Learning and Development Business Partnership

Learning and Development Working in Business Partnership

Are you a Learning and Development Manager who struggles to get people released for training courses? Or an L&D professional who really wishes that your organisation would try the brilliant new approach to learning that you encountered at a recent conference that you believe would make such a difference? Ever wondered why you struggle to get your voice heard within your organisation?

In a hard hitting post (Why L&D Can’t Ignore Alignment Anymore) Jonathan Kettleborough talked about the need for Learning and Development Professionals to ensure that their departments, their activity and their focus is aligned with the strategy of the businesses we work within.

Jonathan quotes a report by Capita which states that “The vast majority (82%) of leaders lack confidence that their firm’s L&D strategy and delivery are aligned to the company’s operational strategy. Half (50%) believe that their L&D function is stuck in a ‘business as usual ’mindset.” Or to put that another way only 18% of business leaders have confidence that their firm’s L&D strategy is aligned with the company’s operational strategy.

That is frightening! However hard L&D professionals might be working the perception in the vast majority of organisations is that we are not working with the operational teams to support their strategy. No doubt some L&D Professionals will counter that all too often it is hard to get our voices heard and that when we present innovative new approaches to L&D we are frequently ignored. I wonder whether some perceive themselves to be being ignored because they have failed to remember that it is the responsibility of the communicator to ensure the communication is relevant and understood? Do we find ourselves too wrapped up in the latest “fads” or learning theories? Too engaged by the glitter of the shiny new thing (approach to learning) that we forget that we have a need to be enabling the business to achieve their strategic and operational aims?

Learning and Development is fascinating because it gives us the opportunity to enable others and to achieve great things. But I wonder if, in the glimmer of the new and exciting, we sometimes forget the here and now, the urgent business need, the requirement to generate income to sustain the organisation? That is not to say that we cannot encourage an organisation to take new approaches to things or encourage our organisations to spend time and effort on new developments. It is essential, as Jonathan reminds us, that we ensure that what we are doing is aligned with the needs of the organisation and delivers a meaningful difference which enables the business to achieve.

Much has been heard over the past 15 years about HR Business Partnership (HRBP) and the focus has always seemed to be on our colleagues who work in the other branch of HR which dealt with all the personnel type issues. We have not tended to hear much reference to the need for Learning and Development to work in business partnership. Some might well argue that is because they have consistently sought to work in business partnership with the organisations they work within. However the evidence quoted above, where we saw that 82% of business leaders don’t feel that their organisation’s L&D strategy is aligned with their operational strategy, would seem to suggest that we haven’t got things right – yet!

We have a great opportunity to make a genuine difference if we are prepared to learn to look at things differently. Working in business partnership does require a different set of skills but as learning and development professionals we are of course open to learning – aren’t we?

When I think about the work I have done over recent years it has all been about aligning my activity with the needs of the organisation. At times that has enabled me to introduce new ways of doing things because I have been able to demonstrate the benefits it brings in terms of reduced costs, improved results or a more committed group of staff. If I think about what that has required of me then I think I would summarise it as following and would venture to suggest that the following encapsulate what is required of a Learning and Development Professional working in business partnership:

  • Being prepared to learn new things;
  • Understanding the business and business operations/functions;
  • Understanding the business environment we operate in
  • Being able to talk the language of business and the business I am operating in;
  • An ability to build trusting relationships with internal and critically with the organisation’s clients and talk their language;
  • Believing in my own ability, the value of what I offer the business and the difference it can make to the business;
  • Being confident in my knowledge of the business and being able to express my views;
  • Being focused on the delivery of results which meet the needs of the business.

Working in business partnership means adding value to the business by aligning what we are doing as Learning and Development Professionals with the needs of the business – not as we might perceive them but as the business clearly sees them. It also means speaking out at times, even if it might be unpopular, when we believe that a different approach is needed. But that must always be with sound knowledge and business focused reasoning.

Jonathan reminded us that 82% of business leaders don’t believe that their learning and development strategy is aligned with their operational strategy. It’s time to change that perception!

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