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The future role of the enterprise’s learning and development department

January 10, 2017

If the role of learning and development (L&D) was ever simply to provide a regular diet of courses for the rest of the organization, those days are gone. The model of the L&D department can no longer be that of a mom and pop business or a cottage industry, locally creating learning content like gifted artisans. For enterprises in a competitive environment, L&D must expand its contribution well beyond generating every course the enterprise wants. Here’s how.

Starting conversations

In the 21st century, enterprise L&D should see its primary role as being a facilitator. This has several facets.

First, L&D should be facilitating dialog between different parts of the organization. It should be creating conversations within the business and energizing collaboration, spreading knowledge and insight fast. In today’s rapid economy, things move too quickly for the traditional cycle of course generation and distribution to meet the needs of the business.

Much of the information that employees need already exists in the minds of other employees. Rather than generating a beautifully crafted course to meet a performance need, it is often faster – and often more effective – to enable employees to learn from each other in online conversations.

L&D has a vital communications role in building and maintaining the networks that allow people across the business to exchange and share insight and data.

That leads to the second way in which L&D has to work within business today: it has to be a facilitator of learning rather than the sole learning provider. Today’s learning department has neither the resources nor the time to create every course that the business might need.

The course as a last resort

There are times, however, when only a course will do. The trick is to know when. Sometimes free information from the internet – a TED talk or an article from Harvard Business Review – is the most effective way of delivering content. Sometimes, the content has already been generated by employees, and the L&D department’s role is not to recreate it, but rather to find that content and make it accessible.

Looking at the wide range of content that L&D departments could produce, there are relatively few times when the best solution is a course produced internally by the department (see our previous blog on the learning content pyramid). Those times are when there is a ‘secret sauce’ of company-specific information which needs to be well articulated and distributed. This is where the L&D department can really add value, making sure that key company thinking is clearly expressed and shared to all who need it.

Reducing the number of courses produced will sound like anathema to many L&D professionals. Indeed, it goes against the grain of many decades of practice, but L&D should listen to Clark Quinn and do as little as possible to be useful – what he calls the Least Assistance Principle. It’s not being rude or lazy, it’s ensuring the optimum use of resources.

Improving performance

Finally, L&D also has to take responsibility for facilitating improved performance within the enterprise. Performance has two elements; on the job and in review.

To improve on the job performance, the smart enterprise is increasingly providing software that is contextually aware in terms of the user’s role, location, and task. This software presents employees with intelligent learning choices through support from contextual menus and widgets. The L&D department’s role in this sort of performance support may be no more than advisory in the selection of software.

L&D’s role in performance reviews is stronger. Smart learning enterprises are already rethinking the performance review, reshaping them from an annual ritual into a series of light touch events (see Is the performance review really dead?). During those light-touch conversations, managers will be looking to point employees toward great learning and performance support resources. It is L&D’s role to make sure those resources – and the means to track their use – are in place.

By focusing on performance, adopting the Least Assistance Principle, and facilitating conversations,

L&D departments can move from a traditional role of course provider to one where supporting the business is the key driver.

It is time for the L&D department to leave behind the mom and pop store and become a vital part of the larger enterprise.

Dale Kennedy, Product Director, Infor Human Capital Management

  • Learning Management System
  • North America
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