L&D Capability in Australia – Conversations from UnConference

L&D Capability in Australia – Conversations from UnConference – Improving L&D capability lies at the heart of the Learning Café. This follows from the changing scope of L&D in our organisations and the need to review the underlying skills to realise the opportunities that we are constantly faced with.

As Martyn Sloman notes in the L&D 2020 Report, “The new context in which today’s L&D professional operates demands both a new mindset and a new skill set.” (Sloman, 2010, p8). In particular, L&D is no longer a “trainer-centric activity” that occurs in a classroom. It’s about “developing, through sustained activity that takes place in a variety of contexts and involves a range of people with different roles, the individual knowledge and skills that deliver better value products to the ultimate consumer or client.” (Sloman, 2010,p 1).

Inevitably, the skills required to assess and support improved performance within particular organisational contexts through learning are changing. The five sessions in this workstream each sought to better understand the nature of those skills and how they might be acquired by L&D professionals today.

Skill set for the Future: Peter Hall

Learning CafeThis session set the framework for most of the day. Drawing on a presentation provided to the AITD, Peter described one particular framework for thinking about the skill set required for L&D professionals:

  • Know the business: what are the financial drivers for your business? What is the language that your business uses? How will your business measure success?
  • Know the business of learning: understanding systems frameworks and change management, building a business case, applying the principles of design and delivery
  • Know your audience: learning styles and engagement strategies
  • Know learning technology: learning management systems, knowledge management, delivery

Embedded in this framework are 8 key skills identified in the Forrester Report (Hall, 2011):

  • Communicator who articulates change management
  • Organisational effectiveness consultant who keeps employees skilled
  • Innovator who is looking for new approaches to learning
  • Technologies who is aware of available resources
  • An integrator who makes employee performance and learning seamless
  • Business savvy educator who understands business acumen
  • Content creator and manager of learning and knowledge experiences
  • Change agent

Beyond the skills outlined by Peter, participants pointed to particular requirements in their own organisations: the ability to manage the expectations of their increasingly sophisticated businesses around learning; the ability of L&D to teach others throughout the business how to transfer learning to their team members; and the ability to scan the environment for the kinds of risks which would then need to be met through learning strategies and interventions.

Hall, P (2011) Running to Stand Still: The Challenge of Remaining Relevant” AITD Conference 13 April 2011, Melbourne

Sloman, M (2010) L&D 2020: A guide for the next decade” Training Journal, London

Business acumen for L&D : Jeevan Joshi

Jeevan Joshi then took just one of the skills outlined in Peter’s session for deeper examination: if L&D is to be truly aspire to a strategic business partnership with management then how do we ensure that our L&D team is acquiring the business acumen required? What does “business acumen” even mean in this context?

Whilst participants agreed that business acumen was not required of every L&D role, we agreed that our credibility and relevance depended on a minimum understanding of our businesses’ success formula”. Only by knowing what the business was trying to achieve and through what levers might we be in a position to make recommendations about how and why this would be achieved.

The group went on then to consider how best to build that knowledge base in the L&D team and considered different options: a specific curriculum which might be incorporated into an accreditation process or required qualification for L&D (see discussion below for Professionalising L&D in Australia); immersive experiences, for example, through secondments or shadowing within parts of the business; or by recruiting those from within the business who already had that base level of understanding.

Alternate career options for L&D: Rhys Cohen

This session provided participants with an opportunity to understand the changing nature of L&D from a slightly different perspective: what are the kinds of qualifications and attributes being actively sought by our organisations when recruiting L&D professionals? What does this tell us about the changing nature of the skills being sought? And at a time of downsizing and restructuring in many organisations, how might we repackage our existing skills for greatest relevance in the current market?

Rhys confirmed that, as a recruiter specialising in the field of L&D, he was not seeing any common language for L&D job titles and that a large part of his role was working with organisations to help them understand their needs. Looking beyond a job title is important in this kind of market and demands that candidates understand exactly what people in a particular organisation do every day, what are the activities they are engaged in and how then a learning professional can assist them to do that better?

One participant attributed his success in finding new roles to three factors:

  • being clear about his value to an organisation
  • be prepared “not to be precious” about his skill set and
  • framing his skills in terms of the business need, for example, “I’m a customer service person who just happens to provide learning”
Professionalising L&D in Australia: Nicola Atkinson

This session took as its starting point the broad range of skills and backgrounds currently enjoyed by many L&D professionals (including education, change management, HR, psychology etc). It asked whether the reputation of the profession demanded greater control over its members.

Whilst it was agreed that there was no “burning platform” for greater control (in the form of, for example, a body of complaints about the standard of L&D professionalism), we agreed that the development of a framework for accreditation or qualification provided a useful opportunity to examine the skills required of L&D professionals and also to support their continuing professional development.

It also opened up an important discussion about the relative value of specialisation versus generalisation within the profession: should we be demanding that all L&D professionals are skilled in instructional design, facilitation, e-learning, collaborative learning, change management, performance analysis, organisational development, business system analysis and organisational communication –  or is there room for specialisation within the field?

In the time permitted, no agreement was reached about the best way forward except to the extent that it was agreed that it would be worth looking at other models such as that provided by the Standards Australia Coaching Guidelines 2011.

L&D in HR: Pierre de Villiers

This session proved by far the most difficult (perhaps also coming at the end of an intense and highly engaging program!). Pierre facilitated a debate between the two groups of participants on the question of whether L&D should sit in HR or in the business. For many in L&D, this is a perennial question which plays out every day as they are pulled first one way by their central L&D function, determined to drive change in an organisation through the roll out of a consistent set of models, language and messages and then by a specific business unit which needs to respond quickly and nimbly to learning needs as they arise.

There was a strongly held view that if organisations are to maximise the return on their investment in their people, L&D must sit in HR. Working closely with HR, L&D is able to augment the processes which have been established to support development and progression of people within the organisation.

The difficulty for L&D however is that its place in HR often means that less time can be afforded to its concerns for the business. In many organisations, there is only so much time which the HR function is able to get from the business and L&D is only one of the HR issues which must be considered.

Moreover, as L&D builds a focus on “performance”, rather than “development”, its ability to provide value will depend on its ability to respond quickly and relevantly – which then sees it placed in the business and leads us nicely back to our starting point: the role and skill set required of Learning and Development at this particular point in time.