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Jon Kennard


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Insight: New research pinpoints how L&D Practitioners can make their mark


New research from Ashridge Business School highlights how Learning and Development practitioners can establish themselves as influential strategic partners, and be the catalyst in the growth and development of organisations.

Over the past 70 years the role of Human Resources (HR) and Learning and Development (L&D) have changed from a largely administrative ‘Personnel’ function, to a more business-focused strategic role responsible for building an organisation’s ability to learn, and to perform. But the relative newness and standing of the L&D profession means practitioners often have to overcome key challenges to embed their service within their organisations, to win over credibility, so they can exert real influence and be granted a strategic role.

These challenges include a need to develop the skills to engage in strategic conversations, the ability to align initiatives with organisational strategy, difficulty in demonstrating or influencing the impact of their activities, and a lack of perceived credibility in the eyes of senior managers.

The research, entitled ‘From Grit to Pearl’, by Lee Waller, Director of the Ashridge Centre for Research in Executive Development,  and Inge Wels, an Ashridge associate consultant and director Benelux,  considers how the profession can tackle and overcome some of these hurdles and position L&D professionals as influential strategic partners.

As a result of in-depth interviews with L&D, HR and senior operational managers within three different market sector organisations - B&Q, Siemens and AXA Australia the research identifies three domains that these professionals must develop to raise their status to become acknowledged experts with more organisational influence. They need to be:

•    The Trusted Advisor who ‘irritates’ and challenges the organisation
Relationships  with critical senior stakeholders are at the heart the L&D professional’s role, to understand the needs of both the business and its people and ensure they are involved in strategic conversations. This, in turn, will develop their credibility, to further ensure the full engagement of senior management and lead to them becoming established as strategic partners and meaningful influencers in their organisations.

•    The Learning Expert who understands how individuals learn and change
Critical to L&D’s role as expert in learning and development is an understanding of adult learning and the transfer of learning: the importance of motivation and engagement, of designing interventions that are practical and pragmatic, that are relevant and connect with individual’s real work contexts, that foster confidence, and which learners perceive will result in positive outcomes in terms of their work performance or career.

•    The Organisation Development (OD) Expert to translate individual change to change at a systemic, organisational level L&D professionals need to also be OD experts, who have the capability to support individual and systematic change, and ensure that learning and development result in both individual and organisational impact.

Support and commitment from senior and line managers was reported by all three organisations to be critical to the impact of L&D interventions, as well as a culture that establishes learning as a continual process.

Lee Waller, Director of the Ashridge Centre for Research in Executive Development,  says: “This expertise will enable L&D professionals to develop an understanding of the needs of the business, align their activities with organisational strategy, and ensure they develop interventions which will impact on critical organisational outcomes.

“This in turn will develop their credibility, encourage engagement of senior management in their activities and facilitate the continuing development of influential relationships with critical stakeholders within the business”.

Where an organisation has senior leaders and a culture that encourages L&D as a continual process, L&D professionals can provide outstanding value to make the business stronger and more sustainable.


One Response

  1. L&D Consultant


    Seems to me that we need to be developing L&Ders to become fully fledged L&D Professionals, not just practitioners.

    As the CIPD L&D Survey pinpointed in 2014, there is a shortfall in skills around business acumen/commercial awareness and perhaps even a lack of understanding as to what that is and what it means to the L&D community.

    L&D Consultancy skills incorporating the findings of this research don't happen over night or by simple experience. It's a bit like suggesting that non-trainer technical experts (or subject matter experts as they are often known) are capable of doing the same quality delivery as skilled and qualified fully fledged trainers. They can't, without proper development.

    So, I agree with the findings whole heartedly, but the solution isn't easy. It requires a TNA of the skills of L&D practitioners and investment in their development so that they might be regarded by operational managers and senior execs as the L&D professionals they aspire to become.

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Jon Kennard

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