Top 10 Missed Opportunities in L&D
Investment in L&D is not simply about solving pre-existing business problems or overcoming challenges (although targeted learning can, and should, do both of those things if necessary). It is also about creating, and capitalising on, opportunities which otherwise may not have existed, or may not have been possible to exploit, and realising the true potential of the single greatest asset you have – your staff.
Sadly, there are many instances in which opportunities to add significant value through L&D are missed. This could be for any number of reasons – a lack of budget, scepticism about the benefits of L&D, or even just a lack of awareness. But there are many ways in which L&D can be applied which don’t necessarily require huge financial investment or massive change, yet they can still have a hugely positive impact on your business.
I’m going to talk to you through 10 of the most common missed opportunities for L&D.
1. Not treating L&D as a strategic arm of your business
L&D has long since evolved from simply being about putting people into classrooms and feeding them knowledge. It is now, when used to its full potential, a means by which organisations can pinpoint, specific development areas which will help the business achieve its strategic goals. It is about defining business objectives and then ensuring your people are best placed to deliver those objectives.
When you start looking at L&D in these terms, you may realise how powerful it can be, and you stop investing in learning which doesn’t directly impact the success of the company. L&D and business strategy should always be intrinsically linked. If you look at the latest research, many of the top-performing organisations are starting to realise this, so it is imperative to follow suit or else risk being left behind by your competitors.
Action: Review all learning plans in line with company objectives
2. Not measuring the impact
Historically, measuring the impact of learning has not been done as often, or effectively, as it could be. We are now seeing an increase in the number of businesses that want to see higher quality results, but many are still not doing it well. Instead, people get placed onto training courses and the organisation hopes something sticks!
Action: Create systematic approach to measurement of L&D activity
3. Cutting L&D spend during lean times
This goes against the instincts of many businesses, because when it comes to reducing costs, L&D often takes the hit. Organisations tend to cut the expensive forms of L&D first, such as leadership development. But during a downturn period it is even more important to have strong leadership. Good teamwork, often encouraged by great leadership, is going to have the biggest impact.
It also sends a poor message to the organisation if your level of commitment to management and leadership changes depending on how much money is coming through the door. You are essentially telling your teams that management and leadership are optional – nice to have, but not essential.
Action: Always question the real cost of cutting L&D spend
4. Not utilising the right coaching
Coaching, particularly when it comes to senior leadership development, is arguably the most effective method of L&D there is. The industry is fairly unregulated, however, so you have a real mixture of experts and, essentially, charlatans. What organisations are not doing is giving their L&D function access to the increasing market of qualified, accredited coaching professionals.
People are being almost lazy around coaching – not ensuring that the right chemistry is in place and that there is a good fit between the coach and the coachee, for example. Or they use it in the wrong way – treating it as a ‘correctional’ intervention when it should serve to facilitate opportunities, not just solve problems.
If you are going to use coaching, make sure you use properly accredited coaches and measure the return on investment (ROI).
5. Not supporting change transition
L&D can be a good tool for supporting people through change. If you look at most methodologies around change, or large corporate change models, they pay scant attention to helping and supporting managers to be better able to manage others through change, and also to be subject to that change themselves and deal with it in the right way.
Using training and psychometric workshops, managers could be given the tools to guide their teams through a significant period of change without disrupting productivity. If this doesn’t happen, the organisational climate can suffer because people have a negative experience of the change. This can create an organisational ‘hangover’ which can last far beyond the period of change itself.
6. Not supporting new leaders
Rather than just putting new leaders onto training programmes, when they take up a new role they should be coached through that transition. This brings them up to speed with everything, but it is also an effective way to demonstrate commitment to new leaders joining the organisation.
It almost acts like an assimilation programme, enabling you to bring a leader at any level into the organisational framework, but within the leadership context. This benefits the employee, but also their team and the wider business, because that individual is able to focus on leading rather than operational tasks.
7. Not developing future leaders
There are plenty of programmes out there designed to develop existing management or leadership talent, but far fewer quality interventions aimed at employees on the start of that journey. The talented people at the lower end of the ladder are the potential future stars of your organisation. Surely, then, it makes sense to identify those individuals, nurture them, and put them on a development path that enables you to harness that talent in a way which benefits them and the business.
It is important to be aware of who the high-potential employees in your organisation are, but you also need to be clear about what ‘potential’ means to you – is it ambition? Growth? Innovation? Then you need to define the type of talent which reflects that potential and will have the right impact on the business.
8. Not linking your HR and L&D functions
Lots of companies have an L&D function, and an HR function, but few have a collaborative organisational development function. These two separate departments should step up and link together to focus on organisational performance and development, and all of this links in with the wider organisational strategy (see point 1 again).
Courageous leaders and switched-on companies are increasing spend on organisational development during tough times in order to increase productivity, performance and commitment. By linking HR and L&D together, you get much more bang for your buck when it comes to these two functions.
9. Not collecting and using data
One of the key areas in which organisations fail to get the most out of L&D is in the collection and usage of data. Even if organisations are gathering data, they don’t necessarily know how to use it in order to benchmark and enhance what they are doing over time and gain useful, relevant business intelligence.
Good data can come from anywhere – from performance reviews to employee surveys. There is a real missed opportunity if you don’t collect that data, then use it strategically as a means by which to frame development opportunities and create clearer focus around L&D priorities.
10. Not supporting personal development
The option of supporting the development of an employee in a way which might not be core to the individual’s role, but could still ultimately benefit the company and make them a better-rounded employee, is massively underutilised – a really strong sponsored development policy which supports anything from 25-100% of someone’s development in a specific area, for example, where somebody has to demonstrate the ROI of the programme.
You could even just offer to pay expenses, or even just be flexible in terms of giving them the necessary time off for free. It all comes down to flexibility – not just saying either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a development request, but instead looking for a workaround that benefits all parties. You could take course fees out of the employee’s salary so they don’t pay tax on it, for example, and then spread payments out over several months. Ask for a commitment in return, and all parties will gain from it. There are so many missed opportunities out there to support learning which isn’t necessarily immediately business critical.
These are just some of the ways in which organisations miss key opportunities to use L&D in a really impactful way, but this is by no means an exhaustive list. Each business is different, and each one will have its own unique opportunities and challenges along the way.
The key to utilising L&D to its full potential lies in being able to spot the opportunities when they arise, and knowing how learning can capitalise on those opportunities. The best way to achieve that is by working with an L&D professional, whether internal or external, who has the ability to be genuinely consultative. Only then will you reap the full impact of powerful learning in a way which is truly relevant to your organisational goals.