L&D is dead. Long live learning.
Is the writing on the wall for Learning and Development? Having walked the floor at conferences and exhibitions I hear a common message from practitioners and vendors alike: L&D is struggling to be seen as an agent for change in organizations. Business units and employees are taking matters into their own hands through uncurated self-directed learning, content and peer-to-peer mentoring. Learning may be flourishing, but increasingly it is beyond the reach of L&D.
How has it come to this? Look for clues in the changing concerns of the boss, the CEO.
Where once the two core issues that kept a Chief Executive up at night were business performance and delivering shareholder value. Today an array of other issues beset them, grouped under the 'transformation agenda’. On that agenda are things such as disruptive business models, corporate culture, societal values, and the weaponization of data.
Not surprisingly Chief Executive Officers are looking for help. And transformation is definitely something L&D should be able to help with. However, CEOs are reaching out to non-traditional roles in the organization rather than to chief learning officers (CLOs). Instead they are finding inspiration from new ‘C’ level professionals with job titles like Chief Experience Officer, Chief Customer Officer, and Chief Brand Loyalty Officer. As they make their mark inevitably the new C Suite professionals are appropriating learning and bypassing L&D to get things done.
The front line of this appropriation is the intersection between capabilities and skills. In the two dimensional static business environment, learning and development could define its function in a similarly static manner as ‘compliance and skills’. Expect your employees to behave in a compliant way and equip them with sufficient knowledge to do their job. And in most cases “there’s a course for that”.
In a multi-dimensional disruptive environment, while compliance and skills remain relevant, a higher value is placed on capability. By capability I mean the agency and ability to learn to do something. This is a matter of mind-set, and it is doubtful that in any learning management system (LMS) in the world you’ll find a course for that, or at least not an effective one.
Of course it is not entirely over for L&D. The Chief Learning Officer who recognizes that they have a role in shaping the organizational culture and nurturing capability with the company still has an opportunity to be part of the transformation agenda. In a timely article the Harvard Business Review calls this type of L&D leader ‘the transformer CLO’. The transformer CLO recognizes that learning happens anywhere and they need to step out of their lane to influence and lead.
I’ve come up with six changes you need to make to become a transformer CLO. You will have more, so feel free to contribute below.
- Become a curator of content
- Accept that learning is an anywhere anyhow experience
- Think capabilities as well as skills
- Prefer business metrics to training metrics
- Adopt human-centred design
- Embed learning in the flow of work
Above all the CLO has to become more relevant to the business. If human performance is the key to organizational performance and growth, the only way L&D can deliver is to break out of its siloed mentality and get out into the business. The C Suite in a corporation is a very territorial place. Step into someone else’s territory and you may get bitten; but stay in your own and you will certainly get eaten.
Find out more about the tools you need to be a Transformer CLO - read our Sustainable Behavior Change: Metrics, Measurements and Methods white paper, which is based on inputs from over 50 L&D industry experts.