The corporate learning and development function is ripe for disruption.

In fact, it may already be here. As the rate of change in business accelerates, can L&D keep pace? Is L&D ready for the evolving workforce structure, the seismically shifting competitive landscape and the perpetual permutation of technology?

In order to understand and navigate this imminent sea change, L&D functions will need to rapidly redefine their models to add value in new ways. This shift requires a transformation of L&D and the addition of partnerships that bring ongoing learning innovation.

Business models are adapting to volatile marketplace dynamics, while technology accelerates the pace of workforce changes. McKinsey estimates in a recent report that in 60 percent of jobs, 30 percent of activities will be automated in the next few years. This change may be psychologically threatening to the workforce, but it can create headroom to add customer value in new ways. Your workforce will require rapid skill redevelopment; are you ready to provide it?

Moving at the Speed of Change

Annual cycles in most industries and businesses are helpful but not sufficient to keep pace with these changes. Executives vigilantly watch competitive shifts and adapt their strategies and tactics rapidly. Many L&D functions are not prepared to shift at the same rate businesses are changing. They conduct a traditional needs analysis on an annual basis and build plans that address identified needs. Are you moving fast enough to keep pace with the needs of the business?

The Illusion of Value

In many cases, learning leaders build sizable L&D teams who continue to design, develop and deliver, based on what has worked in the past. These approaches are reinforced through favorable feedback from participants, which creates the illusion that value is created. A CLO friend refers to this situation as the “silent conspiracy” among participants, facilitators and business sponsors. Expectations are met and boxes are ticked, but is value provided? Is improvement made? Is the business better prepared? This closed loop reinforces doing more of the same, regardless of whether or not it is driving business impact.

Getting Outside the Bubble

What happens when you leave the L&D bubble? CEOs and employees indicate the L&D function is not meeting today’s needs:

  • While 84 percent of executives rate learning as important or very important to business success, only 8 percent think the L&D function has a measurable impact.
  • While 87 percent of millennials say that development or career growth opportunities are very important, only 33 percent of employees worldwide are engaged, due in great part to lack of development opportunities.

Therefore, CEOs go to L&D when they need training but only occasionally consult L&D leaders on the strategic implications of workforce transformations or the people development needs of strategic initiatives. Furthermore, only 38 percent of workers say they have opportunities for learning and growth at their workplace. Even when L&D provides opportunities for professional growth, employees may not know how to access it or do not feel it is relevant. So CEOs and employees are voting with their feet: They are seeking what they need outside the L&D channel. The traditional L&D model is no longer working and is ripe for disruption.

Learning leaders need to create a learning function that focuses predominantly on understanding the business and problem-solving, using learning and organizational development as levers. This is a significant shift from the traditional “training shop” approach, and it requires:

  1. Learning leader(s) who initiate and add value to business strategy conversations
  2. An L&D team capable of performance consulting, equipped with deep business understanding
  3. A focus on the learner experience and providing access to learning at the point of need
  4. Deep analytics capability to assess impact with strategic initiatives and with employees

Building Strategic Partnerships

Given budget constraints and the need to move quickly, this approach may require engaging L&D partners who can bring learning innovation more rapidly. The right partner(s) will understand brain science and learning technology innovations and use them to achieve business impacts.

This approach requires a thoughtful and iterative strategy, which will help the internal L&D function and partner(s) focus on what matters. Here is one model for a strategic approach:

Learning Strategy & Culture: Corporate Strategy Alignment, Organization/Function Design, Technology Ecosystem Design, Governance & Planning, Culture & Change Management - Business Impact

None of this is rocket science. But it does require a strategy, a desire to change, a sense of urgency, and an L&D team (inside and out) that can innovate.