Learning and Development has been suffering a crisis of credibility which shows no signs of abating. The latest findings from the Towards Maturity L&D benchmarking survey make for worrying reading: there is a striking perceived reluctance from line managers (62%) and reluctance from learners (47%) to participate in development opportunities, while only one third of L&D departments are achieving their goals (1). This is despite the need for renewed focus on development and talent management to overcome the impending demographic crisis which is being talked about in business journals in near-apocalyptic terms. With the retirement of the boomers and statistics that exemplify impending knowledge gaps at the highest levels of businesses, there is doubt that Millennials and Gen Z will be able to compensate for wide-spread loss of knowledge capital. In the US alone, 66% of all businesses with employees, numbering almost 4 million businesses, are owned by Baby Boomers (2), while 54% of business leaders are already reporting damage to their business due to talent shortages (3).
So if there is a dire need for development in organisations to ensure business disruption is at a minimum over the coming years, why is L&D still viewed so poorly, and why are organisations and workers reluctant to commit to training?
1. Learning and Development ‘takes away from the job’
There is a perception that Learning and Development is a distraction from the ‘real work’ that is done daily: this blog has previously discussed the airless rooms far from the office that employees are forced to attend, despite perhaps having pressing deadlines or little time to devote to areas which they feel are peripheral to their job requirements. Furthermore, prioritising Learning and Development when the most important part of attending is getting a tick next to your name in a database somewhere, is not going to enflame the hearts of workers or their line managers.
The biggest problem here is that learning and development is seen as something that happens away from the job and doesn’t intersect with it: often there is little to no follow up to ensure that new systems and practices learned in training are being implemented and adhered to, and as such training is rightly seen as a waste of valuable time. To combat this, organisations need to ensure that training doesn’t stop in the classroom; that new systems and processes once learned, are followed up on, coached, and tested to ensure that training is actually having an impact on, and developing, their staff. Furthermore, staff need to understand how training is positively impacting their daily tasks and their career as a whole, which means that staff should also have a say in what training they undertake.
2. Training is Punishment
If the only time your staff are trained is when they have to be by law, or when they aren’t performing, then it is unsurprising that staff view training opportunities as punishment. This is often underscored by staff attending training, while management don’t, because their time is seen as too valuable to give up. Can you see the message being given to staff by this kind of double standard? If staff are underperforming, it may be that they require training, but it is also likely that they require support, coaching, mentoring or greater motivation to perform. Training should only be part of a disciplinary solution when the problem is that the worker has a lack of training.
3. Where is the ROI?
Learning and Development needs to be accountable. There is great reluctance to adopt practices that will investigate whether training interventions and courses are actually having a positive impact on efficiency, effectiveness or engagement. Unless people can see the reward, why risk the investment? If L&D wants to be taken seriously as a business function, then it needs to become just like other business functions where it shows the deep value and rewards that come from having a highly trained, competent and confident workforce. There are numerous ways to calculate ROI and there is no better way to make people understand the legitimacy of your offerings than by showing them how L&D is not only a valuable investment, but that it can reap financial benefits for organisations too. For more information on how to start calculating your L&D ROI, click here.
4. L&D Departments Lack Requisite Skills
Towards Maturity found that three in five Learning and Development leaders blame a lack of skills in their team for failing to achieve their goals, but only half of these leaders are investing in CPD (4). If L&D professionals lack existing skills that are deemed necessary to run an effective department, what happens when new skills are required to keep pace with changing technologies and workplaces? New skills highlighted in the benchmarking survey include social and collaborative learning, online training and delivery, technology and infrastructure, data analytics and performance consulting, and top performing teams are twice as likely to already have these skills in place (4). Unless organisations are investing in the development of their L&D staff, they cannot hope to keep pace with the changing business environment, which has already been highlighted as a make or break issue for organisations facing a loss of knowledge capital in the near future.
5. L&D is not Working Closely Enough with HR
The HR function and L&D should be working in confluence; so many of the functions of HR and L&D should be intersecting to ensure that a premium service is being offered to the business. From working together on talent management strategy and performance management to sharing data to enable L&D to offer realistic ROI or to exploit Human Resources Information Systems (HRIS) Big Data to improve their offerings, if L&D is not working closely with HR then a vital component is missing.
Learning and Development should be seen as the key to present and future business success, not as a drain on an organisation’s bottom line. If L&D is not relevant, business focused, and up to date, then it is no wonder that organisations are not giving L&D the resources or the credit it deserves. We live in a knowledge economy, where talent and skills shortages are already a burden on businesses; if L&D can’t make a case for why it is an effective response to the challenges businesses are facing today and in the near future, then it is no wonder that we, as an industry, are facing a crisis of credibility.