Six Essential Building Blocks to a World-Class L&D Function
Six Essential Building Blocks to a World-Class L&D Function
Ask any business what their most important competitive advantage is, and there’s a good chance the answer will be, ‘Our people.’
This will come as no surprise – after all, very few businesses will say it doesn’t matter if their staff members lack skills or motivation at work. If anything, the crises of 2020 are making this more important than before. Even as businesses battle severe economic headwinds, they need to be taking action to build depth in critical business skills. This is compounded by the need to reskill staff at short notice for new challenges. This may range from simple re-training on safe operating practices in the midst of a pandemic, all the way through to pivoting everything as old revenue streams dry up and new ones have to be embraced at speed to survive.
To do this well, a business needs an effective and efficient L&D function. In a small business, this may be one person supported by agile processes and systems, or it may be teams of specialists in a multinational organisation. Either way, there are certain essential criteria that an L&D function should meet, if it is to serve the business and its employees. At TLC, we categorise these into six building blocks that, together, allow us to identify strengths and areas for improvement in any L&D team.
Does L&D meet all mandatory governance and legislative compliance requirements and standards?
These are the basics – if you’re not complying with legal or other key requirements in your sector, then get this in order before moving on to anything else. This may include Workplace Skills Plans, Skills levies, B-BBEE requirements, and support to Employment Equity requirements. It also includes good governance – budgets and internal controls and records. This is the first building block – Governance and Compliance.
Do all elements of L&D achieve high standards of functional excellence in practice?
If L&D team members lack fundamental knowledge and skills around the science of learning, principles of adult education, methods of competence development and assessment including appropriate use of technology, etc., then you can expect to see poorly-designed skills development solutions – training that focuses only on irrelevant theory, for example. You would never let an unskilled artisan work on your most important machines, and this is no different. This is the second building block – Excellence in L&D Practice.
Is the L&D function aligned to strategic business imperatives, and an enabler to business strategy?
A familiar mistake made by passionate L&D practitioners is becoming immersed in the joy of designing world-leading training and assessment tools – only to lose sight of changes in business priorities. If the business strategy requires new capabilities, L&D should be at the forefront of creating and implementing solutions to achieve this. This means L&D needs to be close to the strategic centre to able to adapt to changing priorities swiftly, while not taking the eye off the ball of ongoing skills needs. This is the third building block – Strategic Alignment.
Does L&D deliver effective & efficient solutions for capability development in line with business needs?
Once aligned to strategic direction, and drawing on expertise in effective skills transfer, it’s time to assess whether the solutions provided by L&D are ‘fit-for-purpose’ in delivering efficient skills acquisition and pipeline cover, in line with current and projected business needs. This needs to be done in a way that is cognisant of business context and operational constraints. It requires the ability to balance competing priorities with scarce resources to achieve an optimal outcome. This is the fourth building block – Integrated Solutions.
Does L&D support the desired business culture in pursuit of sustained business performance?
A world-class L&D function goes beyond operating purely in the L&D space, and will see itself as an enabler of a high-performance, high-engagement business culture. L&D experts are human performance improvement specialists, able to use a range of methods and tools to diagnose and solve business performance problems. They recognise that often, a solution goes beyond designing better training to understanding systems thinking and a holistic approach to business improvement. This is the fifth building block – Culture & Performance.
Can L&D measure and demonstrate a clear positive impact on capability and ultimately on business results and success?
For L&D to earn – and keep – its seat at the table, it has to be able to demonstrate its value-add in language that decision-makers speak – results and hard Rands. Resources are scarce in any business, and if L&D wishes to be allocated sufficient share of this to deliver, it has to show return on effort, and ideally return on investment as well. This means combining a deep understanding of the business and sound commercial acumen, as well as using appropriate tools to measure the full impact of learning interventions and activities. This is the sixth building block – Measured Impact.
These six building blocks together form TLC’s Organisational L&D Model.
(see model to the right)
It may be tempting to give quick answers to each of these six questions, but as the saying goes, ‘sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know’ (or as L&D experts like to call it, ‘Unconscious Incompetence!’). One way to overcome this is to use a structured auditing and benchmarking assessment like TLC’s L&D Audit Tool, a comprehensive rubric-style analysis that defines levels of practice in each of the six building blocks. This gives a concrete description of ‘what good looks like’ for each. This allows the L&D team to recognise their strengths, and identify areas for improvement that can be prioritised into measurable goals and KPI’s. In larger organisations, benchmarking can be done between L&D teams or business units. The Audit Tool can be used to track improvements over time in an objective and repeatable way, and displays results graphically for easy reporting and communication to management. This takes the guesswork out of creating a world-class L&D function, for the benefit of everyone in the business.
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