Last Friday, thanks to @DebbieCarter20, I was lucky enough to attend the Training Journal L&D2020 event on “The new L&D skill set – building relationships with the business”. Run by John Baker from Capita and Andy Holmes from Ernst & Young, the focus was on the changing role and skill set of L&D to meet the business challenges of the future.
I don’t want to repeat the training content here though I must say the use of Steps Drama was very effective and engaging. Instead I’d like to share some lasting thoughts and observations.
The L&D Opportunity
The opportunity is for the L&D function to engage more consultatively with the business. I think this need has existed in many organisations for some time. However, there are perhaps good reasons why it’s not happened to date…
- Focus on the transactional delivery of learning & training can create a sense of operational delivery rather than a consultative service.
- Organisational placement in HR or separate from OD can make it harder to get quality time with the right levels in the business.
- L&D roles may have the title “consultant” but it doesn’t mean the incumbent behaves in a consultative manner.
- Some business models may not require a consultative L&D function.
Rather than looking at the rights & wrongs of the status quo, how could a more consultative L&D approach help a particular business? There’s the challenge… to consider that you have to take a more consultative approach. Perhaps being more consultative is not a choice…
What is meant by Consultative L&D?
There’s been a lot of rhetoric on social media about HR getting “a seat at the table” of the leadership team. I have some sympathy for the discussion but also some caution – the value it creates has to be important and manifest. Consultative L&D is not about getting “a seat at the table”.
At its core is the desire and ability to discover the clients’ real business challenges and to help create solutions that deal with them effectively. Perhaps the solution is complex, perhaps it’s simple. Perhaps it’s nothing more than the reframing of a situation to unblock the clients’ limiting assumptions.
Developing Consultative L&D
Developing Consultative L&D is not about organisational placement. It’s about building the strength of relationship between L&D and the business. It’s about L&D increasing its focus on helping the business achieve. It’s about being a trusted advisor, not an elevated service function.
Those with the innate ability & interest in being consultative already stand out in how they hold themselves today…
- Their main motivator and measure of success will be their ability & desire to build strong & meaningful relationships with the business.
- They take time to understand the drivers of the business. The stresses, strains, tensions & opportunities.
- There’s probably strength of character that defines those innovators & early adopters of a consultative approach. Perhaps they are Positive Deviants.
- The chances are that they’ve already well & truly proven the value of a consultative approach to the business.
Those innovators & early adopters may have made the change largely by themselves. Others who might want/need to become more consultative but haven’t yet are going to need more support and encouragement to make the transition. Perhaps they will even need permission.
I think it’s just as important to understand who in your L&D function does not want to work in a consultative way with the business. How does that help or hinder the business?
The Future of L&D
The future of L&D is investing in the ongoing learning & development of the L&D function itself. This goes way beyond the traditional gathering of accreditations & tools.
What comes to mind is mentoring, sponsorship, advocacy, role models, coaching, and yes, training… What about sharing of practices & even resources between organisations? Just think of internal coaches and the further value that could be gained by exchanging between two organisations.
So the development & support of more consultative practices is perhaps just one aspect.
There’s no golden ticket but here’s the most important question…
Who is going to make it happen?
David, great post. I hold dear to the idea that training and development is stupid… unless it leads to better results. A consultative approach helps make sure that training is actually solving relevant problems and not just box-checking.
Some other possible reasons why we are not yet seeing more of it:
1. The skills to be consultative are distinctly different than the skills necessary to do L&D.
2. Many L&D types (just like many HR types) do not understand the business well enough to function as a consultant/partner with business units.
3. When people are presenting on the merits of a consultative approach, that strongly suggests that large portions of L&D practitioners don’t realize they could/should be operating that way.
4. Some L&D departments may lack the credibility required for business units to bother to sit down and discuss issues with them.
You nailed it when you said that those who are consultative already have “well and truly proven the value of a consultative approach to the business.” If we are not providing value to our customers, they will go find it elsewhere.
It pains me greatly to think that those who take a consultative approach qualify as “innovators & and early adopters” as opposed to simply being better at their jobs. It shouldn’t be a new way of doing things, but I’m excited that internal support functions are starting to think in terms of providing more value by solving their customer’s problems.
Broc – so glad you called by and added to the thinking here.
Fully agree with the further reasons you’ve shared. What I’m taking from this is that there are many reasons may find themselves in a position where they are not taking a consultative approach. I feel that role modelling (rather than looking at failings) has got to play a part in changing the dynamic.
You’ve brought an interesting perspective on the “innovators & early adopters” – I’d seen this as a transition to a better way of working as opposed to the way L&D perhaps always could have worked… good catch Broc. I guess the reality is that it’s not been the way of working for many so there is a transition/opportunity. Maybe care is needed to empower rather than segregate between the can do’s and can’t do’s.
Actually, I’d not said it explicitly but I actually think L&D is consultative. If you’re not consultative you’re not L&D, yet!
I think a life in an organisation spent delivering workshops, undertaking one to one coaching, designing training can expose the L&D function to becoming disconnected from the business reality. The direct line to the business in terms of accountability for the work that the business undertakes gets blurred and distant. I hear a lot of intellectualising about getting close to the business, but see less practical action where people get their hands dirty. It’s part of a bigger picture that i think about in relation to HR – that there are so many specialisms that people get ring fenced in their specialisms. And then it starts to increase in importance and must be preserved and justified.
Credibility, pragmatism, personal inluencing and an interest and curiosity about the business issues need to be offered in this consultative relationship. You can only get this by involvement in day to day business pressures and the L&D function has a great opportunity via hte HR, eg recruitment, disciplinary, policy designimplementation. I guess, and I would say this I suppose, that it depends whether the organisation gets organisation development and whether the HR system is a whole system.
Meg – it’s interesting thinking about your phrase “whether the organisation gets organisation development”. Which organisation does not have a desire or interest in developing itself?
I wonder if a larger part of the issue is the specialism aspect you raise where those for example in “Organisational Development” have a language and even perhaps a perspective that is alienating (in the eyes of the business)?
I think the key point to bring across here is not to over analyse “why we’ve not been doing it” and just to start doing it! Once you are acting in a more consultative manner, those boundaries/silos/language barriers are much easier to work with or around.
I think there are many leaders who are not interested in behavioural solutions to further the development of their organisation; it is messy and uncontainable and requires a commitment to be a part of the organisation and to experience uncertainty. Sure, if any specialist uses a language that people don’t understand the of course that is alienating. OD, for me anyway, is about working with people in the organisation to encourage them to see their world from multiple perspective and to be engaged in thinking about the organisation from whole system perspective and practical problem solving.
There’s the irony and perhaps the prime function of L&D… to make it clear that developing people and organisations is not messy and it creates certainty. Certainty of commitment, development and shared learning. When done in alignment with the business it creates value. That’s the nub of it – working in alignment with the business.
As l mentioned in a recent tweet, I really do wonder if there is a future for L&D. Increasingly, and in the new world of work, more and more people are learning without the help of L&D. As reflected in the above comments, there is an increasing appreciation of “learning through doing.” As we all know, there is also an increasing use of social learning and e-learning. All these have encouraged self-directed learning. Furthermore, more and more organisations are changing their approach to learning and an increasing number of L&D roles now come under the OD function.
Obviously, and as mentioned in your post, most L&D practitioners are aware of all the above changes, and they are making the required adjustment. I do agree with you that, this is a great opportunity for L&D practitioners to create a new way of engaging with the business.
Interesting mix of tensions there Ade! I think at the root of this is the shift from L&D being a training delivery function (with inherent limitations) towards one that enables beyond their own capability. As a consequence, perhaps in some organisations & sectors the days of L&D providing any training delivery are numbered if not already over. Providing solutions is consultative L&D.
There’s an interesting challenge appearing perhaps for OD. As L&D practioners move more into this consultative space, I believe there is going to be increasing overlap with OD. Perhaps there’ll be a happy segregation between business aligned L&D and broader group focused OD, where L&D tap into and leverage that OD resource for the benefit of the business. All I know is that business is going to want value added solutions, not a battle royale between L&D, OD & HR as to who gets credit for making it happen!
The fact that you managed to so succinctly and effectively summarise a huge challenge for L&D deserves applause in itself Mr Goddin, well done.
This is part rant, part reflection and hopefully adds some value.
When I joined the L&D profession I decided that:
“What I did needed to add positive value to those I worked with, if it didn’t, what is the point!”
That ‘mantra’ as such has taken me through running courses, facilitating programmes, partnering business units, leading teams, managing L&D/HR functions and to where I am now, working with clients. It might come from my personal values, background in coaching, facilitation, psychology or the ‘practical’ part of my personally. Whatever it is, it has served me well.
This next bit gives you an example of that which is linked to this post from David. You may argue that this is some great NLP reframing or that I am being slightly self indulgent. To some extent, both may be true and I am going to go ahead and share it anyway.
I was so successful in my last job that I made myself redundant. The business needed to change and I felt it was my job to help it find a solution to what it wanted to do. There was too much cost in the business and it wanted to; be more empowering to leaders, offices and regions, give accountability for data and processes while retaining the ability to report centrally, own and drive initiatives with a core resource to pull on if needed. Over the space of two years, my team and I created this for L&D and it turn HR. It meant that some of my colleagues and I lost our jobs. It also meant that my team and I had delivered a huge change in how the business worked, it was what the business wanted and it added value, lots of value.
What it needed was for us to be BRAVE, for us to look past us and our own wants and needs and build genuine and meaningful relationships, we aligned what we did to the drivers and context of the business. The business valued us for it.
P.S. David, I hope you can understand why I wrote this today instead of last week 😉
Appreciate the sharing Phil – a truly consultative approach is about being brave and serving the client before yourself.
There’s an argument here which I’ve not raised about whether there’s a need for an internal L&D or OD function at all. It’s an organisational decision but if cost was not a barrier, would an organisation find more value from a very small consultative LOD (Learning & Org. Dev) function that utilised a range of external expertise?
Take it an iteration further… if the business leaders “got” L&D (and OD) and were versatile, would they have need of an internal L&D or OD function? Perhaps the future and focus of both functions is to get the organisation to a level of maturity and ability where they no longer need either functions internally. It’s aspirational but I wonder how many people in L&D or OD see this as their purpose?
Phil, I love the commitment to doing the job right and adding value even/especially when it means making yourself redundant. As a thought exercise to try to figure out how to better serve my internal customers I’ll often try to think of was to eliminate my position while still fulfilling my function. It’s a nice way of identifying activities and services that are low value or easily automated to free up space to focus on the activities that will make the most difference. It sounds scary to eliminate one’s position (even just as a thought exercise), but it’s really about busting out of entrenchment to get to expansion.
I have a clear perspective on this. L&D (and HR/OD/recruitment), is an essential business unit. It does not bring income into the business, but without the ‘unit’ compromises the efficacy and operational success of the business. As a small organisation, people can, and do, willingly offer their time to develop others. When it grows though, those responsibilities have to pass to a skilled individual. They are then tasked with keeping the business on its toes and not becoming complacent. Be that an internal function or an outsourced solution, businesses have to have a partnership with their L&D function.
The logic follows that in order for L&D to be effective, they have to be business partners.
Hi Sukh – I have to say I don’t see why responsibilities need to pass to another individual when an organisation grows. It’s common practice but do they need to pass on? Is it a good and useful process or does it disable / disempower? Similarly, if the business leaders were skilled in L&D to begin with, how could an L&D function be useful?
The devolution of responsibility is something I think we’ve seen discussed quite a bit around the broader HR agenda. It seems to have been an unintended consequence as the HR function has evolved.
It doesn’t feel like this should be the path for learning & development in organisations… Given that every business is to some extent different (e.g. business partnering) perhaps the bigger question is the philosophy and motivation behind L&D (or OD) in that business. Are they there to aspirationally make themselves redundant?
In short, the answer to the last question is – Yes. 🙂
I really enjoyed reading your post and it definately struck a cord with me, particulalry the idea of better creating or building the link between the business and L&D. Your comment ‘Organisational placement in HR or separate from OD can make it harder to get quality time with the right levels in the business’ I do tend to disagree with however. I tend to think and have advocated strongly for L&D to be separate from HR/OD. I think that the separatiion gives us a much better chance to be able to connect with the business areas we are attempting to support. It does however need an organisational view of Learning being vital to the continuation of the business and the engagement of staff, which plays out I think by needing to have an L&D presence at executive (we are seeing the rise of the Chief Learning Officer, particularly in the US and in other countries) or at the very least very senior management. This enables learning to be involved in strategic direction of the business, to work in a truly consultative manner and to really drive the development of learning cultures within organisations.
Love your Blog by the way.
Thanks for adding & sharing Paul – really appreciated.
My comment about getting quality time had two parts to it which I think are worth elaborating on…
Firstly, I’m observing the layering effect that we sometimes find where the primary relationship with the senior decision makers in the business is perhaps through HR Heads or business partners. As a consequence,those senior decision makers may not want or have the capacity to establish a further relationship with L&D. They may actually see it as the function of their relationship with the HR Head(s) or business partners in their organisational model.
Secondly, where there are distinct & discrete HR, OD, L&D functions there can be competition for share of mind &/or preference/biases shown by the business. Some senior business people see a relationship with OD as being more important than a relationship with L&D so making it hard for L&D to get quality time with the right levels in the organisation. The reverse can also be true!
Separating out the functions can be a blessing and create focus. It can also create competition for share of mind. Probably this is more a symptom of dysfunctional relationships or a lack of “an organisational view of Learning being vital to the continuation of the business and the engagement of staff”. I think in many organisations it’s a reality to contend with.
Wonder if you see similar dynamics in your involvement with organisations?
Reblogged this on Organisational Learning and Development and commented:
I read this piece this morning in my wanderings around the internet and thought that I would share it with everyone as I think David makes some really valid observations.