gap between L&D goals and business outcomes. In today’s rapidly changing environment, L&D’s adaptability is crucial for both employees and the organization.

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Nehal Nangia

Director, Research L&D

Read more from Nehal Nangia

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