Learning and Development Working in Business Partnership

Are you a Learning and Development Manager who struggles to get people released for training courses? Or an L&D professional who really wishes that your organisation would try the brilliant new approach to learning that you encountered at a recent conference that you believe would make such a difference? Ever wondered why you struggle to get your voice heard within your organisation?

In a hard hitting post (Why L&D Can’t Ignore Alignment Anymore) Jonathan Kettleborough talked about the need for Learning and Development Professionals to ensure that their departments, their activity and their focus is aligned with the strategy of the businesses we work within.

Jonathan quotes a report by Capita which states that “The vast majority (82%) of leaders lack confidence that their firm’s L&D strategy and delivery are aligned to the company’s operational strategy. Half (50%) believe that their L&D function is stuck in a ‘business as usual ’mindset.” Or to put that another way only 18% of business leaders have confidence that their firm’s L&D strategy is aligned with the company’s operational strategy.

That is frightening! However hard L&D professionals might be working the perception in the vast majority of organisations is that we are not working with the operational teams to support their strategy. No doubt some L&D Professionals will counter that all too often it is hard to get our voices heard and that when we present innovative new approaches to L&D we are frequently ignored. I wonder whether some perceive themselves to be being ignored because they have failed to remember that it is the responsibility of the communicator to ensure the communication is relevant and understood? Do we find ourselves too wrapped up in the latest “fads” or learning theories? Too engaged by the glitter of the shiny new thing (approach to learning) that we forget that we have a need to be enabling the business to achieve their strategic and operational aims?

Learning and Development is fascinating because it gives us the opportunity to enable others and to achieve great things. But I wonder if, in the glimmer of the new and exciting, we sometimes forget the here and now, the urgent business need, the requirement to generate income to sustain the organisation? That is not to say that we cannot encourage an organisation to take new approaches to things or encourage our organisations to spend time and effort on new developments. It is essential, as Jonathan reminds us, that we ensure that what we are doing is aligned with the needs of the organisation and delivers a meaningful difference which enables the business to achieve.

Much has been heard over the past 15 years about HR Business Partnership (HRBP) and the focus has always seemed to be on our colleagues who work in the other branch of HR which dealt with all the personnel type issues. We have not tended to hear much reference to the need for Learning and Development to work in business partnership. Some might well argue that is because they have consistently sought to work in business partnership with the organisations they work within. However the evidence quoted above, where we saw that 82% of business leaders don’t feel that their organisation’s L&D strategy is aligned with their operational strategy, would seem to suggest that we haven’t got things right – yet!

We have a great opportunity to make a genuine difference if we are prepared to learn to look at things differently. Working in business partnership does require a different set of skills but as learning and development professionals we are of course open to learning – aren’t we?

When I think about the work I have done over recent years it has all been about aligning my activity with the needs of the organisation. At times that has enabled me to introduce new ways of doing things because I have been able to demonstrate the benefits it brings in terms of reduced costs, improved results or a more committed group of staff. If I think about what that has required of me then I think I would summarise it as following and would venture to suggest that the following encapsulate what is required of a Learning and Development Professional working in business partnership:

  • Being prepared to learn new things;
  • Understanding the business and business operations/functions;
  • Understanding the business environment we operate in
  • Being able to talk the language of business and the business I am operating in;
  • An ability to build trusting relationships with internal and critically with the organisation’s clients and talk their language;
  • Believing in my own ability, the value of what I offer the business and the difference it can make to the business;
  • Being confident in my knowledge of the business and being able to express my views;
  • Being focused on the delivery of results which meet the needs of the business.

Working in business partnership means adding value to the business by aligning what we are doing as Learning and Development Professionals with the needs of the business – not as we might perceive them but as the business clearly sees them. It also means speaking out at times, even if it might be unpopular, when we believe that a different approach is needed. But that must always be with sound knowledge and business focused reasoning.

Jonathan reminded us that 82% of business leaders don’t believe that their learning and development strategy is aligned with their operational strategy. It’s time to change that perception!

Is Learning and Development A Luxury?

Does your business or organisation invest in Learning and Development for your employees when the business is going through challenging times? Or do you see it as a luxury for the times when money is plentiful and you have time to allow your employees to undertake training? One of the things that I have seen over the years is a real change in the way Learning and Development is treated by forward looking businesses.

There was a time when, almost by default, training was one of the first things to be cut when times became hard. The focus was on survival and organisations didn’t see the development of their people as a key element in their fight for survival.

Research has shown that a significant percentage of those who resign from organisations do so because of a lack of skills training and development opportunities. If you risk losing your employees then shouldn’t you be doing something about it? It reminds me of an image that circulated on LinkedIn a short while ago which captured a discussion with the Chief Executive of an organisation who had asked “What happens if we train all our staff and they then leave?” to which the response was “What happens if we don’t train them and they all stay?”

I have seen and indeed experienced more and more Learning and Development professionals stepping up their games and moving into a business partnership approach to their way of working. Coupled with this forward thinking senior management operational teams have realised the value of continuous professional development for all their employees.

Learning and Development Business Partners

What do I mean by Learning and Development Business Partners? In recent years we have seen an increased emphasis on HR Business Partners especially for those who work in what were often refered to as HR Generalist roles. For brevity let’s talk about those roles being the ones that deal with all the people focused items that are not Learning and Development related.

The HR Business Partner is becoming an established concept in many organisations. Over the coming months and years I believe that it is crucial that those like me who are focused on Learning and Development fully embrace this role. I will deal in another post with what that means and the skills required because for now I want to focus on why Learning and Development needs to be on the agenda for every business and why it can never be thought of as a luxury.

I believe that it is critical for a business to invest in their employees to as to achieve both short term and long term goals and here are some of the key benefits of doing so:

Achieving Business Growth:

Employees with the skills and knowledge required to expand your business to its’ full potential are essential. If you equip them with the necessary skills and knowledge to use new systems, work with new processes and approaches and to be informed managers and decision makers then you are preparing your business for growth.

Increasing Competitiveness:

Businesses whose employees have the required expertise are able to compete effectively with other business. They are able to use their newly acquired skills and knowledge to improve the existing products and services to ensure that they meet the diverse and ever changing demands and needs of the target customers.

Promoting Job Satisfaction and Individual Productivity:

As mentioned earlier, lack of training is one of the major factors that leads to employees quitting their positions. One of the surest ways of ensuring that your employees feel appreciated is by nurturing their professional skills through regular learning and development. This will in return boost their individual productivity and ability to contribute to growth of the company.

Embracing Technology and Adapting To Changing Markets:

Learning opportunities not only equip employees with new skills but also enable them to embrace technology and adapt to the ever changing markets your business invariably operates in. It goes without saying that modern management systems and applications will significantly streamline the manner in which you carry out various business operations. To derive maximum benefit from such systems, you have to fully train your employees on how to use them. In turn this will help your business to incorporate technological changes in your markets and profit from them.

Reducing Staff Cost:

Every business strives to reduce operating costs in a bid to increase their profits. One way of achieve this goal is by reducing staff costs. In fact, as we all know many global businesses are currently working hard to reduce their staff costs to ensure they remain relevant and profitable in the current economic environment. Cross-training of staff is something that businesses need to consider and employees need to be open too. Having all the knowledge and skills for key operations held by just one or two individuals is a very dangerous position to find yourself in as a business.

If only one employee has special skills, you will have a hard time replacing their knowledge if they suddenly decide to leave the company. Hence, cross-training will help you to spread knowledge around and save you time as you will not necessarily have to hire new employees every time. Simply put, it is like diversifying your investments.

Learning and Development is A Recruiting Tool:

We all know that the current generation and indeed many from previous generations now want more than just a pay cheque at the end of the month. They are more attracted to businesses that allow them to learn new skills. Businesses that offer such opportunities or platforms are more likely to attract and keep high productivity employees who are focused and committed to supporting you to achieve your business goals and objectives.

So to answer the question in the title of this post “Is Learning and Development a Luxury?” I hope that you agree that no it isn’t and that it is very effective in fostering growth and development of the business as well as employees..