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Kay Buckby

The Mindful Trainer


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L&D business partners: how to add more value as a profession


I began my career as a learning and development professional in 1989 and in the intervening years, the sector has seen many changes. Today’s business environment is very different from the one I started out in and, in order to fully serve the organisations we work for today, it’s time for L&D to undergo a revolutionary change.

In 1989, the ‘norm’ was to gain nominations for courses – some clients used to fax us a list of nominations, usually gathered from appraisals (remember those?) and we’d schedule in courses based on this list.

In 1995, my colleagues Adrian Green and Teresa Williams wrote a book on The Business Approach to Training (Gower Publishing). It was well ahead of its time in that it outlined how organisations were still seeing training as a cost, or an overhead, and were filling gaps via the nominations route.

We need to see ourselves as a profession. Facilitation is what the world needs now – not ‘chalk and talk’ presenters, delivering content to groups. That’s a waste of our learners’ time.

Following the economic downturn, there was less budget for L&D or ‘training’, and so we all started to get into ROI (return on investment). My view is that every department should be trained in project management skills, as it is a core skill to be able to identify needs, scope, plan and gather in benefits realised. How many times do we miss a benefit realised? The result of an internal modular programme, for example, is that the team gets to know each other that bit better, so communicate more effectively as a result – but this type of insight is not gathered, and therefore the true ROI of training is not measured.

The internet has given L&D the opportunity to apply adaptive learning in the business world. (Adaptive learning is learning at the point of need, and to the learners preferred style of learning). I personally love this. The need to attend conferences for the ‘latest thinking’ has been replaced for me by a daily TED Talk. Digital learning is also great – not that videos and PDFs can replace ‘chalk and talk’ face-to-face courses, but the way learners can combine learning methods to suit their own needs is very useful. For example, I learned floristry through a mixture of online learning, coaching and real-time practicals.

How can L&D provide more value?

Firstly, and vitally, we need to see ourselves as a profession. Facilitation is what the world needs now – not ‘chalk and talk’ presenters, delivering content to groups. That’s a waste of our learners’ time.

I attended a presentation last week – it was sold as a course, but 68 slides in a day and sitting on my bum for most of the time listening is not L&D, in my opinion. The sad thing was, I’d done some rather good pre-work as requested, so I knew 95% of the content. If a facilitator had led the room, we could have checked our know-how via learners teaching learners, learner presentations, or quizzes. Or they could have just assumed that as adults we had read the book and done the online learning.

In my vision, every L&D person in an organisation is a qualified trainer, coach, mentor and facilitator and knows how to offer support at the point of need identified to the business.

If we want to add value, we need professional trainers, coaches and facilitators. Presenting is not training, and content driven training is not needed – we can just Google it!

How do we adopt the profession approach? Now that’s a question. We need a professional body for the 21st century. This is not just about setting standards, and giving out letters – we need a transformation in approach. I have ideas, and I am open to sharing with anyone out there.

The reason I put profession first is that many people set up as ‘trainers’ without knowing a thing about what it means to learn. We have immense power as ‘trainers’, and I still pick up the pieces of brutal feedback, exposure in front of others in the room, and poor experiences, such as slide presentations.

Hearing the words ‘well, we’ve had training before on this, and it’s made little difference’ shows we need a radical change in how L&D is viewed in organisations. We are not fairy godmothers, working miracles via a day-long course!

HR should have nothing to do with L&D

I have said this many times – I do not see why L&D (in the main) still reports into HR. Modern HR practitioners have their own ‘disrupt’ movement, and I appreciate that HR is not used or viewed as the modern HR vision of partner. I am not knocking HR at all. I have lots of good friends who share the same vision as myself for both HR and L&D.

I see L&D as being a business partner. In my vision, every L&D person in an organisation is a qualified trainer, coach, mentor and facilitator and knows how to offer support at the point of need identified to the business. This doesn’t mean L&D does all the L&D interventions, however they facilitate L&D within the organisation.

The vision

Imagine this: Anna is an L&D business partner. She has 100 customers, ranging from directors to manufacturing staff. She views her people as customers, and her role is to serve them. She attends the strategy days the directors attend, so she knows the vision, values and business plan for the next few years. She attends some management meetings, so she is familiar with the operational needs of the business. She walks the floor and observes and hears gripes, dreams, and needs of everyone in the organisation. She knows the product and service, the IT system, the clients, and supply chain.

Anna is skilled at putting a business case together to enable ‘point of need’ development for everyone. So, when she speaks to a newly promoted team leader, Ian, she can coach him so that he tells her what his unique needs are to help him to be the best he can be. She can then facilitate a plan by liaising with Ian’s manager, again tailored to both their needs, and the needs of the organisation.

She manages each L&D ‘intervention’ like a project, so she knows the outcomes, objectives, milestones, and benefits realised. She’s content to pull a project based on lack of commitment. Anna isn’t afraid to give feedback that people are not living the values, she challenges any of her managers that don’t commit to coaching and mentoring, and she develops her people to be the very best they can be.

Anna keeps herself up to date by leading the way – she’s always committing to learning. Her vision and dream for the L&D function is something she shares with the world – via blogs, speaking at conferences, and engaging locally within schools and colleges. She knows the talent she looks after, and so the organisation attracts, retains and develops the best of the best.

Anna knows she offer huge value to the organisation. She is paid more than most directors, because she looks after the greatest assets.

This is where we can and should be, as a profession. What are your thoughts?

Interested in this topic? Read Helping change the role of L&D by changing roles in L&D.

4 Responses

  1. I know I’m late to this party
    I know I’m late to this party but I think this article is brilliant – or rather, the vision, is brilliant. Organisations need to understand and accept that the modern L&D function cannot work adequately if it is consistently grouped with the HR function. They are separate and should be treated as such, which is not to say they shouldn’t be aligned but there must be autonomy and a clear distinction between the two functions. This, so that L&D can finally be recognised independently for its fundamental value in facilitating organisational objectives.

    1. Hello Ida, Many thanks for
      Hello Ida, Many thanks for your kind words on my article. I realise I am late, however the saying is “better late than never”. I hope one day we see our shared vision being the norm.

  2. I used to work as a training
    I used to work as a training specialist and of course the industry has changed a lot.

    1. Hello Aaron, Huge changes yes
      Hello Aaron, Huge changes yes. I still think L&D isn’t as forward thinking as we should be.

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Kay Buckby


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