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Bringing L&D In-House: What It Means and How to Do It Right

Bob Little 

May 25, 2018

We all know how important L&D professionals are in driving change within their organizations. But, the big question still remains: are they better positioned in-house, where they are closer to the day-to-day action? Or out-of-house, where they are better able to see the “bigger picture?”

In-House Versus External Consultancy

In recent years there’s been a trend among businesses to bring L&D and HR roles in-house. And, according to a 2015 survey by the CIPD, in-house functions were expected to grow even more over the next 2 years.

Internal HR and L&D consultants are beneficial for a number of reasons. First, they can often help to reduce costs. External training courses, for instance, can be extremely expensive. Second, they tend to have better relationships with staff. This can help them to tailor learning to the unique needs of each member of staff.

In contrast, external consultants will need to identify the organization’s key people and establish their credibility to get their ideas and proposals considered seriously.

Moreover, internal consultants often have a better understanding of the organization that they advise. Its mission and values, and its key objectives. This means that it’s often easier for them to implement strategic change or culture transformation than it would be for out-of-house consultants.

As Dr Robert Rosenfeld, a member of FT | IE Corporate Learning Alliance’s global education network, clarifies, “Internal consultants have the advantage that they’re more often involved with the realization of their own advice – and they can continue to play an important role after the implementation.”

At the same time, in-house consultants can be limited by their closeness to the business. Dr Anton Franckeiss, head of consulting at Waggl, explains, “The benefits of having intimate knowledge and familiarity with an organization’s workings are many. Yet experience shows that this can be outweighed by the need for a broader perspective, bringing different cultural norms and methodologies, and offering a clearer indicator of what can work in the future model of your organization, rather than in the current and historical versions.”

Become a Troublemaker

Ultimately the trend towards in-house L&D means that the pressure on internal professionals to do more and achieve more is growing. So, what can they do to ensure that they are just as successful as external competitors?

Rosenfield argues that one of the best ways to improve the efficiency of internal departments is to shift the focus from outputs to outcomes. But to do this, professionals need to become more disruptive.

“These professionals need to focus on enabling, rather than servicing compliance requirements. HR/L&D professionals must be prepared to be disruptive and take on the role of ‘troublemaker’.”

In other words, internal consultants need to be empowered to explore and implement creative solutions to business problems. And they need to be able to get the solutions that they do come up with heard and agreed by senior management. They also need to be excellent communicators, so that they can clearly explain the financial value and future worth of their policies to the organization’s leadership, while also informing staff about new policies and procedures.

“They should be taking the long view, whereas the organization’s CEO may only be looking up to a couple of years ahead,” explains Rosenfeld.

“HR business partners must be organization-enablers who’ll champion change, curate human capital and steward total rewards. They’re also delivery enablers, overseeing compliance, interpreting analytics, and integrating technology and media,” he adds.

Be Diverse

So, to be successful, L&D and HR professionals have to be multi-skilled because they often have to play many different roles within an organization. These different roles fall into three main categories:

  • Strategic Positioner: first, they need to be able to keep tabs on external business trends and be able to translate these into internal actions. They must also understand the general business conditions that are affecting their industry. This includes targeting and serving their organization’s key customers by segmenting them, staying aware of customer expectations, and aligning organizational actions to meet these needs. They also have a significant part to play in drawing up their organization’s strategic response to changes in the industry or in customer demand.
  • Paradox Navigator: this means embracing new tensions and encouraging the organization to become more agile, flexible and resilient to change. Instead of focusing on “either/or” strategies, paradoxical thinking emphasises “and/also” thinking, and can help the business to keep pace with change.
  • Credible Activist: professionals who’re credible but aren’t activists will have little impact. Conversely, activists who’re not credible may have ideas, but nobody will listen to them. HR business partners therefore need to trusted, respected, and listened to but – above all – they must have a point of view and take a position.

A Model for Internal Consulting

To start driving change from within an organization, Dr Rosenfield recommends HR and L&D professionals follow this eight-step consulting process:

1. Client expectations: define your employees’ needs and objectives and start to build your business case.

2. Contracting: use McKinsey’s 7S framework to assess organizational effectiveness.

3. Initial information and assessment: carry out interviews with people across the business to examine the everyday problems that they face. Use the 5 Whys technique to assess what’s happening “on the shop floor.”

4. Preliminary analysis and report back: be aware of “fear of change” when you report back to senior management. Focus on problem solving and offer guidance towards achieving the objectives that you’ve set out. But, be prepared! Top level managers may not like all of your proposal. They may want you to make some changes or even reject it entirely.

5. Stakeholder management and buy-in: identify the influencers in your organization and carry out a stakeholder analysis. This will help you to gain support for your proposal.

6. Targets and tactics: once you’ve got your proposal agreed, keep the momentum going by establishing a sense of urgency. Identify the project’s driving forces and its constraints, and manage any tensions or conflicts that arise as a result.

7. Implementation schedule: you may need to change parts of your proposal along the way. Anticipate any problems by drawing up a contingency plan. Get feedback on any changes that you need to make and note down any missed opportunities that you come across.

8. Evaluation and learning: carry out a project review. Think about what was supposed to happen, and compare it to what really happened. Note the expectation gap and assess what can be learned from this.

Finally… Stay Inquisitive!

Finally, Rosenfeld encourages HR and L&D professionals to “Think entrepreneurially, learn from failure and try stuff out.” To achieve this, he recommends that people stay alert and inquisitive by using these following eight questions:

  • Am I using appropriate techniques to positively influence internal staff?
  • How can I balance organizational tension?
  • What can I do to enhance my trustworthiness in a consulting role?
  • How can I enhance stakeholders’ support and commitment?
  • What experiment can I try?
  • Is our current HR/L&D business model viable for the future?
  • How can I be a more effective internal consultant?
  • How will I adapt my approach to suit the local context?


Do you think L&D and HR functions are best positioned in-house or externally? What are the key challenges that you believe internal consultants are now facing? And, what can they do to tackle them?

Share your thoughts in the Comments section, below.

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One comment on “Bringing L&D In-House: What It Means and How to Do It Right”:

  1. Barry Wilding-Webb wrote:

    Bob, I read your article with great interest having this last year been in an internal L&D role within a small (130 staff) law firm in SW England. My biggest challenges have been to provide a truly blended learning approach for leaders, managers and coaches that I am developing through programmes that I have introduced, drawing from experience in much bigger public organisations. Time away from the office is literally money as fee earners they only get paid for client work. I therefore have to make my programmes meaningful, relevant and most of all available to them when they have time to access them. I do have to cajole somewhat from time to time. Being new to the firm I can still maintain that objectivity and provide that all important disruption by challenging them out of their comfort zones. Thanks for a great article. Barry