One entertaining oddity of the English language is its inventiveness around collective nouns – from a murmation of starlings to a cloud of computers. But what moniker can we attach to the growing presence of L&D professionals in the workplace that would help us better understand their purpose, activities and value?
Language historian Chloe Rhodes offers some inspiration. A fyting of beggars – derived from the Middle English term for lying— could be applied to some L&D storytellers, though an illusion (of magicians) or an incredulity (of cuckolds) might be more fitting.
David Patterson, an e-learning analyst, suggests – unkindly – ‘an irrelevance of L&D professionals because they continually find themselves ignored and excluded from key business decisions.’
Nick Hindley, Workforce Development Manager at Norfolk County Council, is more positive. He proposes variously: a catalyst, harvest or construction of L&D professionals, thanks to the efficiency with which corporate learning reaps returns and underpins long-term performance.
But Hindley also recognises that the L&D market is changing as companies adopt new ways to satisfy their learning needs. Executives, he says, ‘are finding their own learning solutions and, as L&D professionals acknowledge, many of these solutions are outside any corporate LMS or curated learning application. This has been happening for years and it won’t stop.’ A simple Google search, for example, will provide ample material on such subjects as ‘how to become an effective leader’. Combine this with guidance from a mentor or line manager, and one might reasonably ask who really needs L&D professionals?
"The L&D sector must pinpoint its true value before adopting an appropriate collective noun."
The L&D sector must therefore pinpoint its true value before adopting an appropriate collective noun. For Hindley, ‘the real issue is about the intention of the learner and their sponsor – if L&D focuses on this, it’ll have a role for a long time. Moreover, good quality outcomes lead to other value-adding activities, including the effective planning and evaluation of the learning.’
He sees three key ways that L&D can add value:
Needs analysis. Endless talk about personal development priorities typically ends with L&D merely connecting learning requests with courses. But a more focused discussion that includes L&D from the outset would help determine the specific skills and behaviours needed (known as micro learning). This would also make the learning easier and cheaper to evaluate (and perhaps generate a positive L&D vibe inside the organisation).
Implementation planning. Although many L&D needs analyses are done at a high level of subject specification, implementation planning can be minimal. It is therefore essential to set implementation goals that are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time bound. These, says Hindley, should provide a sharp focus on learning outcomes as well as a detailed implementation timeline. Given active line manager support, the whole process should smooth the transfer of learning into the workplace.
Evaluation: With clear and agreed outcomes, the evaluation process becomes straightforward: it simply needs to assess the expected impact areas. To be truly credible, evaluation would also need to encompass the views of mangers, mentors, coaches, colleagues, customers, fellow learners and trainers etc. And if the evaluation process can generate data that shows unequivocally how a learning plan will produce reliable, repeatable and productive results, L&D’s profile in the organisation will be hugely enhanced.
L&D departments can often seem unobtrusive, unrecognised, even invisible to the board. But when their expertise is tapped and the essential data they extract is deployed, L&D professionals can provide the very fuel that drives organisational success.
One might even describe them as a ‘lode of L&D professionals.’