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L&D. Learning and Development. It’s a title every HR manager and director across the country understands.

Or do they? Because, when you stop and think about it, what does learning and development really mean? To the businesses who pay for it and the people who are subjected to it.

I found a few definitions:
– Learning and development aims to improve group and individual performance by increasing and honing skills and knowledge.
– A learning and development (L&D) strategy articulates the workforce capabilities, skills or competencies required, and how these can be developed, to ensure a sustainable, successful organisation.
– Learning and development takes a multi-dimensional approach to human resource development (HRD).

None of them mention people. Instead, they describe process with no evidence that human relationships or real people play any part at all.

What’s stopping L&D working?
Perhaps the biggest challenge facing L&D is how it makes any difference to an organisation’s overall performance. How, crucially, it adds value and affects the bottom line. This is what CEO’s say they want from their L&D: alignment and impact.

The Centre for Management and Organisation Effectiveness (CMOE), is a leading US management consultancy. They recently published what they see as the top ten challenges learning and development professionals face:

1. Dealing with change
2. Developing leaders
3. Engaging learners
4. Delivering consistent training
5. Skills application
6. Conflict management
7. Tracking and post assessment
8. Improving learning effectiveness
9. Demonstrating value to leadership
10. Adapting training to millennials

On the face of it this list seems to be what you might expect. You could, at first glance, think there’s nothing much of note about it.

Yet there’s one huge and significant gap running all the way through it. And, more than likely, through every other list like it.

What’s gone wrong?
Studies in the USA suggest that organisations waste anything from 45% up to a staggering 85% of their training budgets. This is down to what we train and how we train it.

We’ve reduced L&D, and the training that’s a part of it, to something dry and transactional. So much of it is little more than a tick-box exercise.

I’m sure you’ve experienced the team-building day arranged at the last minute to spend L&D budget before the financial year runs out. Or the member of staff who’s told, “It’s coming up to your appraisal. Do you want to choose a course to go on? Make sure it’s not a full day though – we need you answering those calls!”

So, ask yourself this: why do you offer L&D opportunities to your team?

Of course, you want to attract – and retain – the best people. And one of the ways you can do this is to give them opportunities to develop their skills. This should mean that you build a highly skilled, highly motivated team who help your organisation develop and grow. But, hand on heart, how many HR directors can claim this is what happens in practice.

What the reality is
My L&D colleagues say the best way to overcome the challenges they face is to:

1. Change the mindset so we invest in people rather than tasks
2. Ask the hard questions about what you do and why, with a focus on making a real difference
3. Talk to the people in your team; get to know them and ask them what they need

We’re now deep into the digital revolution that is industry 4.0. We’re firmly under the spell of technology. As a result, we’re focussing on the wrong things.  We’ve lost sight of who we are and what we’re for.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in 2018, Jack Ma, the philanthropist and founder of Chinese online retail giant Alibaba, said we need to fundamentally change what we teach. He suggests we need to move from a knowledge-based system of education to one that focusses on our unique human traits. There are things machines can do better than us, and we should let them do these. But there are things we should develop that we do better than machines such as creativity, critical thinking, teamwork, research and care for others.

Ma’s thinking perfectly describes what’s wrong with L&D. The heart of every business is its people. Without them, every business would fail. Yet we’ve effectively reduced L&D to process and data and metrics.

What’s missing
The gap I talked about in the list of top ten challenges L&D professionals face is, of course, communication.

It’s the one thing that  would help all the others happen. And, going back to the things we do better than machines, effective communication runs through every one of them. It’s the foundation on which everything else can grow.

Many people class effective communication as a soft skill. However, there’s nothing soft about the ability to communicate in a way that connects with other people; that opens discussion and new ways of thinking; that inspires others and leads change; and that, as a result of all this, drives consistent and sustainable improvements in performance, productivity and to the bottom line.

So, tell me, why aren’t people, human relationships and effective communication skills at the heart of every L&D strategy in the land?

Miti Ampoma, Founder and DirectorMiticom Communications Training

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