Why L&D need to FOCUS to move on

by Laura Overton, Founder and CEO of Towards Maturity

Laura Overton shares five areas where L&D teams can make a real impact in 2016, along with a new challenge to L&D leaders.

"We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another"

...according to the conversations that flowed out of the World Economic Forum in Davos. However, when we look at the conversations that flowed out of Learning Technologies last week, it is equally clear that despite high aspirations and plenty of opportunity, L&D professionals still have a lot of catching up to do! For example, only one in five of us are blending technologies together to create engaging experiences for modern learners, with only one in ten encouraging staff to connect and solve problems together.

We know that the same old L&D ways won't tackle the ever-new challenges of today's and tomorrow's business. We also know that our tried-and-tested approaches are having little impact, with 70% of L&D teams failing to report any positive impact on productivity.

Continuing to do what we have always done will stop L&D reaching its full potential.

In the introduction to our Industry Benchmark Report Embracing Change, Dave Buglass, Head of Organisational Capability at Tesco Bank commented,

"A consumer-focused, technology-enabled learning strategy builds business performance and employee engagement. But if we continue to do what we have always done, many will continue to fall short of their full potential."

Dave is not alone in his thinking. During January, I met over 50 L&D leaders who all recognised that now is the time to act, to let go of what is holding us back and focus on specific actions that deliver tangible results.

As an industry, we intuitively know what we need to do next. We know that learning strategy needs to be closely integrated with business strategy to succeed. We understand the importance of harnessing technology to create consumer experiences that meet the rapidly changing needs of today's workers. We acknowledge that we need to think differently about the way we support individuals in the flow of their day to day work, not just in their formal learning experiences. Our latest research also shows that we have a very clear understanding of the new skills needed in our L&D teams that will enable us to achieve these things.

Our research has shown that all of these elements are like a huge jigsaw puzzle that we need to piece together in order to deliver real value to today's businesses. Simple in principle, yet year on year, very little progress is has been made.

So what should L&D leaders do next? Where do we start?


Focus on ONE thing

With any complicated jigsaw puzzle, we need to start somewhere. We know that the individual pieces have the potential to deliver improved performance and agility. However, putting them together can seem daunting - it's no wonder we spend a lot of time talking, rather than doing.

The trick to starting a jigsaw puzzle, is to focus on one element - a corner, an edge or a specific image within the bigger picture. The trick for L&D professionals looking to modernise their learning strategy will be to do the same.

As a team, we feel that we've seen enough in action and wanted to use what we know in order to help L&D teams really #MakeItHappen - we've identified 5 areas where top performing L&D teams consistently make an impact - forming the backbone of the bigger picture. This year, we challenge L&D leaders to focus on just one of these areas and commit to taking action!

"One thing?" I hear you say. How could you possibly focus on one thing, when everything is so interconnected?

If that's your line of thinking, then you are in danger of carrying on doing what you have always done - there will always be lots to do, which is the essence of the problem. ‘Business as usual' gets in the way and always will. That's why we are calling on the profession to prioritise one area for this year and stay focused on making real improvements.


Our action areas aren't technical areas; they are strategic and have potential to make a large impact on your organisation. They are as follows:

Action Area 1: Increasing Business Buy-in

Top Deck organisations (those in the top 10% of the Towards Maturity Index) analyse business problems before recommending solutions (84% versus 55% on average) and align business and learning outcomes (79% versus 36% on average).

It is critical that we work in conjunction with the business, not just aligning what we do to business goals. This needs a new conversation with business leaders. You could start by troubleshooting business problems, rather than defaulting to providing solutions. By doing this, business leaders will start to see that the L&D team is about business performance and your solutions will start to be far better aligned to business outcomes.

Action Area 2: Understanding Modern Learners

Relevant, timely and useful learning is engaging. But with so many ways to design and deliver learning, how do you know which will work best for your workforce? The answer is simple: listen and learn how colleagues do their job and how they learn and design for that. That's what 86% of Top Deck organisations do (versus 30% on average). They also welcome innovation and contribution from staff.

Action Area 3: Transforming Learning

Face-to-face learning delivery is on a slow decline. We need to adopt a more contemporary approach; either with a big symbolic gesture, or on a project by project basis. With so many alternatives ways to help peers access information and learn from each other, the L&D team needs new ways to frame the learning agenda. There are models and frameworks (such as 70:20:10) that can help facilitate change, both within the L&D team and the business.

This is working for 94% of Top Deck organisations, who consider the course as only one option for building performance (versus 53% on average). 86% of those organisations are supporting learning at the point of need, using models such as 70:20:10 (versus 47% on average).

Action Area 4: Equipping the L&D Team

The action areas we are outlining here require a new skill set for the L&D function. But what skills will you need? You might want to focus first on how you build those skills. Consider the current and future context of your business and the vision you have for how learning will evolve. Now audit the skills against current and future need. This will give you a solid basis for upskilling the team.

This is how 84% of Top Deck organisations are preparing their teams for the future (versus 29% on average).

Action Area 5: Prioritising Actions

Choosing only one of the first four areas might seem daunting, or risky. If that's the case for you, make your number one action this year prioritising your actions! If you are unsure about what your learning strategy should look like over the coming months, or even where to start, then make this the year to shape it.

Organisations all around the world are benchmarking against others to see what is and isn't working. This provides the foundations for building an evidence-based learning strategy. This is proven in the fact that 73% of Top Deck organisations use data to improve their service delivery (versus 19% on average).


Make a Commitment to FOCUS

Is 2016 the year of action for you and your team? If so, which of these areas will you commit to focusing on?

Laura Overton will be headlining at Dossier Forum in June - stay tuned!


Laura Overton is the founder and CEO of Towards Maturity – a not for profit benchmark practice that provides independent research to help organisations deliver improved performance through learning innovation. Her work is based on 30 years of practical experience in implementing technology enabled learning strategies for business advantage and is backed by her independent research. 

This article was first published by Laura Overton in February 2016, and has been reposted in Capability Magazine with her blessing.