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Nigel Paine

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Four clever ways for L&D to nurture better partnerships

Businesses only survive because there are partnerships internally to get things done. Here are four ways for L&D to find and manage better partners
Girl and wolf in a wild wood

My aunty Maud died when I was a child. Her claim to fame amongst the cousins was that the most exciting thing that ever happened to her in her entire life, was attending a tennis club dance when she was 16. The remaining seventy-odd years were spent, first, living in the family home looking after her mother until she died, and then moving in and living with her sister (my grandmother), who had been recently widowed, until aunty Maud passed away.

She died as she lived, quietly going to sleep in my grandfather’s chair by the fire, only this time she did not wake up. No ups and downs of any kind of relationship, and we all thought that she had lived a sad and lonely existence.

It is like our plastic brain, which has the ability to reroute blocked connections as it seeks to rewire itself when it gets damaged

Partnerships and organisational strategy go hand-in-hand

As anyone reading this knows, all partnerships can be extremely challenging as well as deeply rewarding. Hardly anyone escapes the bitter failure of a relationship gone wrong or the joy of a successful partnership lasting many years. And this is in work as well as in life.

We also know that any organisation: business, not-for-profit, public sector or military, only survives because there are partnerships internally to get things done, and externally with customers, suppliers and a host of other small cogs in a complex and complicated machine. And as Covid-19 showed us, this machine can be greatly disrupted, but it also rapidly re-establishes connections to keep functioning.

It is like our plastic brain, which has the ability to reroute blocked connections as it seeks to rewire itself when it gets damaged. What makes us capable and conscious is not just the billions of neurones in our brain, but the trillions of connections between them.

Savvy L&D operations need focus and cooperation

In my mind, the idea of an inward-looking L&D operation that focuses on delivering a catalogue of courses for individual staff members out of the main flow of organisational strategy is as out of time as my dear old Aunty Maud sitting in front of the fire endlessly reliving the one exciting event of her life. 

I am exaggerating to make a point. However, the fact that we have to ask ourselves whether L&D should be working in partnership with the rest of the business is a sad indictment and a reflection of a mindset that is facing rapid and necessary change. I have worked in, and with, organisations that had separate recruitment, disconnected from onboarding, and competence development.

Separate teams ran leadership development, performance management and so on down the talent value chain. Not only were these functions separate, they barely communicated. You get on with your job,  and I will get on with mine, and we will meet once a year to fight each other for resources.

Talent software suites, talent managers who own the whole employee work cycle and an increasing focus on organizational as well as individual capability have blown a big hole in this ‘I do my job, you do yours’ mentality, yet assumptions and practices linger. 

Focus on what learning will contribute to each of the elements of the organisational strategy

So here are four simple but powerful ways to break that cycle and enter the cut and thrust of organisational life.

1. Rip up your learning strategy

Instead, focus on what learning will contribute to each of the elements of the organisational strategy. Get that signed off by the business not by HR.

2. Do your fieldwork

Get out there and talk to people about what stops them doing good work. Observe what they actually do. They will show you and tell you what is wrong or sub-optimal. Never do anything that is not grounded in that fieldwork and develop a deep understanding of what makes the business tick.

3. Get out of the mindset where every problem needs a new course

Throw away the course catalogue and work with others to offer stretch assignments, new experiences, opportunities for learning from others, and develop useful resources that will enable all of those initiatives.

4. Set a benchmark

Set a benchmark that at least 50% of everything you do is in partnership with the rest of the organisation, and never take full credit for success. ‘We’ is the new buzz word meaning L&D plus…

This is the right time to shout out about the contribution that learning can make to any organization in a time of disruption and uncertainty. There is no organisational resilience without individual resilience, no capability development without the belief that we can all learn and all get better at what we do, and no behaviour change without motivation and psychological safety.

Make partnerships part of the bigger picture for your organisational strategy

Learning is part of a much bigger picture. That does not make it less important but it makes it more important in the context of successful organisations. The crux is a partnership: working together on thorny and wicked problems, not living in an L&D bubble. If you cannot sit down with people from operations and those in charge of steering the entire place, you simply have not done enough fieldwork to understand the nature of the challenges.

If you can explain any other way for a workplace to flourish please share

The learning frame is as valid and vital a way to examine the body corporate as the financial frame. A good CFO understands the financial and resource implications of any decision; this is taken for granted. But a good learning leader needs to be able to articulate the learning implications of those same decisions.

If you can explain any other way for a workplace to flourish please share. We live in an age of lifelong learning, curiosity and exploration, not the lifelong tedium of course after course.

You never know, my Aunty Maud could have been a great CEO if someone had explained to her what opportunities lay out there and sparked her curiosity. Dozing in front of the metaphorical fire has got CLOs so far down the track but it is really time to wake up.

Interested in this topic? Read L&D business partners: How to add more value as a profession.

One Response

  1. Great article, thanks Nigel.
    Great article, thanks Nigel. Simple and straightforward advice that is workable. I like the advice to rip up your learning strategy. That is just brilliant. I think what you are implying is that we should be flexible and agile. Get out there, learn about the organisation, understand the issues and then try to implement appropriate solutions.

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