Ask learning and development (L&D) professionals anywhere in the world about their key concerns and, after mentioning problems associated with being asked to do too much with too few resources in too short a time, they’ll talk about a lack of recognition.
Being “people people”, L&D professionals tend not to have huge egos that crave constant approval from others. Rather, they express concerns that their hard work, usually performed under pressure and to tight deadlines, hardly rates a “thank you” from senior managers.
Moreover, the value that they add to their organization – by facilitating productivity improvements in the workforce – is overlooked. Any credit tends to be appropriated by line managers, who attribute their staff’s improved performance to their leadership and motivational abilities.
Consequently, L&D professionals find it difficult – if not impossible – to attain the dizzy heights of senior management and rarely, if ever, achieve a boardroom seat.
Collective Noun Options
One – arguably “left-field” – way to overcome this state of affairs could be to establish an accepted collective noun for L&D professionals. I recently wrote an article for the FT | IE Business School Corporate Learning Alliance explaining that, while some of these collective nouns are centuries old, others – such as “a cloud of computers” – are contemporary.
The collective noun for beggars – a fighting of beggars – derives from the Middle English word fyting. A fyton was someone who was a liar. Hopefully, no one would suggest “a fighting of L&D professionals.” On the other hand, meekness, epitomized by turtle doves, can also be a disadvantage. Turtle doves’ collective noun is a pitying. A pitying of L&D professionals is probably not the right image either if the profession wants to shake off its anonymous image where senior executives are concerned.
Other – hopefully inappropriate for L&D professionals – collective nouns include an incredulity (of cuckolds), a rash (of dermatologists), a promise (of barmen), a shuffle (of bureaucrats), an illusion (of magicians), a morbidity (of majors), an imposition (of in-laws), a curse (of painters) and a complex (of psychologists).
The collective noun for L&D professionals should indicate the profession’s activities and value. It should contribute positively to the profession’s prestige and profile.
An Accepted Collective Noun
Some champion “an investment” of L&D professionals, because L&D is an investment that will pay off. Others argue for “a catalyst” of L&D professionals, because they add to what’s already there to provide a better outcome. Alternatively, a collection of L&D professionals could be a growth or a harvest, because they grow talent, and their organization harvests the benefits. It might even be a construction of L&D professionals, because they are building on people’s knowledge and skills foundations.
However, the current front-runner among prospective collective nouns for L&D professionals is a lode (“an ore deposit”) of L&D professionals. L&D departments can often seem unobtrusive, unrecognized, even invisible. Yet – like a valuable mineral seam in the dark depths of a mine – when L&D professionals’ expertise is tapped and the essential data they extract is deployed, they can provide the fuel that drives organizational success.
Earning the Accolade
To earn the accolade of having their own collective noun, L&D professionals must demonstrate that their activities are valuable. Does that mean offering even more with less, following the lean and agile mantras that have been popular in business for some years? Does it involve focusing on content curation rather than creation? Is it through embracing and applying learning technology – or is it something else? Then, how do you record and measure L&D’s success in ways that will impress senior executives?
The L&D profession faces a continuous, growing challenge because people are finding their own learning solutions – and many of them appear to be outside any corporate learning management system (LMS) or curated learning application. Type phrases such as “how to become a good leader” into Google, and there are pages of free, effective materials. Add to this content guidance from a line manager and a mentor, and who needs an L&D professional?
However, this argument is not really about content, access to the content or how well the content is designed. It’s about the intention of the learner and their sponsor (if there is one), what they want to achieve, and achieving the intended outcome of the learning. If L&D focuses on these issues, it will continue to have a long-term role. Moreover, quality outcomes lead to the other value-adding activities, including the effective planning and evaluation of the learning.
If L&D professionals want to gain the positive recognition that their collective efforts deserve but that has, so far, been denied to them, maybe one way is to encourage it linguistically by introducing – and using – the term “a lode of L&D professionals” at every opportunity.