4 things Learning & Development is responsible for beyond performance
In response to 2018’s Great Recession, the Learning and Talent Development field went through a culling of sorts. I’m not talking about the budgets and headcount shrinkage that were forced on us by business leaders. Rather, it was about the gross overreaction from within the L&D space that began to oversimplify and exaggerate “performance” as the primary calling of L&D’s function.
L&D is extremely difficult to quantify with ROI metrics because of the sheer number of influencing factors that affect our employees, including policies, systems, processes, managers, and training. In response, many in our field began to focus as much energy and budget on something that was easier to quantify, faster to develop, and clearer to the business to understand: performance support and job aids.
But there’s a problem with that approach. Focusing on today’s performance is great for this quarter’s stock price, but it’s terrible at delivering on a three- to five-year strategy or helping to solve something as complex as a digital transformation or, say, a pandemic. In addition, when organizations get tight on labor, employees tend to start considering whether or not their company is helping their professional development. And if the only “job aid” employees get is how to run some process faster, it’s understandable to believe they aren’t developing in a way that is meaningful to their long-term career or mobility.
As such, L&D has become so much more than improving people’s performance and skills. In 2019, former CLO of McKinsey & Company Nick Van Damm outlined the five key responsibilities of L&D, which expanded the expectations of what the field should do. His wide, encompassing view incorporated essential functions that haven’t been baked into all roles across L&D just yet. However, as this country recovers from the pandemic and is experiencing a major labor crunch, these roles are especially pertinent for companies to succeed.
Develop people capabilities and performance
Though this is the most traditional view of L&D, it isn’t inaccurate that developing people and expanding their capabilities are still part of what L&D does. It’s our bread and butter, and nearly all of the learning organization is structured around this body of work.
This responsibility essentially boils down to getting people the skills — be it through new programs, resources, training, and upskilling — that they didn’t have before in order for them to perform better. At some companies, these skills that are sought out in workers are directly tied to business strategy, especially in the short term. But L&D’s function of merely helping employees deliver on the roles that they have in the organization and then letting them go home at the end of the day has grown more complex, as evidenced by these other following responsibilities.
Attract and retain talent
In nearly every organization, you will find that talent acquisition and development sit in the same bucket. How intertwined these two functions are, however, is dependent on the level of partnership that has been built between different areas of HR, including the teams that are responsible for talent management and performance management.
At Guild, our employer partners like Walmart found that applicants are seeking to work with the company because of its Live Better University program. Not only does this program drive up both the number and quality of applicants, but also those in the program stay longer, have a higher opinion of their employer, and are seeing internal movement as a result of their engagement in the program.
Motivate and engage employees
Motivating employees isn’t just about morale. Boosting engagement means better productivity and retention and less absenteeism. As engagement surveys become more prevalent, the ability to keep employees motivated and measure their outlooks also become more important.
To measure engagement, some companies distribute surveys on an annual, bi-annual, or quarterly basis. No matter the cadence, however, those from People Analytics often bring these survey responses to L&D if any problems or issues are uncovered. That can include challenges with DE&I, people management, or talent management, and more often than not, the pressure is on L&D to work out a solution.
What may help with employee motivation and engagement could have nothing to do with direct job performance. For L&D practitioners, motivating employees with highly produced, consumer-grade videos, for example, can feel more like “edutainment” than true talent development. But it’s important to keep in mind that engagement still produces an ROI in and of itself, independent of skills performance.
Build an employer brand
The employee experience (often referred to as EX) is the holy grail of HR departments today. Even earlier this week, I witnessed another company looking for human-centered designers to join its HR team to help reimagine its existing processes, systems, and tools to create a better experience for its employees. When more than 40% of workers are considering leaving their jobs but 94% of employees say they would stay longer with an employer if it invested in their development, it’s clear to see the tie between excellent talent development programs, the quality of an employer brand, and the financial investment employers have for building upskilling programs.
One of my proudest moments as an L&D practitioner was in 2015, when the Washington Post tied our Digital Transformation learning programs as a reason why employees wanted to stay at Capital One. That wasn’t accidental. We recognized that the quality of all of our upskilling programs, from the Big Data Academy to the School of Product Management and DigU, as well as our numerous campus development programs, were a draw for great talent.
Create a values-based culture
Other than payroll, L&D often has the greatest volume of interactions with employees compared to any HR function. That puts L&D in a unique position to define, reinforce, and refine an organization’s culture. This is done by taking key parts of a company’s values and incorporating them into L&D programs. The best opportunity to do this, more so than any other, is the onboarding program, which lends itself to a quick yet intensive immersion into the values of an organization. Whether or not these values are written out and hung in the office halls or internalized in the hearts and minds of employees, no team is in a better place to influence the culture than L&D.
A bigger scope reaps bigger rewards
Task performance optimization is clearly a mandate of L&D, but it’s only a small part of its function — especially when it comes to something as intricate as integrating upskilling and training into the rest of the employee lifecycle and shaping company culture. This work is unlikely to grow simpler in the future. As additional complexities are added through mergers and acquisitions, digital and business transformations, and leadership changes, the mandate of Talent Development will grow. This can include an increase in budget and expectations, yes, but more importantly, results and impact as well.