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L&D professionals – we have a perception problem


I recently had the opportunity to speak at the ASTD's UK conference in London on the subject of L&D's role in organisational transformation. There was a general consensus among my audience that L&D has a perception problem among senior leaders in both public and private sector organisations.

Why is that L&D continues to be seen as low down the organisational totem pole when we know that knowledge and skills are the only sustainable competitive advantage and the engine of the knowledge economy? I don't pretend to have all the answers, but I think that L&D has a way to go in order to change commonly held perceptions (true or false) about our profession, such as:

1) L&D is not particular good at demonstrating outcomes that link to the needs of the business in a tangible way, and critically - measurable way. For all the discussion about value of investment and qualitative benefits - if you can't show it on a spreadsheet, it doesn't get much attention at the top level of business.

2) L&D continues to be viewed as an 'easy' thing to cut from a transformation programme when budgets and timescales are squeezed. Some would say that Executive benefits are easier to cut without any lasting impact upon business, but we all know that rarely happens.

3) L&D is not viewed as a profession collectively, or as a role with professional standing. In the UK at least there are too many bodies claiming to represent workplace L&D practitioners, a cornucopia of competing and in some cases conflicting qualifications.

4) L&D doesn't deliver transformational change, but is rather a series of events and interventions. Despite all the talk of 'Learning Organisations' and the evolution of the Chief Learning Officer role, many organisations still see L&D as an ancillary support function. The Skills Framework for the Information Age even goes so far as to position L&D in the category of 'procurement and management support' job roles.

5) L&D has become the 'poor step cousin' of HR, and will ever be seen as a transactional service whilst it remains so. In this respect I believe that CIPD have a lot to answer for. The 'D' in CIPD now being a silent one.

Whilst I have my own views on how to addresses these challenges faced by L&D, I'm keen to gather views across the L&D profession on how we may together ensure that L&D is not only relevant to organisations, and rightly viewed as a key enabler of organisational transformation.

2 Responses

  1. An accidental profession


    If you ask a youngster what they want to be when they grow up, few if any will say they want to be a trainer. The L&D environment is significantly populated with individuals who entered the field ‘by accident’. This provided me with  a profound realisation (this is my opinion) that many in the field do not have sufficient conviction or confidence within their own mind set to challenge others who are in position because they see their position as their career right.

    A good proportion of internal trainers are people who were good at their job and were asked to train others at their job. And because they were good at that they then they got to train others at other peoples jobs.

    A good proportion of freelance trainers are people who have made a lifestyle choice to be ‘free’ from the shackles of corporate disciplin; to do what they like to do; train.

    Neither of the above have sufficient commercial acumen (and not necessarily their own fault) to have business planning expertise and corporate understanding. Without these they will be ‘lambs to the slaughter’ in defending their proposition at the board level.

    L&D is the easier to get rid of when time are bad; not because it doesn’t work, but because too many of the practitioners couldn’t ague themselves out of a brown paper bag.

    And as for qualification; yes there are dozens but (many, most, all are) significantly aimed at ‘design and delivery’, as though this is detached from the ‘why and the wherefore’. Instructional and regulatory training is probably the worst: when you ask an instructional/regulatory trainers ‘why’ the response is ‘because we have no choice’. This is why TrainerBase started developing our Standard back in 2006; because there was no single accreditation or qualification that included commercial acumen as mandatory (which I felt is should be). Unfortunately; after introducing the accreditation and latterly a level 5 qualification to 100s if not 1,000s of practitioners we have not made significant inroads because of a variety of reasons; the investment, too hard, already got a teaching qualification, don’t like the commercial stuff, its not mandatory etc, etc. Interestingly quite a few did ‘get it’; but still did not sign up. Perhaps I am in the same situation in having an excellent solution to a problem but do not have sufficient conviction or persistance to stop it getting the axe.

    An organisation that cuts L&D is in my mind derelict in its duty of care to its stakeholders because knowledge, skill and attitude of staff is the only way that one company will better itself over another.

    Founder of TrainerBase

  2. Are L&D Good Role Models?

    Great response Peter. I work between L&D and the rest of the business and regularly hear both sides.

    Perhaps the thing that makes me most uncomfortable is a particular attitude I commonly find amongst L&D professionals (well, everyone). I did a talk here in Australia not so long ago amongst a room of L&D people and started by asking them how ‘on top’ of all they needed to learn to perform highly in their roles they felt they were. I said, ‘raise your hand if you think you’re on top of all you need to learn to be a great L&D professional’. Out of about 30 people, only 2 people didn’t raise their hand. They nearly all thought they were well equipped and had little else to learn to do their job well.

    I was gobsmacked. With an attitude like that, I can immediately see why they’re going to struggle to convince the rest of the business of the need/importance for continuous learning and development. Obviously they haven’t convinced themselves yet. Maybe some don’t even care? Looking in from the outside, it didn’t look good.

    During our discussion, I was shaken up by some of their thoughts (or lack of) around the field of learning. I told one story about a facilitator achieving the learning outcomes with minimal effort on his part, and some people in the room felt that learners would feel hard done by with him if he reduced his input (as ‘trainer’) despite a more effective learning process. (They wanted him to work harder, not smarter). It seemed they were focused on process, tradition, apparent fairness and not outcomes. That’s not going to help their case when talking with the rest of the business either.

    I love working with L&D people but I get tense when I sense some spending way too much time and effort putting on courses and doing what’s been done before, and not learning and developing themselves sufficiently in business acumen, vital sales and marketing skills, (I always say that effective learning starts with a sale being made), innovation, leadership etc All of which are also life skills and would benefit the individual immensely.

    If L&D can convince the rest of the business of their importance, and then convince the business that they learned their way there to this compelling argument, they have a case.


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