Deep Thoughts

The role of workplace L&D in today’s world

I’ve come across a number of LinkedIn posts recently where the continual question on whether anyone would care if the L&D function was shut down has been asked. To my dismay, a number of people seemed to think no one would, but I really feel we should care. 

I’ve spoken about this before, but the topic was reignited when the Chinese company ByteDance (Owner of TikTok) told the world they were shutting down their talent development function.

You can read the full story on why this happened here, but the TL:DR (too long, didn’t read) quote straight from the company was:

The internal memo that HR leaders received said the team’s work had “limited practical value” and represented a “disconnect” from the company’s needs.

Interesting, right?

If you were to close down your L&D function, then in my humble opinion you can kiss goodbye to your company achieving its long term goals. 

How can anyone expect a company to prosper if it chooses not to invest in its people’s development? And why would anyone in their right mind join an organisation where the potential to evolve is not available?

I feel like I need to unpack my thoughts around this as it’s something I’m quite passionate about.

An enabler, not a task giver

So what role does L&D play today?

That’s the million dollar question.

It’s about Human Development, not just completing tick box exercises to impact the bottom line.

Whatever you call it, talent, capability or learning – it’s all about human development. Helping everyone to be a little bit better this week than they were last week.

For me that is the real purpose and value of L&D, helping people to realise the enormity of the possible.

We are in a great position of responsibility to support people in not only their challenges at work, but also in helping everyone explore and understand themselves a little bit better.

He said what now?

A few months back I shared the below post on my social channels with a short video to summarise how I saw my role in L&D. 

“This is how I view myself. As someone in what I see as a great role of responsibility in enabling people with the platform to learn, the support they need to explore themselves and in empowering them to believe they can achieve much more than they might imagine.

It does not matter if this is through capability to perform better in a job, building leadership behaviours, developing communication styles and feeling comfortable in one’s skin or looking after our own wellbeing.

I ultimately see my role in L&D as one of enabling and supporting human development. To believe in the enormity of the possible and work with everyone to navigate this crazy thing called life.”

It’s multi-layered but oh so simple…

As we’ve covered, the role of L&D today for me is in driving human development within organisations. We are the enablers of change, our role is not to give people learning but rather to provide an environment where it can flourish.

Of course there are many sides to the world of L&D as we know it.

The enablement of a learning environment is one thing, but what about the not so fun stuff? You know the stuff I’m talking about! The company directed mandatory learning!!! Aka compliance.

The responsibility to keep people safe through the form of educating on compliance topics will probably always be attached to teams who lead people development in some way. But, that’s not to say it has to be the mundane box ticking exercise that so many of us have come to loathe. 

Instead we can use our powers of creativity to bring human centered design to these learning experiences.

If we make people feel something, they are more likely to connect with content and continue to call upon it when they are in those moments where this knowledge is required.

You have the power!

I feel like a number of us in our L&D community fail to grasp just how much opportunity we have to influence change and create real value for people.

We are in a moment of interesting times, where I believe now more than ever a group of people dedicated to human development within any organisation is critical.

You see, we all need a helping hand sometimes, someone to take that walk with us and show us the way, to help us see the potential that lay ahead – we in the learning community can be those people.

Organisations are constantly transforming with the pace of new tech and people aren’t sure what this means for their careers anymore. A “job for life” feels like a term that will slowly cease to exist as data is showing that more of us will have to change careers throughout our lifetime.

With this constant evolution, we in the learning community have the opportunity to help people with not just their learning journey, but their life-long employability too.

A key focus of mine over the last few years has been speaking to people about identifying their expiring, evolving and emerging skills for the work they do today.

To make sure we can be future-fit, I believe we must take stock of what is no longer needed, what has changed and what we need to add. This is where our expertise as enablers of human development as I call it, can really be of benefit.

We can be that helping hand which provides the guidance and environment to enable everyone to develop the necessary to support life-long employability through their approach to learning.

L&D is not dead

To reconnect with my earlier point, on the conversation around shutting down L&D functions in organisations because they won’t be missed – I don’t feel this is the way forward.

Yes, I would agree that L&D functions in some organisations are merely there to tick the box for the standard corporate hierarchy to say “yes we invest in learning here”. But this does not mean that they cannot play an important role.

It is not in removing a dedicated learning function that you will find a change. I mean, what’s different if no-one knew it was there before right?

What we need to do is evolve corporate learning, we need to evolve the understanding and purpose of what a L&D function supports people with today.

This is where reflecting on how we can really help people perform better at work and live better lives is so important. We should be talking to the people across our organisations, find out what’s really stopping them from doing what they need to in their day to day and support with that.

Don’t worry about buying a flashy new LMS or another 3rd party course catalogue, just help people deal with real world problems that will make their lives easier.

Be the difference

Some of you reading this may think I’m completely out of my mind and have gone too far down the learning black hole, but my ultimate message here is one of being that difference.

The role that all of us in today’s world of L&D can play is one of being the difference, we can be the difference in someone’s life in and out of work being better. 

We can create human centered experiences that connect and change people for the better. We can enable an environment of learning, support people in upskilling, re-skilling and just being a better human.

And for me that’s what it’s all about, helping people be better humans. 

Whether that’s through building new skills, evolving behaviours or understanding how to look after yourself – helping everyone be a little better, making life a little easier and making people a little happier is the difference we can make.

So for me, L&D is not dead – it has evolved and its role today is to be the enabler of human development.

Before you go… 👋

If you like my writing and think “Hey, I’d like to hear more of what this guy has to say” then you’re in luck.

You can join me every Tuesday morning for more tools, templates and insights for the modern L&D pro in my weekly newsletter.

If you like my writing and think “Hey, I’d like to hear more of what this guy has to say” then you’re in luck.

You can join me every Tuesday morning for more tools, templates and insights for the modern L&D pro in my weekly newsletter.

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