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Radical New Roles for L&D

Bob Little 

January 8, 2016

“L&D professionals need to move away from being the custodians of learning.” This was the rather startling assertion of Mike Collins, head of learning solutions at DPG plc, when he spoke at the annual conference of the CIPD in November 2015.

“Instead, they should focus on empowering people to collaborate and share. They should shift towards developing learning communities and facilitating connections between people. In other words, L&D professionals should become community managers.”

Thanks to the growing acceptance of the validity of such concepts as 70:20:10, learning outside of formal, classroom-based programs now has real-world significance of major proportions. So, with the growth of technology, it’s impractical and unrealistic for L&D professionals to see themselves as the owners of corporate learning.

Rather, they need to take on more of a curator role – validating the various learning materials, making the people who need these materials aware of their existence, and also facilitating the learning process that ensues.

Collins says that L&D professionals must increasingly operate outside of their comfort zone, in order to be more innovative. “The profession needs to think big, be more creative, and be prepared to take some risks. L&D people need to become the catalyst for change in their organizations.”

“I [too] believe there needs to be a shift in approach to L&D, and this begins with the mindset of L&D professionals,” says Ash Khanna, program manager at the Financial Times’ IE Business School Corporate Learning Alliance.

“If L&D professionals approach learning as a tick-box exercise then that’s how it will be seen across their organization. However, if they brand learning in a way that’s collaborative and engaging, then there’ll be a higher chance that they can foster an environment that supports, encourages and promotes this. Cultivating a learning community is a way of pushing the L&D function forward but doing this alone isn’t enough. It needs to be done in conjunction with other options to create a multi-faceted learning environment.

“An organization’s L&D professionals can spearhead an opportunity for this to exist – whereby they empower individuals to run sessions or forums and share learning informally with one another. They can encourage these sessions to be where individuals network with each other and share thoughts and ideas.

“Running in conjunction with this is an online offering where everyone is given access to a wide range of content, delivered via different media such as videos and podcasts. This provides an opportunity for individuals to curate their own ‘learning playlists’ as well as tailor a curriculum for their particular needs – including what is relevant to their own learning and development,” says Khanna.

At the same time, another new role for L&D professionals is emerging, which promises to dramatically raise the profile within an organization of learning and those who facilitate and deliver it. David Patterson, one of the founders of e-learning think-tank The Company of Thought and a director of Learning Light, explains, “We’re beginning to collect evidence that some companies in the U.S. are using their L&D function in a ‘super-sales’ role.

“The idea is that you don’t send a salesperson to see a potential customer. Instead, you allow that potential customer to access and participate in the training programs related to your organization’s products and services. This involves both classroom-delivered and online learning materials and activities.

“Then, having undergone the learning experience – and thoroughly knowing the product or service that your organization provides – the potential customer is convinced of the value and use of that product or service and is, therefore, more than half way to buying it.

“In effect, you leave the sales specialists to use their particular skills to ‘up-sell’ to existing customers, while you equip and empower the L&D function to act as the first point-of-contact with potential customers – to ‘qualify’ those sales leads and to lead them, through the sales funnel to the point of sale.”

Nick Hindley, associate director of performance improvement and innovation at PPD, says, “This is something we’ve been actively involved in for many years.

“It may catch on more generally but the biggest blocker is senior leaders seeing only potentially negative outcomes by exposing their organization to ‘outsiders.’ Having said that, if you start small, you can build trust in the process – and the returns are fantastic!”

If you’re an L&D professional, what constraints or opportunities do you see in your role, and how would you like it to develop? Share your thoughts below.

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2 comments on “Radical New Roles for L&D”:

  1. Vlaďka Knihová wrote:

    Learning opportunities mostly in the form of a weekend training both for the existing customers and prospects (complemented by engaging programmes for their family members) have been organized by smart companies in the Czech republic for quite a time. Mainly they are focused on new products and services in their portfolio. So far, I haven’t come across an e-learning programme aimed at reaching the same objectives. However, high-quality digital learning experience/materials provided ex post to the participants of these training sessions might reach their colleagues, strengthen the relations and generate more business.

  2. Bob Little wrote:

    The report of weekend, “classroom-delivered” learning opportunties being organized in the Czech Republic – and the fact that this has been going on there for some time – makes most interesting reading. Doing this digitally is beginning to be a trend in the U.S., and history shows that, where the U.S., leads in corporate e-learning terms, the rest of the world is extremely likely to follow. Since the Czech Republic already has a culture which is open to this approach – although it has yet to be delivered digitally – it would seem that that digital learning trend will soon be adopted there, perhaps being introduced digitally via the U.S-headquartered multinationals that have offices and factories in the Czech Republic. Hopefully, these ideas can catch on in other countries within the European Union – so that organizations in these countries can compete effectively, in terms of sales and market share, in today’s and tomorrow’s world markets. That should also help to provide more L&D activities into the bargain – which, in turn, should help more people to be more skilled, productive, effective and, generally, add to the “wealth of the nations” – as well as their own individual skill sets and wealth-generating abilities.