How can L&D develop the skills to drive performance?

The L&D function needs a much broader blend of skills than ever before in order to prepare organisations for technological growth, globalisation and an uncertain economic outlook, but there is a significant gap between the skills and capabilities L&D practitioners know they need, and what they actually have in-house.

Although the L&D community is more ambitious than ever before, many practitioners don’t have the capabilities in-house to drive the organisational change they’d like to, according to a CIPD research report.

For example, 87 per cent think that business planning is a priority for L&D professionals, but only 47 per cent think they currently have the skills in-house; similarly, 96 per cent see supporting learners online as important, but just 36 per cent have the capabilities to offer these services.

However, these figures aren’t so surprising, given that a high proportion of firms are not actively investing in building their L&D capability. Over 50 per cent of organisations surveyed said they are not planning on changing role focus towards instructional design, content development, technology, performance consulting and data analytics.

This also filters down to the L&D function itself – despite 9 out of 10 L&D professionals looking to improve performance, productivity and sharing of good practice, only 53 per cent agree that there are more options than just ‘the course’ for building skills and performance.

“It’s very interesting how, as L&D professionals, we constantly champion the importance of staying ahead of the game in terms of skills and capabilities, but don’t take our own advice,” said Ruth Stuart, research adviser at the CIPD.

“In this volatile work environment we need to be agile, adaptive and ambidextrous to drive performance and stay relevant, aligning our work to the wider business.

“In order to do this, we need to ensure that the correct L&D resources, roles and capabilities are in place.”

Although practitioners seem to understand the importance of alignment between L&D activity and organisational performance, Stuart said many are struggling to achieve this in practice.

“A clear line of sight is therefore key, as is being clear on vision and purpose and ensuring all resources are deployed innovatively and effectively,” she said.

A shift to performance consulting
The research report, which was based on benchmarking data from 600 L&D leaders and organisational case studies, also uncovered a noticeable shift in the L&D role from pure training delivery to a performance consulting model.

This means L&D professionals must both diagnose and solve problems, partnering with the business to identify opportunities to enhance performance.

The shift also moves L&D provision significantly beyond ‘the course’, and means that L&D professionals will increasingly need to be versatile experts.

“It’s clear that L&D professionals have higher expectations than ever before, aligning themselves with wider business needs and accumulating more responsibility,” said Laura Overton, managing director of benchmarking and consulting firm Towards Maturity, which helped conduct the research.

“However, this makes it imperative that we stop and reflect on our own L&D first if we are to adapt and evolve to the changing contexts of work, and the way we support individual and organisational performance.

“The challenge is how to focus our roles and shape our own professional development to make sure we are future-ready. We need to first identify all internal and external factors influencing L&D roles, and consider what’s driving change.

“We then need to self-reflect and assess whether there is a healthy mix of roles in the L&D function, before deciding which changes we need to make to drive performance in our individual organisations.”

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