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Learning and Development’s Time to Shine

October 12, 2022 Learning and Development
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By Sarah Fister Gale

The chaos of the pandemic, the Great Resignation, quiet quitting and other workforce trends have brought renewed attention to the role of learning and development in the organization.

Global talent shortages have reached a 15-year-high, and 70% of employers are struggling to fill high-demand roles. These aren’t just software engineering jobs (though those are still hard to fill) either. Research shows employers are also facing a shortage of talent across the organization, in operations, manufacturing, sales and marketing.

Meanwhile, workers are also struggling — to adapt to remote work, to juggle new workloads and to manage rising rates of anxiety and depression.

Learning and Development to the Rescue

C-suiters are turning to learning leaders to solve skills gaps and provide employees with the growing opportunities they seek — and it’s changing the way companies view L&D.

More than 70% of learning leaders say they are now considered a strategic and cross-functional part of the organization, according to the 2022 LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report, and 87% say they were highly involved in helping the organization adapt to recent changes.

“L&D is getting pulled into strategy and workplace planning across the organization,” said Tiffany Poeppelman, director of career development at LinkedIn. “They are involved in upskilling and rescaling initiatives, DEI initiatives, and that's not going away.”

L&D leaders responded to these trends by deploying vast new digital learning platforms, creating/acquiring content to help employees fill skills gaps so they can ascend to new roles, and collaborating with managers and executives to link learning initiatives to business goals.

“Chief learning officers became the experts in building a new talent strategy when it became so hard to hire new people,” said Josh Bersin, global HR industry analyst and CEO of research and advisory firm The Josh Bersin Company. “It wasn’t just about offering more training. It was about redeploying people into new operating models.”

In many ways, it was the attention L&D has always longed for. While the learning department has gained status over the years, it is still often seen as a cost center. Management may acknowledge the value of putting their people through training, but they still treat it as lost productivity hours that can’t be linked to a measurable return on investment.

Today, these same leaders are coming to L&D asking for help in supporting their teams through one crisis after another, and to build new skills that will make them more resilient.

Related Article: Corporate Learning Finally Has a Seat at the Table

How L&D Can Deliver Business Value

The challenge L&D leaders face now is figuring out how to maintain that strategic status and prove that they can deliver business value that is measured in more than just the number of courses completed. That will require L&D to make some changes internally to their own sets of skills and the way they work with other teams.

“It's time to take the things that we've always done well and repackage them in a way that makes them more valuable to the business,” said Susan Gatti, CEO of ImmixID Consulting.

Here are five tips on how to do just that:

1. Centralize training

When learning teams get fragmented, they lose efficiency and it limits their power over the talent strategy. “L&D needs to align around critical skills, job growth and business objectives,” Bersin said. “You can’t do that if every department has its own training team.”

2. When someone asks you to create a course, ask them why

“Your job is not to create great training, it is to be a specialist whom others call in when they have an issue they don’t know how to solve,” Gatti said.

While the ultimate solution might include training, the key is to have conversations about the issue they are dealing with, what success looks like, what they have already tried and whether training is the right approach.

“It's the perfect opportunity for learning leaders to become advisors on barriers to performance and how to solve them,” she said. It is an opportunity for L&D teams to demonstrate their value as consultants to the business.

Related Article: Leadership Coaching for the Masses

3. Invest in yourself

L&D spends a lot of time figuring out how to upskill the workforce, but they often forget to include their teams in these journeys.

“Learning leaders need to prioritize themselves and look beyond core learning skills,” Poeppelman said. In the LinkedIn report, L&D experts said that leadership development, business acumen and data and decision-making skills are among the top skills they will need to succeed in the future.

“Learning cross-functional skills will allow them to maintain that seat at the table,” Poeppelman said. “That is how you become more influential.”

4. Focus on talent mobility

Today’s talent strategies start with understanding what skills are already in the workforce and how companies can upskill and move internal talent into new roles to fill the gaps. Investing in internal moves also addresses employees’ demand for career advancement as a condition of their long-term loyalty.

“Everyone wants company career paths and talent market solutions,” Bersin said. The learning leaders who can build these solutions will be the architects of the transformation of the business.

Related Article: Where's the Technology to Address Internal Mobility Needs?

5. Collaborate with other departments

If L&D wants to be seen as a strategic advisor, they need to partner with other departments, figuring out where their services can support business goals, Bersin said. “We need to connect regularly with other teams to align our efforts and establish accountability for business outcomes.”

Providing training content will always be a core task for the L&D department, but leaders who want to be seen as business advisors need to think beyond providing content to establish themselves as experts that other leaders rely on.

“Be the department who helps the organization improve the way it performs,” Gatti said. That’s how learning leaders prove they deserve a permanent seat at the table.


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